Besetting the Just One, Fourth Friday of Lent, April 4, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent
April 4, 2014
Wis 2:1.12-22, Ps 34, Jn 7:1-2.10.25-30

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today the Church begins a new series in the first reading of the prophecies about Jesus’ suffering. I’ve mentioned many times this Lent that this holy season is an annual catechumenate preparing unbaptized adults for the commitment they will make at the saving font and helping all baptized Catholics to get ready for the renewal of their baptismal promises at Easter. And part of that preparation is to get us ready to suffer for the faith. For the first 250 years of Christianity, to participate in the catechumenate was to enter a school for martyrs. To be a Christian you needed to be ready to die for the faith, as so many Christians did in the first few centuries when to be a Christian was illegal and punishable by death. The catechumenate would sometimes take years until the person baptized was ready to make that commitment to be faithful to Christ until death, just as Christ was faithful to us until death. But sometimes the catechumenate was very short, when soldiers, for example, asked to be baptized upon seeing the joyful heroism of the martyrs, only to baptized in blood themselves soon after they were baptized in water and the Holy Spirit. During this phase of our Lenten journey, we are called not only to ponder Jesus’ sufferings and how they fulfilled so many Old Testament prophecies, but also how wetoo, like the early Christians, will suffer on account of his name. The Lenten journey of prayer, self-denial and self-giving are precisely meant to strengthen us through being faithful in these little things to be faithful in the supreme tests.
  • Today in the Gospel, St. John tells us straight out that “the Jews were seeking to kill” Jesus and that many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, when they saw him teaching in the temple precincts during the Feast of Tabernacles, said aloud, “Is he not the one they are trying to kill?” They were seeking to kill him because they were convinced that he was an agent of the devil, working miracles not by the power of God but by the power of Beelzebul to destroy the Jewish religion by violating the Sabbath through works of charity, driving money changers out of the temple and speaking about the Temple’s destruction and rebuilding, befriending notorious sinners, pretending to forgive sins, and various other practices that conveyed that Jesus was not only acting with divine authority but was the actual Son of God. They had made an idol out of their own interpretations of the law, missing the spirit and literal meaning for the literalistic letter, focusing on human practices rather than the “weightier things” of what God was asking. They refused to accept anyone who challenged them beyond their convictions, no matter how many miracles he worked, how beautiful his teaching, or who attested to his divine authority. Rather than filling them with joy when Jesus reconciled sinners, or made the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, or the possessed be freed of their demons, they responded with envy, anger and unholy homicidal thoughts.
  • We get a window into that destructive envy in today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom, that prophesied both what they would do to Jesus and why. “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us,” the wicked say to themselves. He’s obnoxious because “he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.” Because of their pride in being so-called experts of the law, they couldn’t fathom anyone’s accusing them of not keeping the law. “He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord,” a charge they never investigated but just rejected because he was obnoxious to their comfortable spiritual status quo. But it wasn’t merely Jesus’ deeds or words that pierced them. It was his very presence. “To us he is the censure of our thoughts;  merely to see him is a hardship for us, because his life is not like that of others and different are his ways. He judges us debased; he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure.” Then they get to the most offensive part of all. “He calls blest the destiny of the just and boasts that God is his Father.” They were like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son who related to his Father not as a dad but as a slave master whom he was called to obey and serve rather than love. They didn’t want anyone to talk about the love of the Father or especially anyone who called himself a Son of God.
  • So then, after that envy, they concocted a plan supposed to test him but really to eliminate him. “Let us see whether his words be true,” they said to themselves. “Let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes. With revilement and torture let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.” These thoughts, we can note, were the same thoughts that the devil expressed to Jesus in the desert, encouraging him to throw himself down because the angels would take charge of him lest he dash his foot against a stone. They would make the end justify the means of torture and killing the just man, to have God prove that he was truly just by intervening, much like God stopped Abraham from killing his son Isaac.
  • But the Book of Wisdom tells us, “These were their thoughts, but they erred; for their wickedness blinded them, and they knew not the hidden counsels of God; neither did they count on a recompense of holiness nor discern the innocent souls’ reward.” Sin, especially envy, blinds us to God’s ways and often leads us to do evil thinking that we’re doing good. The scribes and the Pharisees thought that they were pleasing God by framing Jesus, conspiring with the Romans, lying and doing all types of other sins in order to have him executed, because sin can make us think black is white.
  • This prophecy about how Jesus the just one was beset by evildoers because he himself was a censure to their thoughts and they wanted to test his goodness by treating him in the most vile way to see if they could reduce him to their own level is something that happens to all of us, at some point, if we really seek to identify ourselves totally with Jesus. Jesus told us quite emphatically that if they hated him, they’d hate us, too; that if they persecuted the prophets, they would persecute us, too; that if they thought they were glorifying God by killing God’s emissaries in times past, they likewise would feel justified in persecuting and maltreating us, dragging us between religious and civil jurisdictions and more. This is fulfilled in every age.
  • This morning in his Mass in the Vatican, Pope Francis talked about how all of us, as Christians, have received in baptism the vocation to be persecuted with Christ.  He told us that throughout the history of salvation, and also in the Church the prophets were persecuted, because they pointed out to people their wrong ways, and the powerful dislike this. The situation didn’t cease with the persecution of Jesus. He said, “I dare say perhaps there are more martyrs today that in the early times,” because they tell the truth and proclaim Jesus to a worldly society that is tranquil and does not want to be disturbed. He went on to describe the situations of Catholics in various parts of the world who are imprisoned for living our faith or martyred, even during Church services, because of our witness to Christ.
  • We don’t need to go to other continents to grasp that we will be persecuted for our faith. The persecution is growing. One of the fastest areas is the intolerance being shown by others if we uphold Jesus’ teachings on marriage in a context in which some want to treat homosexual activity as the eighth sacrament rather than sinful or who want to uphold that marriage is a bond God makes between one man and one woman rather than any two adults who are attracted to each other. John the Baptist was killed because of Herodias’ envious rage that he had the gall to say that it was unlawful for Herod to marry his brother Philip’s wife (who was also his own niece). Many others are having to suffer on account of saying that it’s not lawful for men to marry men. Just yesterday we saw that Brendan Eike, the CEO of Mozilla, which makes the Firefox web browser, needed to resign because back in 2008 he contributed $1,000 to the Proposition 8 battle in California that was seeking to ensure that marriage remain between a man and a woman. Company employees found out, treated him as if he were worse than a Ku Klux Klan member, and effectively forced him to resign. This is happening far more. Those who once promoted tolerance for different ideas and lifestyles, now that they’re becoming more dominant in culture, are demonstrating a total intolerance for those of different, more traditional, ideas and lifestyle.
  • But it can also happen in the Church. A couple of weeks ago, a great young Nashville Dominican, Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel, gave a presentation at Charlotte (NC) Catholic High School on the Church’s teachings on sexuality, including with regard to homosexuality. The students began a huge protest, followed up with a meeting with irate parents, upset that a Catholic High School was actually teaching consistent with the faith. She’s being persecuted for having the gall to say that homosexual activity is wrong in a culture in which people want to pretend as if God didn’t know what he was doing when he stated that it was wrong. Just like with the Scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel, people don’t want their own “orthodoxy” challenged, even by Jesus and the Gospel, and they’re resorted to treating this young sister, the chaplain who brought her in to teach, and the entire school administration as if they’re all evil, rather than homosexual activity evil.
  • We could likewise focus on the persecution that has begun under the guise of promoting “women’s rights” to forcing others to participate in and pay for women to have abortions, but the same dynamic is at work. People conspire to beset those who are just, who are right with God, because merely having someone with ideas united to the Gospel is obnoxious to those who want to live as if they’re gods determining right and wrong and envy leads to persecution.
  • Today we need to grasp that just as the Book of Wisdom prophesied about Jesus’ sufferings, so it is a prophecy about the persecution of those who are just in every age. Lent is to meant to help us to prepare to remain faithful under that duress because we know that the Lord is with us and will bring good out of our suffering and life out of our death. He told us in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are you when people revile you, persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” The Christian life is a way of the Cross, yes, but we know that that way of the Cross leads us through Calvary to the eternal Jerusalem.
  • “When the just cry out, the Lord hears them,” we pray in the Responsorial Psalm today, “and from all their distress he rescues them.” He doesn’t rescue us necessarily in this world because our witness of faith under trial may be the supreme way we proclaim the Gospel and build his kingdom, but he does rescue us eternally.
  • As we prepare to receive Jesus here in Holy Communion, let us ask him to unite ourselves fully to him so that we will receive from him the strength not to fear those who can only harm the body or the reputation or the bank account but who cannot harm the soul. And let us ask him for the grace to pray with greater insistence for our persecutors who are persecuting Him in his Body and to love those who out of envy have made themselves our enemies and enemies of Christ.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
WIS 2:1A, 12-22

The wicked said among themselves,
thinking not aright:
“Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
Reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God
and styles himself a child of the LORD.
To us he is the censure of our thoughts;
merely to see him is a hardship for us,
Because his life is not like that of others,
and different are his ways.
He judges us debased;
he holds aloof from our paths as from things impure.
He calls blest the destiny of the just
and boasts that God is his Father.
Let us see whether his words be true;
let us find out what will happen to him.
For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him
and deliver him from the hand of his foes.
With revilement and torture let us put him to the test
that we may have proof of his gentleness
and try his patience.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death;
for according to his own words, God will take care of him.”
These were their thoughts, but they erred;
for their wickedness blinded them,
and they knew not the hidden counsels of God;
neither did they count on a recompense of holiness
nor discern the innocent souls’ reward.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 34:17-18, 19-20, 21 AND 23

R. (19a) The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
R. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
Many are the troubles of the just man,
but out of them all the LORD delivers him.
R. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.
He watches over all his bones;
not one of them shall be broken.
The LORD redeems the lives of his servants;
no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him.
R. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.

Gospel
JN 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

Jesus moved about within Galilee;
he did not wish to travel in Judea,
because the Jews were trying to kill him.
But the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near.But when his brothers had gone up to the feast,
he himself also went up, not openly but as it were in secret.Some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem said,
“Is he not the one they are trying to kill?
And look, he is speaking openly and they say nothing to him.
Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ?
But we know where he is from.
When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.”
So Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said,
“You know me and also know where I am from.
Yet I did not come on my own,
but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true.
I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.”
So they tried to arrest him,
but no one laid a hand upon him,
because his hour had not yet come.