22 March. Friday in the Fifth Week of Lent

Jer 20:10ff. Though many plot against God’s servant, the good Lord saves the life of the needy.

Jn 10:31ff. In Jerusalem, the danger to Jesus’ life grows intense, and he withdraws to a quieter place.

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:10-13

For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. “Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.”

But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonour will never be forgotten. O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.

Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.

Gospel: John 10:31-42

The Jews took upstones again to stone him. Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ – and the scripture cannot be annulled – can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.

He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there.

On Not Rejecting Prophets

Both Jeremiah and Jesus are hounded by friends and even by relatives who turned against them. Those erstwhile, fair-weather companions feel angry at Jeremiah or Jesus, when their personal interests and security were threatened. Jeremiah trusts in the Lord who “saves the life of the poor” and Jesus cures the sick, and returns them to full vigour on the Sabbath day. Each in his prophetic way upset the comfortable, legal support-system, and shifted concern from red-tape to people; and for this both of them were condemned. In all honesty we must admit that the group arguing against Jeremiah and Jesus were not openly bad people. They know their Bible and can quote its laws by rote memory. Yet these had become just sounds, no longer meaningful words. (Echoes of an unrestrained Inquisition? Of a CDF out of control?)

Even the sacred words of Scripture can become idols, worshipped instead of God. They can be quoted to control God and to dictate how God must act forever in the future. The religious officials can then safeguard their own sanctimonious security as untouchable. All of us can fall into this trap. Our tradition erects a castle of pride which becomes the home of the devil. Jesus condemned this desperate situation when he compared his critics to “white-washed tombs, beautiful on the outside but inside full of filth and dead men’s bones” (Matt 23:27). Their actions are begotten by their “father [whom] you spring from, . . . the devil” (John 8:44).

We sin when we use our God-given faculties in a wrong way. The worst of all sins is pride, when we seek to manipulate God to our egotistic plans; using our presumed virtue to force others, even the Lord, into our self-centered way of life. We can correct this evil tendency lurking in all of us, first by an outgoing, common-sense, delicate sensitivity towards the needs of others. Then we must root ourselves in God. Jeremiah turns to the Lord, “you who test the good, who probe mind and heart.” Jesus plunges his spirit into the source of his eternal existence, “the Father [who] is in me and I in him.”

We must repeat with the apostle Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68), or with today’s antiphon after the Jeremiah reading: In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard me.

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