13 March. Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Lent

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Isa 49:8ff. God’s uplifting promise to a dispirited people: “I have given you as a sign of salvation to others.”

Jn 5:17ff. The intimate union of Jesus with God, like an only son with his loving father.

First Reading: Isaiah 49:8-15

Thus says the Lord: In a time of favour I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.” They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up.

Lo, these shall come from far away, and lo, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene. Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.

Gospel: John 5:17-30

But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he ill show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

“Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Seeing the larger picture

Isaiah 40 to 55 (a later section of the prophecy, dating to the Babylonian exile) and today’s section from St John both constitute a clear call to see the larger picture. The prophet thinks of God splitting the mountains to bring his people home from afar. Almost in the same breath he imagines this mighty God as a mother, tenderly loving the child of her womb. Even if these images are mismatched, they serve to enhance the manifold mystery of God.

John’s gospel ponders the most profound mysteries of the Godhead. Today he ponders the equality of Father and Son, alongside the subordination of Jesus to the Father. Questions about life and death, judgment and resurrection, sin and grace, heaven and damnation, life received and life possessed, are the subject of John’s contemplation. Such are the possibilities of our own life. We can be so deeply touched by inner joy that we want to summon the mountains to break out in song. The depth of God’s goodness and majesty – the plunging into the eternity behind us and the sweep of contemplation into another future eternity – causes the soul to sing!

How petty it was for people to argue about whether or not Jesus should work miracles on the Sabbath. He has cured a lame man at the pool of Bethesda, and jealous people bicker over a violation of Sabbath rest. Long before, Isaiah had explained how to keep the Sabbath free from profanation: People should “do what is just . . . and let the foreigners join themselves to the Lord” (Is 56:1-8). God works on the Sabbath by keeping the created world goint, by bringing infants to birth and by calling others in death. But legalists can be blind to the wonderful and the tender, preferring to argue a point of legal procedure. A tiny hill turns into a mountain, blocking their view of God’s beautiful world of people and natural phenomena.

How easily we  can become narrow, prejudiced, blinded, tied up in all types of red tape while the poor die of starvation, the handicapped are deprived of a full life, and the potential of the young person is untapped. We allow every small annoyance to bring us back to protecting our own tiny bit of turf! Lent ought to purify us so as to live more aware of the wonderful presence of God, of the awesome gift of life, and of our good planet earth. The Lord is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works.

One Comment

  1. This is one of those passages, that I find, people tend not to want to think about. Again, I think, that has to do with the belief that a God who is unconditionally loving could not possibly execute any judgment that condemns. If Jesus were here, he might say to us, “this is a hard teaching to accept”. Being compassionate, does not mean, that there is no justice. It is very hard for us to accept that there are souls, that simply, will not accept God and those souls are in rebellion and it doesn’t change. They have already chosen their consequence of condemnation and God doesn’t change their will. More importantly, this passage points to the authority of the Son. Everything that is of the Father’s is also his. I remember having quite the discussion with a member of the Jehovah Witnesses, who believe, that Jesus was the son of God, but not THE SON, of God. They remain believing that only the Father has any authority, and therefore only the Father is technically God. The person I was engaged in debate with, simply, would not go to this text, or hear about it. It is an extremely important text….because it says to me, that no matter, how we lived in this life, and no matter what “religious” life, we may have lived….we will all meet the Christ, as it is He who decides life or death. As St. Paul says,whether we be alive or dead, we all belong to Christ, and he decides our eternal fate. It is a hard teaching for the body of Christ, the Children of God for the Children of this World. The world’s first inclination is to resist God, and certainly to resist, Christ as the Son of God, who decides their fate, when they draw their last breath. It is a hard teaching for the Children of God, because, we want to be so accomodating of all the other religions in the world, but for me, it is quite clear, who has the authority to be God and to act as God, and to execute judment.

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