Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Have you noticed that devotion puts others on the defensive, even if it is devotion for God? In today's world, when secular people see religion as something not rational, it is easy for devotion to feel threatening. Regular attendance at worship or reading scripture is threatening for some. Indeed, even other Christians can feel threatened if they think someone else is trying to be a better Christian than them. Fasting, attendance at daily mass, praying at other times than table grace, protesting against unjust wages or the death penalty, trying to practice the church's teachings on marriage and family, using clean speech - all these and more become things that put others on the defensive (and not coincidentally, become the subject for a great many arguments online and offline).
Today's scriptures help us think more about devotion and what it means to do God's will. It is worth reading the whole of chapter 7 in today's gospel (John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30) because at least one thing will seem immediately strange when we read today's cut-and-pasted version. Why is it that Jesus says he will not go to the Feast of the Tabernacles in verses 1 and 2, but then in verse 10 seemingly has a change of heart and goes to join his brothers? When we read the whole chapter we see why: Jesus says in verse 6 that "My time is not yet here but the time is always right for you." His reason for initially not going to celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles is very similar to the end of today's gospel reading where he manages to escape the authorities: "his hour had not yet come."
Today's passage thus gives us an image of Jesus as a person who very strongly wants to do God's will. We probably know that about Jesus already, in a general sense. But in this passage we have Jesus being very, very particular about the times he does things, the places he goes, the people he hangs out with. Perhaps this gives us some insight into why the people and the authorities hate him. He just won't do things "their way" and that makes him seem strange and threatening. Consider how the people say in this passage that Jesus cannot be the Christ because no one will know the Christ - but Jesus effectively ignores their supposition and says, "Of course you know me and where I am from. But I did not come on my own." God sent Jesus; again and again, Jesus clearly is focused on God.
Today's gospel makes an excellent pairing with the first reading (Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22), in which a crowd of people are reproaching someone, NOT because he's doing the wrong thing, but because he's doing the right thing and they resent it. They're used to being able to fudge things a bit and still come out looking pretty good because "everyone does it that way." We are probably more like the people in today's first reading than we want to admit. We are simultaneously fascinated and threatened by people who do things differently, especially when they do things differently but with a reason like, "We're doing it for God." Peoples' fascination with the Amish comes to mind as an example, but though we are often fascinated we also will say to ourselves that we'd never live that way.
But we know how important it is to maintain focus on Jesus' reason for doing something: God's will. If we are doing something because we believe, in good faith, that we are doing God's will and not because we are trying to show off or be arrogant, then we are doing things for the right reasons. This may well mean we experience others' anger or hurt; it may well even lead us straight to the cross as it did for Jesus. The point is always God's will, though.
I am reminded of Thomas Merton's famous poem "My Lord God" in which he speaks of the difficulty of following God, but also writes: "I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you and I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing." In this, the middle of Lent, let us cling to the desire to follow God and have faith then, that God is leading us in the right path.
Jana M. Bennett