Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Lent
Isaiah 49:8ff. God’s uplifting promise to a dispirited people: “I have given you as a sign of salvation to others.”
John 5:17ff. The intimate union of Jesus with God, like an only son with his loving father.
The Larger Picture
The biblical readings from Isaiah 40 to 55 (a rich section of prophecy, dating from the Babylonian exile) and from the gospel of John are rich with tenderness and power. Heaven and earth sing in celebrating the Lord’s carving through the mountains to bring his people home from afar. Almost in the same breath the prophet sees this mighty God as a mother full of tender love for the child in her womb. The images of tenderness and power may clash from a narrowly logical viewpoint, but serve to enhance the mystery of God.
John’s gospel moves in and out of the most profound mysteries of the Godhead. This passage returns repeatedly to the equality of Father and Son in the Holy Trinity as well as to the subordination of Jesus, the God-man, to the Father. Questions about life and death, judgment and resurrection, sin and grace, heaven and damnation, life received and life possessed, all these mystical phenomena rise to the surface of John’s gospel here.
Such indeed are the inner possibilities of our own life. Sometimes we can be so deeply touched by joy that we want the mountains to “break out in song.” At other times we feel morally helpless, weighed down by our sins. But these very sins evoke the concern of our Saviour-God, who tells the prisoners: ‘Come out! Be free!’ The depth of God’s goodness and the height of his power, the plunging into the eternity behind us and the sweep of contemplation into another eternity ahead – all this leaves Isaiah – and ourselves – full of awe.
And still people were arguing whether or not Jesus should work miracles on the Sabbath. He has cured the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, and jealous people bicker over a violation of Sabbath rest. But Isaiah had long ago explained how to keep the Sabbath pure: “Do what is just . . . and let the foreigners join themselves to the Lord” (Is 56:1-8). God our Father works on the Sabbath by keeping the created world in good running order, by bringing infants to birth and by calling others in death. Yet, people are so blind to the wonder of life that they argue a miniscule point of legal procedure. A molehill turns into a mountain to block the view of God’s beautiful ways.
We, too, can become narrow, prejudiced, blinded. We can become absorbed in all types of red tape as the poor die of starvation, the handicapped are deprived of a full life, and the excitement of a younger person is smothered. Lent ought to purify and strengthen our gaze, so that we can live magnanimously with the awesome gift of life, and with the good planet earth. The Lord is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works.
First Reading: Isaiah 49:8-15
Thus says the Lord: In a time of favour I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.” They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up.
Lo, these shall come from far away, and lo, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene. Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
Gospel: John 5:17-30
But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.
Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he ill show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.
“Very truly, I tell 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 he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.