The blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church
Reading 1, Jeremiah 20:10-13
10 I heard so many disparaging me, ‘Terror on every side! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ All those who were on good terms with me watched for my downfall, ‘Perhaps he will be seduced into error. Then we shall get the better of him and take our revenge!’
11 But the Lord is at my side like a mighty hero; my opponents will stumble, vanquished, confounded by their failure; everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs.
12 Lord of hosts, you who test the upright, observer of motives and thoughts, I shall see your vengeance on them, for I have revealed my cause to you.
13 Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has delivered the soul of one in need from the clutches of evil doers
Gospel John 10: 31-42
31 The Jews fetched stones to stone him,
32 so Jesus said to them, ‘I have shown you many good works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’
33 The Jews answered him, ‘We are stoning you, not for doing a good work, but for blasphemy; though you are only a man, you claim to be God.’
34 Jesus answered: Is it not written in your Law: I said, you are gods?
35 So it uses the word ‘gods’ of those people to whom the word of God was addressed — and scripture cannot be set aside.
36 Yet to someone whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world you say, ‘You are blaspheming’ because I said, ‘I am Son of God.’
37 If I am not doing my Father’s work, there is no need to believe me;
38 but if I am doing it, then even if you refuse to believe in me, at least believe in the work I do; then you will know for certain that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.
39 They again wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded their clutches.
40 He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to the district where John had been baptising at first and he stayed there.
41 Many people who came to him said, ‘John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true’;
42 and many of them believed in him.
Buddhists say “I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the teaching; I take refuge in the community of disciples.”
Here Jeremiah takes refuge in God. He has no other support. His message from God has brought him suspicion, hatred, and opposition. Only God is wise and knows that the truth of his message will be seen by those who have disparaged it. The prophet’s utter conviction that he has been “sent” by God, gives him this strength in the face of overwhelming odds.
What would I think of Jeremiah, if his like was to appear today? I would probably dismiss him as a nutter. I’ve been listening on the radio to the story of Alice Gibson, the woman who believed God had told her to shoot Mussolini, which indeed she did, but scarcely hurt him. She was delivered fairly rapidly to her family, who immediately had her incarcerated in a psychiatric institution, where she languished for twenty years until her death. Many of those who suffered from Il Duce’s rule, might have judged that she was sane, and her captors, mad.
Obviously we have to judge the worth of those who pretend to speak for God, or the people. One good test might be their readiness to use violence. Jesus was against it. But then, what about Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wanted to kill Hitler, or Nelson Mandela who wanted to get rid of Apartheid? A disciple of Jesus Christ should be very careful about justifying any violence at all. I think it becomes clear, that although the conviction of a divine calling may be central to a person’s project, we have to judge that project on its own merits, recognising the ambiguity of all human action, but judging nevertheless.
How does that leave Jesus’ controversy with the Jewish religious leaders? According to John, he adopts the argument I’ve given above: look at what I’m doing, he says. If these are godly actions, believe; if they are not, then there’s no reason to believe. Jesus is pushing the leaders into a corner. They do not deny the goodness of his actions, and presumably they cannot deny that goodness comes from God. Well then, why are they not prepared to listen to Jesus, as the one whom God has sent? Of course, they don’t listen because Jesus calls their own authority into question, but also because he seems to be claiming a unique intimacy with God.
This claim is backed by Jesus complete openness- he does nothing in secret, except prayer; and by his readiness to suffer. He is prepared to die and he takes refuge in the God who raises the dead. Even then, I think, we can see that the claim could be false: Jesus might believe it, and accept the consequences of making it, and still be mistaken.
I believe in Jesus’ unique authority, but I recognise that this belief is my choice, and I must not denigrate those who do not so choose. And certainly, when the church claims Jesus’ authority for its own words or actions, it must be opposed. This is not a comfortable issue. I’d be particularly interested in readers’ comments about it.