Friday 24 March 2023 4th week of Lent
The godless say to themselves, with their misguided reasoning: ‘Our life is short and dreary, nor is there any relief when man’s end comes, nor is anyone known who can give release from Hades. Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our breaches of the law and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing. He claims to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a son of the Lord. Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking, the very sight of him weighs our spirits down; his way of life is not like other men’s, the paths he treads are unfamiliar. In his opinion we are counterfeit; he holds aloof from our doings as though from filth; he proclaims the final end of the virtuous as happy and boasts of having God for his father. Let us see if what he says is true,
let us observe what kind of end he himself will have. If the virtuous man is God’s son, God will take his part and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies. Let us test him with cruelty and with torture, and thus explore this gentleness of his and put his endurance to the proof. Let us condemn him to a shameful death since he will be looked after – we have his word for it.’ This is the way they reason, but they are misled, their malice makes them blind. They do not know the hidden things of God, they have no hope that holiness will be rewarded, they can see no reward for blameless souls.
Psalm 33 The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.
Jesus stayed in Galilee; he could not stay in Judaea, because the Jews were out to kill him.
As the Jewish feast of Tabernacles drew near, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went up as well, but quite privately, without drawing attention to himself. Meanwhile some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, ‘Isn’t this the man they want to kill? And here he is, speaking freely, and they have nothing to say to him! Can it be true the authorities have made up their minds that he is the Christ? Yet we all know where he comes from, but when the Christ appears no one will know where he comes from.’
Then, as Jesus taught in the Temple, he cried out: ‘Yes, you know me and you know where I came from.
Yet I have not come of myself: no, there is one who sent me and I really come from him, and you do not know him, but I know him because I have come from him and it was he who sent me.’
They would have arrested him then, but because his time had not yet come no one laid a hand on him.
Passion Sunday is a little over a week away and in the Gospel narratives we can feel the tension growing as Jesus gets closer and closer to his fateful hour. He is becoming increasingly provocative, taking greater risks.
Today we hear he has been laying low in Galilee and staying away from Judea because of the threats to his life. The quiet and stealth of his entry into Jerusalem to celebrate Tabernacles, is shattered when he cries out boldly what is both a reproach of those who do not know God, and a proclamation of who he is himself. ‘Yes, you know me and you know where I came from. Yet I have not come of myself: no, there is one who sent me and I really come from him, and you do not know him, but I know him because I have come from him and it was he who sent me.’ This echoes the sentiments expressed in the first text from Wisdom, “He claims to have knowledge of God and calls himself a son of the Lord. Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking; his way of life is not like other people, the paths he treads are unfamiliar. In his opinion we are counterfeit; he boasts of having God for his father.”
This Gospel narrative is framed within the Feast of Sukkot, a Torah-commanded holiday celebrated for seven days. It is one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals on which Israelites make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. It has its roots in the annual harvest and holds spiritual importance regarding its abandonment of materialism, focus on nationhood, spirituality, and hospitality. This is all symbolised by the construction of the temporary, almost nomadic, structure of the sukkah. Sometimes “sukkah” is translated as “booths”, hence the name given to the festival. The tradition of calling the feast “Tabernacles” by Christians, has obvious connections – the booth (or tent) in which God dwelt with his people during Exodus – the tabernacle in which the Body of Christ dwells as his people, the church.
In this context, Jesus’ proclamation about himself, tells us that he is the one in the sukkot, because he is son of the Father. He knows the Father, he follows the Father, he abandons the values of materialism and embraces Divine hospitality. Later in John Jesus refers to himself as the temple, thus reorienting the Sukkot pilgrimage to the Temple of Jerusalem, to a pilgrimage to the divine heart, which he shares with his Father, and to refer to the Christian community. “May you be one in me as I am in the father and the father is in me”.
I recently came across a talk Pope Francis gave to the First International Catechetical Symposium, held in Buenos Aires, 2017. Francis says, “They are not persons who set out with their own ideas and tastes, but rather who let themselves be looked at by him, by that gaze that makes the heart burn. The more Jesus occupies the centre of our lives, the more he allows us to come out of ourselves; he de-centres us and he brings us closer to others. This dynamic of love is like the movement of the heart: “systole and diastole”; they concentrate to encounter the Lord and immediately open up, coming out of themselves for love, to bear witness to Jesus and speak of Jesus, to preach Jesus. He gives us the example himself: he would retire to pray to the Father and then he would go immediately to meet those hungry and thirsty for God, to heal them and save them.“
Francis beautifully captures the energising intimacy of living in the heart. Coming into this Sukkot, this booth, this tabernacle, Jesus reorients our lives and sends us out again to boldly approach our own Passion, willing to take the risks that come with love.