Friday, 7 April 2017

Lent Week 5 Friday

Readings: Jeremiah 20:10-13; Psalm 18; John 10:31-42

We return to the comparison between the experience of Jeremiah and that of Jesus. We heard about it some days ago and here it is again. There are many similarities but there are also some striking differences. They are both preachers of the Word of God. They both seek to serve the cause of truth and justice. They are both betrayed or abandoned by friends, and left alone to suffer persecution from their enemies.

One striking difference is this: whereas the Lord fights as a mighty champion alongside Jeremiah, the Lord fights as a mighty champion in Jesus. Believe the works, Jesus says in today's gospel, so that you may realize and understand 'that the Father is in me and I am in the Father'. 'God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself', St Paul will say later. A second striking difference, presumably following on from the first, is that Jeremiah's understandable cry for vengeance is not repeated on the lips of Jesus. 'Let me witness the vengeance you take on them', prays Jeremiah. It is a very understandable prayer. Pope Francis said that someone who laid a hand on his mother could expect a punch from him.

The way in which the divine power works in Jesus is different. It is not a simple moralistic correction of the understandable reactions of Jeremiah and Francis. It is not simply saying, in the words of Jesus, if you suffer oppression, persecution, and violence, instead of giving the perpetrator a punch, try to 'turn the other cheek'. It is saying that vengeance as exercised by God - whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts - will take a radically different form to vengeance as exercised by human beings. Through the works of Jesus, everything is being taken up into a new dispensation in which all human relationships will be transformed.

'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do'. This will be Jesus' prayer concerning his persecutors, his only remark about them from the cross. It gives us a glimpse, not of divine weakness in the face of human violence, but of the divine power when confronted with human violence. Because God is love, and His characteristic action is to create, the vengeance of God, like any other of God's actions, must have those characteristics - it can only be loving and creative. And so it will be that God will take vengeance on his enemies who have killed his Son by raising his Son from the dead, establishing for all men and women, even for those enemies who kill him, a kingdom of peace, justice, reconciliation and love. Imagine a world in which reconciliation becomes possible, forgiveness becomes natural, and new beginnings take the place of endless retribution.

'Many began to believe in him' is how today's gospel reading concludes. It is a start and if we can even say this much - I have begun to believe in him - we are doing well. We are on the right road. Through faith in him the Spirit of Jesus comes to dwell also in us, not just to struggle alongside us but to work within us, praying in us when we do not know how to pray, pouring the love of God into our hearts, making us to be 'gods', creatures participating in the divine nature.

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