Saturday, March 20, 2010

O Lord, My God, In You I Take Refuge!

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Reading I
Jeremiah 11:18-20

I knew their plot because the LORD informed me;
at that time you, O LORD, showed me their doings.

Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter,
had not realized that they were hatching plots against me:
“Let us destroy the tree in its vigor;
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will be spoken no more.”

But, you, O LORD of hosts, O just Judge,
searcher of mind and heart,
Let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
for to you I have entrusted my cause!
Jeremiah, as a prophet of God, is the target of vicious conspiracies which want to wipe him out.

In 622 BC, King Josiah of Judah undertook a religious reform (described in 2 Kings 22) after the Book of the Law was discovered, having lain hidden for years. It seems that Jeremiah took an active role in the reform. By championing the reform, which included the suppression of local shrines, Jeremiah incurred the hatred of his fellow citizens, the people of Anathoth.

It is then that he compares himself to a “trustful lamb being led to the slaughterhouse”. A phrase which will later be applied to Jesus as he is led to his execution. For Jeremiah’s enemies are plotting to get rid of him, “Let us destroy this tree in its strength, let us cut him from the land of the living, so that his name may no longer be remembered!” Jeremiah had no children so, in the eyes of his enemies, that would be the end of him forever.

But they were ironic words because, as in the case of so many martyrs in the cause of right, his name is all the more remembered after his enemies tried to blot him out of existence. And Jeremiah knows that too: “I shall see your vengeance on them, for I have revealed my cause to you.”

Ultimately God is Jeremiah’s only protection against his enemies. But God will see that ultimately truth and justice prevail. And, of course, this is true most of all of Jesus. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). That is what we reflect on and celebrate as we watch Jesus go through his Passion in the coming days.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 7
O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.
O LORD, my God, in you I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers and rescue me,
Lest I become like the lion’s prey,
to be torn to pieces, with no one to rescue me.
O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.
Do me justice, O LORD, because I am just,
and because of the innocence that is mine.
Let the malice of the wicked come to an end,
but sustain the just,
O searcher of heart and soul, O just God.
O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.
A shield before me is God,
who saves the upright of heart;
A just judge is God,
a God who punishes day by day.
O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.
+++ +++ +++ +++
John 7:40-53
Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said,
“This is truly the Prophet.”
Others said, “This is the Christ.”
But others said, “The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he?
Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David’s family
and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?”
So a division occurred in the crowd because of him.
Some of them even wanted to arrest him,
but no one laid hands on him.

So the guards went to the chief priests and Pharisees,
who asked them, “Why did you not bring him?”
The guards answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.”
So the Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?
Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?
But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.”
Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them,
“Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him
and finds out what he is doing?”
They answered and said to him,
“You are not from Galilee also, are you?
Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
Then each went to his own house.
Today we have a continuation of confusion about the identity of Jesus. There is a conflict between what people are seeing and hearing and what they have been taught to believe. On the basis of his words and actions, Jesus looks like the Messiah but, as every Jewish child knows, the Messiah is not going to come from Galilee (where Nazareth is) but is to come from Bethlehem and the family of David. This is a good example of Johannine irony. Of course, Jesus did come from Nazareth but he was of the family of David and, as Matthew and Luke tell us, born in David’s town of Bethlehem.

Even the police are confused. When asked by the religious leaders why they have not arrested Jesus, they reply: “There has never been anybody who has spoken like him.” They are scolded for their ignorance. Never mind how impressively he speaks. Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? And the crowds are written off as ignorant and cursed.

But one Pharisee, Nicodemus, who had earlier (John 3) spoken with Jesus in secret and had been won over, protests. Even the Law says a man should be given a hearing before judgement is passed. He is swept aside by the leaders’ preconceived ideas: prophets do not come from Galilee.

We need to remember we are not reading this passage simply to condemn the Jewish religious leaders or the Pharisees but to reflect on our own prejudices and short-sightedness. How do we see Jesus, the Gospel message, the whole Bible, the Church, our parish community and its leaders, our family, friends, neighbours, not to mention strangers and outsiders…? Let him or her who is totally without prejudice or who has never passed judgement on another cast the first stone.

Let us pray for an open mind to accept in its totality the message of Jesus. And also be very open about the many and surprising ways in which Jesus can speak to us. If we are honest, there is something of the Pharisee in every one of us.


Sarah in the tent said...

“Never before has anyone spoken like this man.”

... and never since!

Prejudice against Galileans:
When we read of the strange prejudices others harbour, we realize how ridiculous our own are. What on earth did the Judeans have against the Galileans? Even at the Ascension, the angel (a Judean, perhaps!) addresses the disciples with a sweeping generalization as 'you Galileans'.

It was about a 70 mile walk from Galilee to Jerusalem, so perhaps young men predominated in pilgrim groups from Galilee. They might have arrived in disruptive high spirits, like visiting football supporters. They wouldn't have worn the latest city fashions and the many fishermen among them might have smelled unmistakeably of 'eau de Galilee', not improved by 4 days of hard hiking!

Perhaps Judeans viewed Galileans in rather the same way as Londoners would view the hideously clad, uncouth 'tartan army' that invaded the city whenever there was a match between Scotland and England!

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Sarah, your question is: What on earth did the Judeans have against the Galileans?

Typically (for me), the answer comes in the form of another question (one you've answered before I did!) What do Brits have against Scots? Why do Ottawans consider themselves superior to Torontonians (and vice-versa)?

The answer is EGO. The Latin word translates as "Me, myself and I", and it refers not to groups but to individuals. A certain level of self-esteem is essential for a human person to grow in wisdom, knowledge and grace before God and share these gifts with others. On the other hand, self-esteem can all too easily be transformed into Pride: "I thank God that I'm not like other folks, especially not this Publican". But, in that gospel, the tax-collector stood humbly at the side of the assembly and prayed "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner."

The meditation ends with a question, not from me, but from Jesus: "Which of the two prayers has been accepted by the LORD?" Answer (also from Jesus): "The humble prayer."

Conclusion: Go, and try to do likewise.