MARCH 21, 2012 ; WEDNESDAY OF 4TH WEEK OF LENT: IS 49:5-15: JOHN 5:17-30

 

WHOEVER HEARS MY WORD and believes has eternal life.” These words of Jesus are truly astonishing in their vast implications. Jesus himself was fully aware of this fact. He warned his Jewish audience by explicitly telling them “do not be amazed” at his claims. Among his hearers were men learned in the law of Moses who grasped the import of our Lord’s assertion, coming as it did just after he had miraculously healed a paralyzed man on the Sabbath. When criticized for breaking the law of Moses by a deed they considered forbidden on the day sacred to God, he deigned to explain his motives. However, his words, spoken for their sake in order to justify in their minds his deed of mercy, were met with such resistance that they hardened his critics in their view. These narrow-minded defenders of the law of Moses as they practiced it, convinced themselves that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy and so deserved to be stoned to death. They correctly understood that, as John words the matter, “he spoke of God as his own Father, and so made himself God’s equal.” What they failed to recognize was that God had provided a clear sign of his approval in the form of the miraculous healing of a man crippled for 38 years. The narrowness of their way of practicing the law, the Lord warns them, results from their desire to be honored by men. They had become blind themselves and so made inhuman demands that Jesus rejected.

 

This whole scene as presented by John is a palmary instance of the irony that is a highly effective feature of his writing. In the first lines of his Gospel he had identified our Lord in the astonishing terms that will always make claims on the faith of those who read or hear them: “in him was life and the life was the light of men.” Those who read the Gospel with belief realize that if Jesus later on gives sight to a man born blind, it is because in his very person he is the living light of God communicated to his creatures. Such realization, to be sure, is possible only to faith.

 

The critical hostility of the Jews on this occasion as when he gave sight to the blind, is due to a failure to interpret the giving of health to a cripple and light to a man born in darkness and deprived all his life of light as signs from God that Jesus is himself, as he declared later on, “the light of the world.” These miraculous deeds are living signs not only of God’s approval, but also of our Lord’s personal identity. And so it is only consistent with this fact that John goes on to record Jesus as making a further declaration at this time that “The Father judges no one; he has entrusted all judgment to the Son.”

 

In the first reading today we hear Isaiah the prophet announcing in God’s name: “to those in darkness ‘Show yourselves’ and he follows up this injunction with reassuring words that continue to give us confidence today in this society that we live in where increasingly darkness of unbelief spreads alarmingly. The Lord comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted. . . . Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” This Eucharist we offer at our altar here today is a pledge that we who put our faith and trust in our Lord as the beloved Son of the Father from all ages, can have confidence that in him we have the light that is true life. May this same light shine ever more brightly in our hearts and bring new life and hope to those who remain in the darkness of unbelief. ? 

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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