Old Testament. The Old Testament readings range widely, usually with some connection to the themes of Ash Wednesday. We might take the closing verse from the first Ezekiel reading as a sort of basso continuo for the whole week: “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live” (18:32).
Philippians 2:1-4:23. Paul’s “be of the same mind” uses the verb phroneō, characteristically associated with practical reasoning. Fowl paraphrases “by manifesting a common pattern of thinking and acting,” which pattern is seen paradigmatically in Jesus (2:5-11). Quite intentionally, this Jesus-shaped pattern visibly plays out/doesn’t play out/is encouraged to play out in pretty much all the folk who appear in the book: Timothy, Epaphroditus, Paul himself, the dogs, Euodia, Syntyche, us readers.
Fowl thinks this pattern is part of the friendship with God and others into which we’re invited, citing Dorotheos of Gaza: “Suppose we were to take a compass and insert the point and draw the outline of a circle.… Let us suppose that this circle is the world and that God is the center; the straight lines drawn from the circumference to the center are the lives of [humans]… But at the same time, the closer they are to God, the closer they become to one another; and the closer they are to one another, the closer they become to God” (p.214). (While I’ve read Philippians many times, it never occurred to me that Paul might be talking about friendship. Still chewing on that.)
In passing, “though” in “who, though he was in the form of God” (2:6) is inserted by the translators. They might equally justifiably have inserted “because.” The text is about Jesus; it’s equally about God, what it means to be God. (See, particularly, Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God.)
And, as unbelievable in the 21st century as it was in the 1st, Paul thinks this looking to the interests of others (2:4) is the path to joy.
The jarring juxtapositions of the Roman penal system and joy in the letter might recall Screwtape’s diatribe in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters:
He’s a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a façade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more please. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures for evermore’” (Letter XXII).
Gospels. The Lectionary offers engaging selections:
- Sunday: Peter’s confession and Jesus’ first passion prediction (immediately preceding the Transfiguration, which we hear today from the [Eucharistic] Lectionary)
- Monday-Tuesday: Scenes from the fulfillment of that passion prediction
- Wednesday: A sort of dummy’s guide to Ash Wednesday
- Thursday-Saturday: As we enter Lent, Jesus praying for us