Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent
March 10, 2016
Ex 32:7-14, Ps 106, Jn 5:31-47
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today we continue with Jesus’ response to the Scribes and Pharisees who were opposing him as evil because he healed on the Sabbath day the man crippled for 38 years. They had imputed their own false ideas of the holiness God wanted us to keep on the Sabbath day to God and then, because Jesus violated those false ideas, condemned him for the violation. They thought that the holiness God wanted was to avoid any work at all, including works of charity; what God had forbidden was in fact slavish work so that, instead of enslaving ourselves on the Sabbath, we would allow him to restore us to true freedom, a freedom that is meant to make it possible for us to love. The holiness God wanted us to keep on the Sabbath was that of loving Him and loving neighbor. God doesn’t take a weekly day off from loving us — as if a loving father or mother could take a hiatus from caring for her children — and never intended us to do the same. The Pharisees’ and Scribes’ misunderstanding of the Sabbath was at the root of their deep confusion of what God was asking of them in general, something of which Jesus wanted to cure them, if only their hearts were open.
- In today’s passage Jesus discusses the whole question of the authority by which he was working these miracles, especially the ones on the Sabbath. Since they didn’t believe he could possibly be working miracles on the Sabbath by God’s power, since God in their imagination went on vacation each Sabbath, he had to be doing so by some other authority. Elsewhere they explicitly accused him of working miracles on the Sabbath by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, basically in order to destroy the Jewish religion! So Jesus here takes up the question of authority and the question of the witnesses or testimony to his authority. He names five of them. It’s key for us to understand these five witnesses, so that we can grow in our knowledge of Jesus through these five different means of testimony. In a particular way during this Jubilee of Mercy, we can look at the way each of these five witnesses testifies to God’s mercy, so that we can in turn because a “sixth witness” showing the fruits of God’s merciful action in us and pointing us to the Font of Mercy.
- The first witness is John the Baptist, who had pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God. Jesus said, “You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth. I do not accept human testimony, but I say this so that you may be saved.” John had pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, but they didn’t accept John’s testimony and the offer of salvation that would be brought by the Lamb through the forgiveness of their sins.
- Jesus says, however, “But I have testimony greater than John’s” and then immediately describes that greater witness: the works he was doing. Jesus says, “The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.” He could only do what he was doing — healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, multiplying loaves and fish, calming storms — by the power of God. But they didn’t want to accept the testimony of the works, works that the Messiah had been prophesied to accomplish and many more. Their hearts were hardened and there was just no way they were prepared to receive Jesus no matter what he did. Even after he rose from the dead, they didn’t want to accept even that work, but instead paid off the guards to say, absurdly, that the disciples had stolen his body while they were asleep (if they were asleep, how could they possibly have known what happened to the body not to mention identify any thief?). Because they were going to reject Jesus no matter what, they rejected the divine provenance of all of his works.
- The third witness is Sacred Scripture. Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.” There are over 1,000 prophecies about the coming Messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus by that point had been fulfilling almost everything on the Messianic job description except for the prophecies of his suffering, death and resurrection that were about to come. But as much as they affirmed themselves as experts in the Scriptures, they resisted concluding that any of them pointed to Jesus despite the fact that he was fulfilling each of them.
- The fourth witness Jesus mentions is Moses. Jesus says, “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father: the one who will accuse you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” All Moses accomplished was together one long prophecy about Jesus. His going up on the Mt. Sinai and returning with the Ten Commandments pointed to how Jesus ascended the Mount of the Beatitudes and gave us the New Law. His leading the Jews in the Passover was a prophecy about what Jesus himself would do through his new and eternal Passover, leading us through the desert of life and death into the Eternal Promised Land. But Moses had told the Jews, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (Deut 18:15). That prophecy was still very much awaiting fulfillment at the time of St. John the Baptist, who was asked by the crowds, “Are you the prophet?” (Jn 1:21). No, Jesus in fact was. But they didn’t want to accept that testimony. Jesus was also the fulfillment of Moses’ action in today’s first reading as well, interceding for the people’s salvation before God the Father on account of their idolatry. Moses had asked God to eliminate him rather than the people. That request would be, in essence, fulfilled in the Passion, when Jesus, the new Moses, would actually be killed as an expiatory sacrifice for the sins of the people. But they didn’t want to accept any of that fulfillment of Moses’ life either.
- The fifth witness is the most important. It’s the witness of God the Father. This witness was pointed to in all of the other four. It’s God the Father who called John the Baptist to prepare the way for his Son. It’s God the Father who was speaking through each of Jesus’ miracles. It’s God the Father who inspired Sacred Scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s God the Father who called Moses at the burning bush, sent him to Pharaoh, worked the 10 plagues, separated the Red Sea, fed the Israelites with Manna and quail, quenched their thirst with water from the Rock, gave the Ten Commandments, accompanied them in a pillar of fire and so much more. But all of that testimony was, in a certain sense, indirect. God the Father gave direct testimony of Jesus at his baptism, saying from heaven, “This is my Son, my beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.” God the Father gave direct testimony at the Transfiguration, witnessed by Peter, James and John, in which he said, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” God the Father would later give witness to Jesus, not only speaking during the Last Supper that he had glorified Jesus’ name and would glorify it again, but most spectacularly by raising Jesus from the dead on the third day. But they weren’t prepared to receive the testimony of God either.
- Today, four weeks into the Lenten conversion God wants to work in us, we need to ask ourselves how docile we are to everything God has given us to strengthen our faith and help us to grow in our relationship with Jesus. Have we accepted the testimony of John the Baptist pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world by coming to that Lamb to have him take away our sins in the Sacrament of God’s mercy and get at them at the real roots? Have we accepted the witness of so many miracles — the miracles in the causes of saints, the daily miracles on the altar and the confessional, and so many others — to help increase our faith in the power of prayer by praying with perseverance for the miracles we and others need? Have we embraced the witness of Sacred Scripture by studying the Bible, all it reveals about Christ and about us, and putting its words into practice? Have we accepted the witness of Moses pointing to Christ and really begun to follow the New Moses, Jesus, up close or have we, like many of the Jews in the desert, sought to do our own thing? And have we heard the witness of God the Father and really begun to listen to Jesus and recognize through him that God wants us not only to be but behave always as his beloved and much-pleasing sons and daughters? In this Year of Mercy, we can ask whether we are accepting this five-fold witness of God’s mercy: of John’s indicating the Lamb, of God’s works showing he has the power to forgive sins, of Sacred Scripture testifying to that God is gracious and merciful, of Moses pointing to the New Moses’ intercession before the Father, of the Father’s own witness of sending his Son not to condemn the world but so that it may be saved?
- Today as we come forward to celebrate the Eucharist, we ponder that all five of these witnesses point to what we’re about to do. This is the fulfillment of the Manna given to Moses in the desert. This is the Lamb of God pointed out with the very words of John the Baptist at every Mass. This is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Sacred Scripture contained in Isaiah that God will prepare for us a banquet of the choicest food and drink (Is 25). This is the greatest of all of Jesus’ signs of love, transforming simple bread and wine into his body and blood, soul and divinity, so that we can enter into a holy communion with him. And this is the greatest gift of all of the Father, who witnesses just how dear we are to him that he will give us the One is most precious to Him so that we can by this reception of his body and blood enter into the inner life and love of the Trinity. Let us accept this witness and let us in turn become the “sixth” witnesses whose whole lives attest, not just on the Sabbath but on every day, to the truth of Jesus’ continuing saving presence and redemptive work!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
“Go down at once to your people
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt,
for they have become depraved.
They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out,
‘This is your God, O Israel,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’
The LORD said to Moses,
“I see how stiff-necked this people is.
Let me alone, then,
that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.
Then I will make of you a great nation.”
“Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people,
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt
with such great power and with so strong a hand?
Why should the Egyptians say,
‘With evil intent he brought them out,
that he might kill them in the mountains
and exterminate them from the face of the earth’?
Let your blazing wrath die down;
relent in punishing your people.
Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel,
and how you swore to them by your own self, saying,
‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky;
and all this land that I promised,
I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’“
So the LORD relented in the punishment
he had threatened to inflict on his people.
PS 106:19-20, 21-22, 23
Our fathers made a calf in Horeb
and adored a molten image;
They exchanged their glory
for the image of a grass-eating bullock.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
They forgot the God who had saved them,
who had done great deeds in Egypt,
Wondrous deeds in the land of Ham,
terrible things at the Red Sea.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
Then he spoke of exterminating them,
but Moses, his chosen one,
Withstood him in the breach
to turn back his destructive wrath.
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.
“If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is not true.
But there is another who testifies on my behalf,
and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true.
You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth.
I do not accept human testimony,
but I say this so that you may be saved.
He was a burning and shining lamp,
and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.
But I have testimony greater than John’s.
The works that the Father gave me to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify on my behalf
that the Father has sent me.
Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf.
But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form,
and you do not have his word remaining in you,
because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.
You search the Scriptures,
because you think you have eternal life through them;
even they testify on my behalf.
But you do not want to come to me to have life.
moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you.
I came in the name of my Father,
but you do not accept me;
yet if another comes in his own name,
you will accept him.
How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another
and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?
Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father:
the one who will accuse you is Moses,
in whom you have placed your hope.
For if you had believed Moses,
you would have believed me,
because he wrote about me.
But if you do not believe his writings,
how will you believe my words?”