Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent | Readings: Jeremiah 20:10-13; John 10:31-42
These parallel readings today will allow me to illustrate what I think is central to religion’s best instincts and also allows religious people to make their worst mistakes. We all confuse words with reality itself, and this still happens among people who believe that in Jesus “The Word became flesh, and lives among us.” We should know better.
In the First Reading from the reluctant prophet Jeremiah, we see him in a moment of real paranoia, “All those who were my friends are waiting for any mistake of mine. ‘Perhaps he will trap himself in his words, and then we can prevail,’” they say. If you continue, you will see that Jeremiah soon becomes as bad as they are. He asks God to wreak vengeance on them, humiliate them with “unforgettable disgrace,” and even adds, “Let me watch it!” This is not a highly inspired or inspiring text, but all fear, righteousness, and vengeance in the name of God. Jeremiah becomes here what he hates and fears in others.
In the Gospel we have Jesus also being attacked and about to be stoned for “making himself God.” And instead of denying the claim, he invites them into the same experience, by quoting Psalm 82:6: “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods!’ And this is spoken to those to whom God’s word is addressed, and Scripture cannot be rejected. So why do you claim that I blaspheme?” This is a daring and non-dualistic acclamation from Jesus! He simply shouts out his own divine union and invites them to the same experience, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (10:38), as he stands before them by all visible evidence, a human being just as they are! “Yes, I claim it, but we all can!” he seems to say. The invitational message is clear and compelling, but it cannot be heard through words, for some reason. It is, quite literally, too good to be true. It can only be experienced. So they “try to arrest him,” just as much of Christian history has arrested, feared, and denied any message of actual union with God.
“It is not for any good deed that we are stoning you,” the Jews said, “but for blaspheming. You are clearly only a man, and yet you make yourself a God.. . . ‘Why do you say I am blaspheming, because I say that I am God’s son?’” —John 10:33, 36
“Good and Generous God, why do you have such a hard time giving yourself away? You want to share your very self with us, your own divine nature, and we will not allow it.”