21 March. Wednesday of Week 4 of Lent
Isaiah 49:8ff. Wonderful promises to a dispirited people: “I have kept you and 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 poetic imagery in Isaiah 40 to 55 (a section of the book dating to the Babylonian exile) and in the gospel of John often combines tenderness and power. Heaven and earth are in awe at the Lord’s splitting the mountains, to bring back his people from exile. But almost in the same breath the prophet portrays this mighty God as a mother, tenderly loving the child of her womb. To a literary critic, the images may seem to clash, but they serve to enhance the mystery of God.
John’s gospel revolves around the most profound mysteries of the Godhead. It returns repeatedly to the equality of Father and Son in the Holy Trinity as well as to the subordination of Jesus, as God-made-man, to the Father. Questions about life and death, judgment and resurrection, sin and grace, heaven and damnation, life received and life possessed, are all intertwined it today’s gospel.
Such indeed are the tremendous possibilities of our own personal spirit. We can be so deeply touched by tender, exquisite joy that we summon the distant mountains to “break out in song.” We feel very helpless, even condemned by our sins, yet at the same time these sins evoke the concern of our Saviour-God, who is “saying to the prisoners: ‘Come out!’ and to those in darkness: ‘Show yourselves!’ The depth of goodness and the height of power, the sweep of contemplation into another future eternity – all this leaves us in awe.
People argued 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 explained how to keep the Sabbath holy: “do what is just and let the foreigners join themselves to the Lord” (Is 56:1-8). God works on the Sabbath by keeping the created world in good order, by bringing infants to birth and by calling others in death. Yet the people allow themselves to be blind to the action of God, to argue a miniscule point of legal procedure.
We, too, can become narrow, prejudiced, blinded. We can become absorbed in all types of red tape while the handicapped are deprived of a full life, and the enthusiasm of a young is smothered. We too can prefer darkness, fearful of the wonder of life. Lent can 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.
“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.