18Mar 18/March 2016. Friday, Week 5 of Lent

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, optional memorial

1st Reading: Jeremiah 20:10-13

Though many plot against God’s servant, he is safe in God’s hands

For I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. “Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.”

But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonour will never be forgotten.

O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.

Gospel: John 10:31-42

Amid growing danger to Jesus’ life, he withdraws to a quiet place

The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, “I said, you are gods”? If those to whom the word of God came were called “gods,” and the scripture cannot be annulled, can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, “I am God’s Son”? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.

He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there.


Valuing our prophets

Both Jeremiah and Jesus were hounded by friends and even close relatives who turned against them. Former companions can change their attitudes when they feel their own personal interests or security threatened. Jeremiah speaks of God who “has rescued the life of the poor” and Jesus cures the helpless, the blind and the crippled, the deaf and the mute, and returns them to full vigour on the Sabbath. Both were condemned because they each upset the accepted legal system by shifting concern from ritualism to caring for actual people. Their opponents were not bad people but were deeply misguided. They knew their Biblical laws by heart. But these had become ossified, no longer meaningful truths that must fit in with the mercy of God.

If taken rigidly, the commandments of religion can become like idols, worshipped in place of God. They can be quoted to dictate how God must view each act of behaviour. Religious people sometimes find a bogus security in unchangeable rules. Our present pope Francis has warned against this trap. “To be ruled by Christ” he said “means always reaching out what lies ahead.” And Jesus clearly condemned a hidebound view of the commandments when he compared the legalist Pharisees to “white-washed tombs” (Matt 23:27). Such rigidity is prompted by “their father the devil” (John 8:44).

We can offset any judgmental tendency we may have, first by a common-sense awareness of today’s culture and of the needs of others. Then we must root ourselves in God, trying to discern his will, in a spirit of compassion and truth. Jeremiah calls God the One who probes mind and heart. Jesus is rooted in his intimate awareness of that God: “the Father is in me and I in him.” We can echo Peter’s prophetic awareness, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Contrasting ideas about Jesus

In today’s gospel, the Jews strongly oppose Jesus because of the claims he makes about himself. “You are only a man and you claim to be God,” they said. Jesus goes on to say of himself, “I am the Son of God… the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Jesus claims to have a unique relationship with God, such that whoever sees him sees God, the Father. The author of the fourth gospel puts it very simply when he writes, the Word who was God became flesh, became enfleshed Word. Jesus, in other words, is God in human form. That conviction is at the core of our Christian faith. Jesus is the revelation of God, and because of that, in the words of the gospel, the good works that he does are the work of the Father. God is doing God’s work through Jesus. God will always be something of a mystery to us, but Jesus has unveiled that mystery to a great extent. Jesus has revealed that the mystery of God is, ultimately, the mystery of Love. In the words of the first letter of Saint John, “God is Love.” In the words of the gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” That is the wonderful mystery that we will be remembering and celebrating this coming Holy Week. [MH]

St Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop and doctor of the Church (memorial).

Cyril (315-386) was bishop of Jerusalem who devoted himself to the teaching of catechumens, for whom he wrote his best known treatise, the Mystagogic Catechesis – a preparation for receiving the infusion of divine life through baptism.

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