5th April. Saturday in Week 4 of Lent
First Reading: Jeremiah 11:18-20
(I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.)
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
(The authorities argue about Jesus: can he possibly be the Messiah?)
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.
Interpreting the Bible properly
The Jewish leaders were undecided about Jesus, but most of them concluded that he was not the promised Saviour of Israel. The same argument raged among the Jewish laity, yet a group of them decided in Jesus’ favour. The temple guards spontaneously express admiration for him: “No one ever spoke like that before!” In our day many theologians and laity still argue over the essentials of religion: Who is Christ? What is the Church? What is needed for salvation? What is right and wrong? Christians are divided into so many denominations, each quoting the Bible as their authority. Because Lent summons us to more intensive prayer and study, with frequent Eucharistic celebration and special biblical readings, we might want to review what guidelines we follow for reading the Bible profitably. Today’s prophecy of Jeremiah and words from Saint John offer some help for interpreting the Bible today.
First, as Nicodemus pointed out, we should give the Bible a fair hearing, just as we would to each individual person, trying to know the facts before we reject or accept. As we make this effort of patient observation, we must be respectful and show tolerance for differences of opinion. If Jesus’ messiah-ship was a public issue among his people and their religious authorities during his lifetime, we ought not be surprised that theological conflicts continue today.
Jesus gave no indication that he or his disciples should abandon the Jewish religion, the argument was about the way God should bring this religion to greater perfection. An important part of the discussion was the respect shown for whatever is good and wholesome. The unlearned temple guards reply to the court theologians: “No one ever spoke like that before!” The Bible ought never be used to make what is good look bad; biblical interpretation should highlight the good so as to be seen as good. 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, at least tolerating other people’s convictions, prayerful and respectful, have the best chance of being right.