Homily, Fifth Friday of Lent

Readings:

Jeremiah 20:10-13
Psalm 18:2-3a, 3bc-4, 5-6, 7
John 10:31-42



“Sin,” Fleming Rutledge observes, “is not so much a collection of individual misdeeds as it is an active, malevolent agency bent upon despoiling, imprisonment, and death – the utter undoing of God’s purposes.” Rutledge continues, “misdeeds are signs of that agency at work; they are not the thing itself. It is the ‘thing itself’ that is our cosmic Enemy.”
            Albeit embarrassing, there is something immediately consoling about the enumeration of one’s sins. With little effort, all of us can recall the "usual suspects" heard in the confessional: pornography and masturbation, excessive eating and drinking, anger, gossip, ingratitude, not being faithful to prayer, taking the Lord’s name in vain, etc. You get the picture: we have a whole catalogue we can pick and choose from. Yet I am aware of a temptation to “explain away” sin – within myself and for those who come to the Sacrament of Penance – by describing sin as nothing other than “missing the mark.” How many times have I assured myself, or reassured others, “Well, we all make mistakes” or, "perfect is the enemy of the good.” I am guilty of a self-protective blindness that prevents me from seeing the depths of my complicity in Sin's work in the world. 
            As we draw closer to Holy Week and the silhouette of the Cross becomes clearer on the horizon, tonight’s readings offer us flesh-and-blood illustrations of Sin’s agency as resisting and undoing God’s purposes. Recall the opening words from the first reading. Jeremiah’s enemies whisper against him Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him! The prophet’s enemies turn his own words against him. Just a few verses earlier, Terror on every side was the name God gave to the priest Pashur. Pashur imprisoned Jeremiah within the Temple, taking God’s message and messenger captive. Note the irony: the high priest who should discern and proclaim God’s word acts in opposition to God. Terror on Every Side testifies to the fate that awaits Israel: Pashur’s resistance to God condemns Judah to its Babylonian exiles. Jeremiah’s enemies do not sin by “missing the mark” but, rather, by allowing themselves to be enslaved to a power, an agency, actively intent on thwarting God’s creative desires for his people.
            This dynamic is at play in the Gospel. Jesus is rejected not simply for speaking on behalf of God but for claiming to be God’s Son. Again, we cannot excuse those around him for misunderstanding Jesus’ point. They grasp full well not only what he is saying but also, and more importantly, what it means for him to claim that he and the Father are one. They, rightly to their mind, reject Jesus as a blasphemer, as one guilty of making himself God. His response to their charges falls on deaf ears. Put simply, Jesus reminds his listeners that the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Look at my works, he says, and tell me what you see. If my deeds do not testify to God’s presence, then ignore me. But if you see the work of the Creator, if you open your eyes and see that my works proclaim the Father’s works, see them and know that I speak the truth: the Father is in me and I am in the Father.
            Jesus is not bragging or pointing to individual deeds: see, look what I did at Cana; and let me remind you of what I did at the Pool of Siloam; don’t forget, I recently fed five thousand people. Instead, Jesus points back to his works as signs of God’s gracious agency at work in history to renew, to liberate, and to restore creation. In effect, he asks the crowd, “Who is made present in and through my life? If you recognize God's presence in my deeds, put down your stones and be part of my work, of the Father’s work, for the two of us are One. Do not arrest the Word but commit yourself to setting it free within the world.”
            Perhaps tonight’s readings may be taken as an opportunity to examine our own consciences. If we place ourselves with Jeremiah and Jesus, what do we see? Do we see ourselves reflected in Pashur’s face: unwilling to welcome God’s creative word, inhospitable to the prophet, reluctant to undergo conversion if it is not convenient? Do we see ourselves in the crowd gathered around Jesus, people who understand what he is saying but are unwilling to undergo the consequences of accepting what they see and following him? Do we have the courage to acknowledge where we are agents of the cosmic enemy, where the enemy of human nature knows us by name, knows us personally and intimately? Instead of fixing on the usual catalogue, do we turn our eyes to things we conveniently pass over: our hidden racism, sexism, prejudices, or biases against people? Our cynicism about the motives of those on the other side of the political aisle or resentment against others? Are we willing to repent of those areas of blindness that keep us from seeing others as human? Can we beg for the grace to renounce friendship with the Enemy to embrace more fully the name God gives us in grace and love: my beloved, my child, my son?  

            When Jesus escapes the attempt to arrest him, he goes across the Jordan to the place where John once baptized. Let us follow him and be reminded of our own baptism when we were drawn into his life, death, and resurrection. Where we have been enslaved by Sin, let us invite healing. Where we are blind to others' needs or deaf to their cries, may our eyes and ears be opened. In those places where we serve as agents of grace and mercy, let us ask for perseverance. And as we follow Jesus this upcoming week from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to his horrifying death on the Cross, let us be true to our call to be Companions of Jesus and remain at the side of the one who delivers us from death, restores us to life, and calls us by name to walk with him as his friends. 


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