7 March. Thursday in the Third Week of Lent
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Jer 7:23ff. Jeremiah presents human life in terms of a simple, obedient response to God.
Lk 11:14ff. His healing miracles proved that Jesus was acting with the authority of God.
First Reading: Jeremiah 7:23-28
But this command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.” Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward.
From the day that your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks. They did worse than their ancestors did. So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. You shall say to them: This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.
Gospel: Luke 11:14-23
Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? – for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever oes not gather with me scatters.
While the passage from Jeremiah presents human life in terms of a simple, obedient response to God, Jesus’ words in Luke’s gospel recognize a violent struggle between devils and angels raging within us. Yet, Jesus’ exorcism, driving out the demon, made it possible for the man to speak, a power simply taken for granted by the rest of us. In the same way, Jeremiah declared the deadly seriousness about obedience to God’s will in the normal everyday details of life. Later in the same chapter Jeremiah announced: “Beware! days will come . . . when I will silence the cry of joy . . . for the land will be turned to rubble” (Jer 7:32-34).
The simplest acts of basic human virtue – like compassion, forgiveness, prayer, understanding, loyalty, loving affection – make all the difference between heaven and hell, life and death, angelic or demonic possession. Earlier in chapter seven Jeremiah expressed it very clearly: “Only if you reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with his neighbour, if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood … or follow strange gods to your own harm will I [the Lord, your God] remain with you.” (7:5-7)
Jesus, for his part, returned to this common sense response. He replied equivalently to his detractors: If I have done a very good act, how can you even suggest that I acted with an evil spirit? If I am compassionate towards a mute person, do not accuse me of sin! “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out devils, then the reign of God is upon you.” The messianic age is at hand if we can speak kindly, love compassionately, protect courageously, receive even the alien warmheartedly.
Jeremiah and Jesus then do not differ as much as we supposed at first. Each sees a mighty struggle beneath simple human goodness; each announces a messianic kingdom within reach of everyone. The expectations seem so small compared to the extraordinary results. Jeremiah asked for a heart responsive to God’s will, obedient to his laws of kindness and forgiveness. We must not be stiff-necked; we ought to be faithful, listening attentively and responsively.
Jeremiah’s passage ends with the word “faithfulness.” In the Hebrew language the word implies: be what you are supposed to be! It means consistency, fidelity. It expects people to act as their nature would normally act if evil never interfered. Yet, this consistency sets up a relationship with God, with all one’s neighbours, even the alien in our midst, with angels and saints. Goodness ought to be as normal as breathing; to stop breathing spells death and demonic possession.
As we speak our simple “Amen! Thanks be to God!” to these biblical readings, we must resolve to be consistent. This Lent we must so help the needy and the stranger, that these virtuous actions become second nature to us. Then we will be acting under the finger of God and promoting the kingdom of God among us.