Saturday in the Fourth Week of Lent
Jeremiah 11:18ff. He was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.
John 7:40ff. The authorities argue about Jesus’ claims and his identity: can he possibly be the Messiah?
Judging What Is Right
The Jewish authorities were undecided about Jesus. Most of them concluded that he is not the promised Saviour, nor even a genuine prophet. The same scriptural argument raged among the Jewish laity, yet a core of them decided in Jesus’ favour. The temple guards responded spontaneously: “No one ever spoke like that before!” In our day many active Christians, theologians and lay people, argue over the essentials of religion: What does Christ want us to do? How should the Church respond to our times? What is needed for salvation? How are we to discern right from wrong, in new situations? Christianity itself is divided, up to the present, into irreconcilable denominations, each quoting the Bible!
Because Lent summons us to more extended prayer and reflection, with daily Eucharistic celebration and special biblical readings, we need to review the norms for reading the Bible profitably. Today’s selections from Jeremiah and the gospel of John offer some help for interpreting the Bible today.
First, as Nicodemus pointed out, we should give the Bible and each person a fair hearing, and try to know the facts before we condemn or accept a view. During this studious effort at study and patient observation, we will have to tolerate differences of opinion. If uncertainty about Jesus’ role became a public issue among the people themselves and among religious authorities, even while Jesus was still alive, we ought not be surprised if theologians differ about him today.
We need be careful before demanding change. Note that Jesus gave no indication that his disciples should change and abandon the Jewish religion. The argument was about the way in which God should bring this religion to greater perfection. Another important quality is a healthy respect for whatever is good and wholesome. The unlearned temple guards replied to the court theologians: “No one ever spoke like that before!” The Bible ought never be used to make the good look bad; rather, the real task of biblical interpretation is to make the good become still better. Negative answers are more likely to be wrong; positive explanations more likely to be correct. Good, wholesome people, positive in affirming others, slow to condemn, ready to forgive, tolerant of other people’s convictions, prayerful and respectful, have the best chance of being right.
Both Jeremiah and Jesus interpreted the Bible within the context of their religious community. Each presumed a living continuity with past tradition, each sought an understanding of the Bible within the hopes and prayers of their contemporary “church” or assembly of believers. Bible study was not a matter settled exclusively between each individual and God. One’s family and entire nation were seriously involved and a true answer is found only where unity prevails.
Finally, in such a dispute, Jeremiah entrusted his cause to the Lord, “searcher of mind and heart.” Above all, we are not seeking answers but the living God; we are not settling disputes but responding to God’s loving, searching presence within us. Only when we peacefully seek God rather than ammunition for religious disputes will we be in good shape to interpret the Bible correctly.
First Reading: Jeremiah 11:18-20
It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew; then you showed me their evil deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be remembered!”
But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously, who try the heart and the mind, let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.
Gospel: John 7:40-53
When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law – they are accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.” Then each of them went home.