(Optional Memorial for Saint John Baptist De La Salle, Priest)
|“The Attempt to Stone Christ” |
by Michael Pacher 1479-81
During the Fifth Week of Lent (especially in cycles B and C when the Gospel of Lazarus is not read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent) optional Mass Texts are offered.
Reading 1: Jeremiah 20:10-13
Commentary on Jer 20:10-13
Jeremiah is near despair as the plots of his family and friends are fomented against him. We can clearly hear the fear in his voice (“All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine”). Yet, in spite of his dire situation, he trusts that God will support him. Indeed, he is hoping that God will not only save him but will punish those who plot against him.
This is a typical Old Testament understanding of the God of Justice, who visits his wrath on the enemies of the faithful. We see also an interesting observation about the path of the faithful: “O Lord of hosts, you who test the just, who probe mind and heart,” inferring that the path of faithfulness is always difficult.
CCC: Jer 20:7-18 2584
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 18:2-3a, 3bc-4, 5-6, 7
R. (see 7) In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.
Commentary on Ps 18:2-3a, 3bc-4,5-6, 7
Psalm 18 is a hymn of thanksgiving for God’s salvation. While in its full form it is sung in thanks to God for victory following a physical battle, in these strophes we see thanks is given for heavenly aid in difficult situations.
Gospel: John 10:31-42
Commentary on Jn 10:31-42
Jesus is in the Temple at Jerusalem, once again on a festival day (probably the Feast of the Dedication or Festival of Lights). He has just finished his discourse on the Good Shepherd and a number of those present are pressing him to declare that he is the Messiah. Immediately preceding this reading, he answered them, “The Father and I are one.” Now his enemies pick up stones ready to punish him for this blasphemy.
Instead of leaving immediately, Jesus tells them to look at his works, the signs he has performed, and judge if he is not doing the Father’s work. When they tell him it is not his works they challenge but his assertion that he is God, Jesus tells them: “Is it not written in your law, 'I said, You are gods'?” This is a reference to the judges of Israel who, since they exercised the divine prerogative to judge (Deuteronomy 1:17), were called "gods"; cf Exodus 21:6, in addition to Psalm 82:6 from which the quotation comes.
Jesus continues to point at his salvific actions, but the agents of the Sanhedrin do not accept this argument, although many in the crowd do since we hear: “…they tried again to arrest him; but he escaped their power.” This would seem to imply that they feared intervention from the crowd. Jesus leaves followed by “many” and continues to teach, across the Jordan.
CCC: Jn 10:31-38 548; Jn 10:31 574; Jn 10:33 574, 589, 594; Jn 10:36-38 591; Jn 10:36 437, 444, 1562; Jn 10:37-38 582; Jn 10:38 548
At the very beginning of St. Paul’s rendition of the Kenotic Hymn in Philippians 2: 5-11 he says: “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.” This attitude is very clearly presented in the Gospel of St. John, as Jesus is confronted in the Temple by those who want him killed. It contrasts very nicely with the Prophet Jeremiah, who is in similar circumstances depicted in the first reading.
Jeremiah is being persecuted. His family and friends have turned against him and he fears for his life. What does he do? As the faith-filled prophet he is, he turns to God with confidence that he will be vindicated. He is sure that his enemies will not succeed and that they themselves will feel the punishment of God. The prophet even longs to see the punishment God will visit upon those who plot against him (“Let me witness the vengeance you take on them”).
We contrast this attitude with the attitude of Christ that we, as his followers, are enjoined to assume. Jesus has come to Jerusalem, to the Temple, and there is confronting the Jewish Leadership. These leaders are tasked with remaining faithful to the Law and Prophets, waiting for the Messiah to come as promised. It is the Messiah who will lead them to the peace and salvation promised by God. Jesus is being urged by those who have seen the signs and who are longing for the salvation of God, to come out and announce that he is this long awaited Messiah. But, recognizing that this expectation is misplaced, that what they hope for is born of human desire, not the divine plan he has come to fulfill, he defers. Instead he takes a much more dangerous path. He tells them of his divine origin.
Immediately, he has placed himself in a much more dangerous position than the one in which Jeremiah had been. This is where we see the attitude of Christ. He does not flee, nor does he call upon the Father to punish the unbelieving people who call themselves Priests of God. He tries to open their eyes so that they can see that he is indeed the Son of God. “Believe the works,” he begs them, not to save himself, but to save those who fail to see. Indeed, the attitude of Christ is love. He expresses his love through his invitation, even in the face of their hatred.
Alas, the time of fulfillment has not yet come and he leaves, going to where it all began, where St. John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan. Soon though, we see the attitude of Christ fully exposed. Soon now, God calls him home.
 The picture is from St. Wolfgang Altarpiece: “The Attempt to Stone Christ” by Michael Pacher 1479-81