Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The LORD Is Gracious And Merciful.

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Reading I
Isaiah 49:8-15
Thus says the LORD:
In a time of favor I answer you,
on the day of salvation I help you;
and I have kept you and given you
as a covenant to the people,
To restore the land
and allot the desolate heritages,
Saying to the prisoners: Come out!
To those in darkness: Show yourselves!
Along the ways they shall find pasture,
on every bare height shall their pastures be.
They shall not hunger or thirst,
nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them;
For he who pities them leads them
and guides them beside springs of water.
I will cut a road through all my mountains,
and make my highways level.
See, some shall come from afar,
others from the north and the west,
and some from the land of Syene.
Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth,
break forth into song, you mountains.
For the LORD comforts his people
and shows mercy to his afflicted.

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.
The reading is part of a celebration of the people’s joyful return from their exile in Babylon to their home in Jerusalem. It comes from Second Isaiah, a book full of hope and consolation which looks forward to the end of the exile and the people’s going home again.

They are still in exile. Their lives are led in hardship and bitterness but the prophet assures them that better times are on the way. This is in response to the cry of God’s people.

“At the time of my favour I have answered you.” The reference is probably to the year of jubilee but the return from exile will bring about the same restoration of land for the people as the jubilee did for those who, because of debt problems, may have had to sell their land.

So the Lord now calls on his people “to restore the land, to return ravaged properties, to say to prisoners ‘Come out’, and to those in darkness, ‘Show yourselves’.” It is a time for the restoration of justice to all. The end of their sorrows is symbolised in phrases like “they will never hunger or thirst, scorching wind and sun will never plague them.”

Their God is with them: “He who pities them will lead them, will guide them to springs of water.” The way will made clear for their return: “I shall turn all my mountains into a road and my highways will be raised aloft.”

He will give them back their land, seized by the foreign invader. He will bring freedom to the prisoners and light to those in darkness. They will be surrounded by fertile lands, untouched by heat or thirst and luxuriate in springs of fresh water. The ways to the homeland will be cleared and exiles will return from as far away as the “land of Sinim” (now known as Aswan, the first cataract on the River Nile in Egypt).

It is a time for great rejoicing, in which the whole of nature should take part - “Shout for joy, you heavens; earth exult! Mountains break into joyful cries!”

Yet, Zion is still sceptical: “Yahweh has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me.” But they are wrong. Utterly wrong.

God does not forget his people. He is full of tenderness and compassion, as gentle as that of any mother, expressed in those extraordinary gentle and affectionate words: “Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you.”

In our darkest moments, let us not forget the unchanging intensity of God’s love for us.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 145
The Lord is gracious and merciful.

The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
The Lord is gracious and merciful.
The LORD is faithful in all his words
and holy in all his works.
The LORD lifts up all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The Lord is gracious and merciful.
The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.
The Lord is gracious and merciful.
+++ +++ +++ +++
John 5:17-30
Jesus answered the Jews:
“My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.”
For this reason they tried all the more to kill him,
because he not only broke the sabbath
but he also called God his own father,
making himself equal to God.

Jesus answered and said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
the Son cannot do anything on his own,
but only what he sees the Father doing;
for what he does, the Son will do also.
For the Father loves the Son
and shows him everything that he himself does,
and he will show him greater works than these,
so that you may be amazed.
For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life,
so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.
Nor does the Father judge anyone,
but he has given all judgment to the Son,
so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.
Whoever does not honor the Son
does not honor the Father who sent him.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word
and believes in the one who sent me
has eternal life and will not come to condemnation,
but has passed from death to life.
Amen, amen, I say to 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 also he gave to the Son the possession of life in himself.
And he gave him power to exercise judgment,
because he is the Son of Man.
Do not be amazed at this,
because the hour is coming
in which all who are in the tombs
will hear his voice and will come out,
those who have done good deeds
to the resurrection of life,
but those who have done wicked deeds
to the resurrection of condemnation.

“I cannot do anything on my own;
I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just,
because I do not seek my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.”

Let us not be afraid or cast down; God is on his way in the person of Jesus.

Today’s Gospel follows immediately on yesterday’s story of the healing of the crippled man by the pool. That passage had ended with the words: “The Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this [i.e. the healing] on a sabbath.” We might point out, as with some other sabbath healings, that there was absolutely no urgency to do the healing on a sabbath for someone who had waited 38 years. It is just another indication of the divine authority with which Jesus works.
So Jesus’ reply is direct and unapologetic: “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.” Because Genesis speaks of God resting on the seventh day (the origin of the Jewish sabbath), it was disputed whether God was in any way active on the sabbath. Some believed that the creating and conserving work of his creation went on and others that he continued to pass judgement on that day. In any case, Jesus is claiming here the same authority to work on the sabbath as his Father and has the same powers over life and death.

The Jewish leaders are enraged that Jesus speaks of God as his own Father. They want to kill him. They understand by his words that Jesus is making himself God’s equal. Jesus, far from denying the accusation, only confirms it.

“A son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will also do.” This saying is taken from the model of an apprentice in a trade. The apprentice son does exactly what his father does. Jesus’ relation to his Father is similar. “For the Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he himself does, so that you may be amazed.” And “just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes” – and whenever he wishes. And such giving of life is something that belongs only to God. As does the right to judge, which Jesus says has been delegated to him.
Jesus is the perfect mirror of the Father. The Father is acting in him and through him. He is the Word of God – God speaks and acts directly through him. God’s Word is a creative Word. Jesus, like the Father, is life-giving, a source of life.

The right to judge has been delegated by the Father to the Son. And to refuse to honour the Son is to refuse the same honour to the Father. In everything Jesus acts only according to the will of his Father and does what his Father wants.

Jesus, then, is the Way, the Way through whom we go to God. For us, there is no other Way. He is God’s Word to us and for us.

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'.. and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, ..'

In all these arguments about the Sabbath, I wonder if I might have sided with the Pharisees. Sabbath observance was/is a touchstone of valid teaching. But perhaps the above phrase from Isaiah might have prepared me for someone who, in his own person, was the covenant of rest and restoration. Prophetic references to a new covenant would also have helped, as well as the reassuring witness of John the Baptist.

'And he gave him power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man.'

The Pharisees had set themselves up as judges of the Sabbath, with the power of life or death over those who broke the rules. Yet by condemning an otherwise innocent person to death for breaking the Sabbath, I think they would themselves be guilty of desecrating it. When they find themselves obliged to 'sacrifice' a man to the Sabbath, they have made an idol of it, and they just demonstrate their own unfitness to judge on the question. The Son of Man is the definitive Lord of the Sabbath, appointed by God.

I think that the obvious shortcomings of the existing judges of the Sabbath would also have prepared me for the new covenant.

In the Decalogue, we are commanded to 'remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy'. This command to remember is matched by Christ's command at the Last Supper: 'Do this in memory of me.' 'Remember the Sabbath' has been deepened to: REMEMBER ME. Instead of a list of prohibitions we have a single exhortation: 'Do this ..'. I think that, even if I had been a first century Jew, I would have been attracted to Christ's Sabbath for its depth, simplicity and reassuring closeness with the Lord of the Sabbath himself.