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Friday, fourth week of Lent

March 11, 2005

Blessed Friday!

Wisdom 2:1, 12-22 (the wicked plot to persecute the just one)
Psalm 34:17-23 “The Lord is near to broken hearts”
+John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30 (Jesus’ life is at risk)

If you do the right thing, you can expect to be persecuted. You can also expect God to have everything under control (although He may not handle it the way you want Him to).

First we get a glimpse into the mind of the wicked. They’re utterly clueless about the sacred order. They see themselves as cosmic accidents which are going to fade into nothingness in an inescapable, meaningless death (this is sounding startlingly familiar!), so they might as well live it up while they can. “Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds ere they wither; let no meadow be free from our wantonness” (Wisdom 2:8-9). Given their starting assumption, their conclusion is logical. Why bother with morality if it diminishes the only value life has? That would be stupid!

The trouble is, not everyone agrees with them. Enter the righteous, with his clashing worldview. The righteous one has learned at least the basics of the sacred order. He’s learned that there is a God who has built meaning into the world from its very foundation. He’s learned that human life has eternal value and meaning, that it’s sacred, and that sin destroys the soul. He’s necessarily counter-cultural. Not only does he value, protect and nourish his own soul against the contagion of sin, but he cares about the wicked too, those whom he sees unwittingly destroying themselves. Out of love for them and a desire to spare them the eternal consequences of their misconception of Reality, he warns them and challenges them to change. Even when he doesn’t directly oppose them, his distinctive, holy lifestyle makes them look bad. He gets in the way of the ideal they’ve made their god. He spoils their pleasure.

Something’s got to give. Either the wicked have to see the light and repent, or they have to get rid of the just one…and repenting’s no fun. Perhaps they can get rid of the just one by talking him into giving up his worldview, shame him into joining in their fun. Push his emotional buttons so he reacts without thinking through what he’s doing. Call him “intolerant”, “uncaring”, “out of touch”, “stuffy”, “sissy”. If he reacts by trying to prove that he’s not what they say he is, or even if he just gets tired of being pressured & decides to “live and let live,” he won’t be a threat anymore. If, however, he’s too steadfast to fall for their cajoling, they’re going to have to resort to sterner measures. “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” (Wisdom 2:19-20).

Jesus is the ultimate just man, the only completely sinless man to ever walk the earth, and this condemnation is exactly what He’s living with. When the Jewish leaders learned that He had healed the sick man by the pool of Bethesda (in Jerusalem–southern Israel) on the Sabbath, and that He justified this action by claiming equality with God, they were eager to kill Him. Jesus subsequently withdrew into Galilee (northern Israel), away from their influence (John 6:1). However, the feast of Booths had arrived, one of the three major feasts of pilgrimage, when everyone converged upon Jerusalem and lived in booths made of branches for a week (see Exodus 23:14-17, Leviticus 23:39-41 & Deuteronomy 16:15). It was a fall harvest festival, a time of great rejoicing. Jesus went to Jerusalem too, but privately, so as not to attract attention.

When the feast was about half over, Jesus began to teach in the temple, and one thrust of His teaching was to defend the justice of healing on the Sabbath (after all, even they believed it was right to circumcise on the Sabbath -see John 7:23). His hearers started wondering aloud, “Is not this the man they seek to kill? Can it be that the rulers have really come to know that this is the Christ?” (John 7:25-26). Then they pulled out another excuse to dismiss Him. “Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from” (John 7:27). Jesus cuts through this excuse too, making another reference to having come from the Father–whom they do not know. At this they wanted to seize Him, but couldn’t. It was not yet time for Him to die, so God prevented them.

There was, however, a time appointed for His Passion and death, and when that time arrived, Jesus’ enemies were able to arrest and kill Him. It was the time of the Passover, when the Jewish people celebrated their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt by sacrificing a lamb and holding a special, ceremonial feast at which the Lamb was eaten with unleavened bread (which, by the way, was not ordinary bread–the ingredients and preparation were, and still are, very carefully regulated by the Rabbis) and four ceremonial cups of wine. Jesus became our Passover, our deliverance from the slavery of sin. He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and He provided a way for us to take Him into our very being by changing the matzah (unleavened bread) and wine of that Passover feast into His own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. He transformed the Passover into the Mass.

If we seek to live in God’s sacred order, we will be counter-cultural. Because our culture does not like to be countered, we will experience opposition, even as Jesus did. We will be tempted to become defensive, to take up weapons of cynicism, criticism and contempt. These, the weapons of the very forces of darkness we are trying to defeat, will ensnare us. Rather, we need to respond to that opposition the way Jesus did, rather than react. His response was tailored to the situation. Sometimes He corrected (John 7:21-24). Sometimes He left (John 5:18, 6:1). Ultimately, He died.

In order to respond appropriately, we need to take up the armor of truth, faith, righteousness, salvation and zeal to spread the good news (i.e., that love of our enemies which motivates us help them get to Heaven) and to take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (see Ephesians 6:14-17), Jesus Himself, manifested through Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. We need to receive Him in Holy Communion, to be united with Him so that He can work in and through us.

Sometimes God will protect us from opposition, as He protected Jesus in today’s Gospel. When our hour has come, however, He will allow us to suffer. Either way, He knows what He’s doing and is bringing good out of evil. We do need to prayerfully discern whether persecution is due to a lack of charity, tact or discretion on our part. If not, opposition is an indication that we’re doing something right, that we’re following in our Teacher’s footsteps and taking up our cross as He taught us.

May we learn to respond to persecution the way Jesus did, challenging, evading or accepting it, depending on which method corresponds to the sacred order of the situation, doing all for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

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