4th Week of Lent, Saturday, Mar 20
Jeremiah 11:18-20 / John 7:40-52
The crowds speak out about Jesus; Some believed; others did not.
During his presidency Andrew Jackson offered a pardon to a man who had been completely rehabilitated after committing a serious crime.But the man refused the pardon and insisted on staying in prison. He said that even if he was rehabilitated, he owed a great debt to society. Nothing Jackson, or anyone else, said could convince him to accept the pardon. The lawyers of the time even engaged in a famous debate to determine whether a pardon that was refused was a pardon.
Many people in Jesus' time were like that man. Nothing Jesus could say or do would convince some people to accept his message.
How wedded are we to our own views? It is easier to crack a safe than to crack a closed mind.
It is hard for a person who “has been seduced by God,” as Jeremiah says, to be rejected by the very community to which one has dedicated one’s life and before which one bears witness to the spiritual. He is a source of division. So was Jesus. Are we willing to take the risks of being Christian, of being signs of contradiction with Christ? If we can, it will surely hurt. We will be contradicted and ridiculed. Can we accept this with equanimity? It has become our responsibility when we were baptized.
Appearances and external images are very important in today's world of status and reputation. Because they form initial impressions for others and that will also determine how far a person can go in the career path. What is equally important besides appearances and image is also a person's background. That will either reinforce or weaken his reputation and status.
In many ways, Jesus had neither that appearance and image that would earn Him a status and reputation that the society of His time would give Him. Added on to that, His Galilean origins (or what was thought was His birthplace) diminished all standing He had with the upper class of society, and He also earned the scorn of the Pharisees. Yet, Jesus was not perturbed by the criticisms of others or what they thought of Him. As the 1st reading so rightly prophesied, and as Jesus Himself knew it: The Lord revealed it to me, I was warned. You opened my eyes to their scheming. Yes, more than just discriminating against His status and reputation, the opponents of Jesus were also out to plot against Him and to destroy Him even. From the experience of life, we know that we cannot judge a book by its cover. Yet, it is the cover that gives us the first impressions. But it is the Lord of hosts who probes the loins and heart. May the Lord also help us to see beyond appearances and impressions to the truth of things. And may we also move beyond our own appearances and impressions and be true to ourselves and to the Lord.
You have noticed that when a man is arrested, reporters are careful to state that it is alleged that the man did so and so. The word, "alleged," or something similar is always used to avoid a statement indicating guilt before the case is tried in court. Moreover, when people are being selected for a jury every effort is made to choose people who have no prejudice in the case. The reason for all this is that in our system of justice a man is presumed innocent until he has been proven guilty before a jury of his peers.
Nicodemus tried to make the same point with the Pharisees who had already condemned Jesus. "Since when," he protested, "does our law condemn any man without first hearing him and knowing the facts?" The Pharisees had rejected Jesus without even an attempt to investigate the facts. They protested that the Messiah-Prophet would not come from Galilee but from Bethlehem. With but little trouble on their part they could have discovered that, though Jesus grew up in Nazareth in Galilee, he was indeed born in Bethlehem. The Pharisees were guilty of rash judgment.
Rash judgment is coming to a conclusion before all the facts are known. Unfortunately, it is a fault that even good people can fall into. We hear a rumour about someone and we accept it as truth. Maybe we notice that someone is not going to communion and we judge that he or she must be guilty of mortal sin. Perhaps we see a man having lunch with a woman who is not his wife, and we conclude that they are having an affair. If we think that the rash judgment of the Pharisees against Jesus was a terrible crime, we had better think twice before passing judgment on anyone. In all these matters and ones like them a person should be innocent in our eyes until he has been judged guilty, not by a jury, but by the all-knowing and just judge, God himself.
1. Truth Can Surprise: What were the words of Christ that caused so much consternation? "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. As the Scripture says: 'He who believes in me—rivers of living water shall flow from his belly.'" Christ preached the truth and people reacted to him with awe, indifference, or hatred. Perhaps most surprising was the reaction of the guards, who were so amazed that they did not obey the Jewish leaders’ order to bring Jesus to them. “Never before has anyone spoken like this man,” they told their superiors. We don’t know if this was not a life-changing moment for the guards, but they had certainly taken the first step toward conversion: They listened with open hearts to the words of Christ and their hearts were moved.
2. Truth Can Be Rejected: The chief priests and the Pharisees held Jesus in contempt. Jesus was beneath them and the people who listened to him were beneath them. No message of any value could have come from someone of such lowly birth, so they thought. In their hatred, they went so far as to curse the whole crowd following Jesus and mock Nicodemus, one of their own. Anger closes minds and hardens hearts to the truth. “If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin. The Lord says, ‘Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment’” (CCC 2303).
3. Truth Can Be Divisive: Nicodemus experienced a battle all Christians face. Nicodemus had met Christ personally, had conversed with Christ about seminal truths but, at this point, he was not quite ready to put his own neck on the line. His head told him one thing, while his heart told him differently. He did not defend Christ directly before the Pharisees, but quoted some legal statutes so that Christ might be able to defend himself. However, after Christ’s death, Nicodemus stepped forward, publicly admitting his allegiance to Christ (John 19:39). Nicodemus, like many of us, grew in his love for Christ over time, not all at once. What hope his story gives to those of us who pray that family and friends will one day draw close to Christ!
Almighty God, when people encountered your Son, he became a source of division: he affected their lives one way or another. May we accept him fully and empty ourselves to make room for him in our everyday life, even when it hurts. Help us, that with him we may always seek and do your will. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen