This blog continues to follow the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church
Reading 1, Jeremiah 11:18-20
18 The Lord informed me and I knew it; you then revealed their scheming to me.
19 I for my part was like a trustful lamb being led to the slaughterhouse, not knowing the schemes they were plotting against me, ‘Let us destroy the tree in its strength, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name may no longer be remembered!’
20 Lord God of Hosts, whose judgement is upright, tester of motives and thoughts, I shall see your vengeance on them, for I have revealed my cause to you.
Gospel, John 7:40-53
40 Some of the crowd who had been listening said, ‘He is indeed the prophet,’
41 and some said, ‘He is the Christ,’ but others said, ‘Would the Christ come from Galilee?
42 Does not scripture say that the Christ must be descended from David and come from Bethlehem, the village where David was?’
43 So the people could not agree about him.
44 Some wanted to arrest him, but no one actually laid a hand on him.
45 The guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who said to them, ‘Why haven’t you brought him?’
46 The guards replied, ‘No one has ever spoken like this man.’
47 ‘So,’ the Pharisees answered, ‘you, too, have been led astray?
48 Have any of the authorities come to believe in him? Any of the Pharisees?
49 This rabble knows nothing about the Law — they are damned.’
50 One of them, Nicodemus — the same man who had come to Jesus earlier — said to them,
51 ‘But surely our Law does not allow us to pass judgement on anyone without first giving him a hearing and discovering what he is doing?’
52 To this they answered, ‘Are you a Galilean too? Go into the matter, and see for yourself: prophets do not arise in Galilee.’
53 They all went home.
Today’s first lection shows us the prophet Jeremiah coming to terms with the persecution aroused by his proclamation of God’s unpopular word. Even as he likens himself to a lamb, he entrusts his cause to God, praying for vengeance on his enemies. Perhaps the prophet of Isaiah chapter 53 was thinking of Jeremiah’s self-description, when he spoke of God’s servant being “led like a lamb to the slaughter.”
The theme of the ill-treated prophet is common in the Jewish Bible and is used by Jesus himself. It is not that the prophet is misunderstood by the leaders of the people, but rather that he is understood only too well: the word he speaks as from God is unpalatable. Jeremiah preached the futility of opposing the Assyrians and might well have been done for treason in a modern state. A clergyman preaching that Hitler was God’s judgement on the idolatry in British society might not have been saved from the noose by his dog-collar. I am emphasising the radically offensive nature of the prophet’s message, so that we don’t find it easy to condemn the religious and political leaders of the time.
(I believe the church is called by God to denounce the war in Afghanistan. Lying politicians are sending young men and women to kill and die for the furtherance of British and American policy in that region. It is not a war in defence of our lives or the lives of our allies, and has never seriously been promoted as such. Lives are being sacrificed in defence of our interests.)
Jesus’ teaching, as characterised by John, noted the sterility of Jewish religious practice and its need for rebirth. He also spoke as if he knew the mind of God. An honest traditionalist, like Nicodemus, found it hard to give him unqualified support. Even today, orthodox Jewish scholars point to Jesus’ certainty of his own rightness, as unattractive and unjustified. Jesus’ answer to his critics was that he understood their tradition better than they did themselves, and although it would disrupt the etiquette of the religious supermarket, Christians might make a similar reply to the Jewish scholars today.
John characterises the opposition to Jesus as dishonest, authoritarian and murderous. Anyone who questions its methods is immediately accused of being soft on false prophets. It is the picture of a religious establishment preparing to kill in defence of its privilege.
At present we should be keeping a very close watch on the hierarchy of the Roman Church as it deals with the terrifying corruption of its priests and the criticism of its leadership. Its record suggests it will not scruple to damage vulnerable people, in order to maintain its huge power. The existence of this huge power is an issue for Christians of other denominations. There is a real argument for refusing to recognise it. (Can I really be reaching a point of agreement with Dr. Paisley?)