Mar 30, 2022: Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

1st Reading – Isaiah 49:8-15

Thus says the LORD:
In a time of favor I answer you,
on the day of salvation I help you;
and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people,
To restore the land and allot the desolate heritages,
Saying to the prisoners: Come out!
To those in darkness: Show yourselves!
Along the ways they shall find pasture,
on every bare height shall their pastures be.
They shall not hunger or thirst,
nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them;
For he who pities them leads them
and guides them beside springs of water.
I will cut a road through all my mountains,
and make my highways level.
See, some shall come from afar,
others from the north and the west,
and some from the land of Syene.
Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth,
break forth into song, you mountains.
For the LORD comforts his people
and shows mercy to his afflicted.

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget, I will never forget you.

Today’s first reading is a passage from Isaiah in which God is speaking to the Israelites who have returned from exile but are depressed by the terrible state of their homeland.

Thus says the LORD: In a time of favor I answer you, on the day of salvation I help you;

The LORD cannot but be faithful to his people. He will grant salvation “in a time of favor.”

Saint Paul will apply this “time of favor” to the coming of Christ (2 Corinthians 6:2).

and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to restore the land and allot the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners: Come out! To those in darkness: Show yourselves!

The point made repeatedly in this passage is that God gives his beloved people special protection. People will come to Jerusalem from all over the diaspora, to settle there.

Along the ways they shall find pasture, on every bare height shall their pastures be. They shall not hunger or thirst, nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them; for he who pities them leads them and guides them beside springs of water. I will cut a road through all my mountains, and make my highways level.

Not only will God return the people to Jerusalem, he will also provide for their comfortable passage home. No aspect of their care is overlooked.

See, some shall come from afar, others from the north and the west, and some from the land of Syene.

The repatriates will return home from all points of the compass: “from afar” probably means Mesopotamia and therefore the east; “the land of Syene” is a city in the extreme south of Egypt.

Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth, break forth into song, you mountains. For the LORD comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted.

In joy for this new exodus, the passage ends with a brief but intense hymn of praise to God.

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; 

Zion is the name of the mountain in Jerusalem upon which the Temple was built. In poetic passages, it frequently referred to the entire nation, much as Washington, D.C. represents the government and actions of the entire United States today.

Zion identifies God by YHWH, his divine name, and admits that he is her lord. The verb āzab, translated here as “forsaken,” presumes there was some kind of relationship in the past, but despite this, Zion has been abandoned.

my Lord has forgotten me.”

This second verb, shākah (“forgotten”) suggests disregard on God’s part. While acknowledging that Yahweh is her lord and master, the lament is quite terse — a piercing cry.

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?

God responds.

The image of a mother who can never forget her children is one of the most beautiful metaphors used in the Bible to describe the love that God has for his people; it has been echoed by spiritual writers down through the ages.

The metaphor of a mother and her nursing child is extraordinary, given that, like all societies of the time, ancient Israel was a patriarchal society dominated by male-centered values. The imagery is striking in its intimacy and feminine nature; such a metaphor would have been considered presumptuous if not placed by the prophet into the mouth of God.

Even should she forget, I will never forget you.

It is improbable, but possible, that a woman would forget her own child. Even still, God will never forget his people. Therefore, though Zion may feel abandoned and forgotten, it is only a feeling; it is not a fact.

God’s attachment to his people will never be severed.

Psalm 145: 8-9, 13cd-14, 17-18

R. The Lord is gracious and merciful.

Today’s responsorial psalm is a hymn of praise of the greatness of God.

The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.

Technical covenant language abounds here. God is described as gracious (hannûn), compassionate (rahûm), and filled with lovingkindness (hesed).

This correlates with how God described himself at his revelation to Moses in Exodus 34:6.

The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works. The LORD is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works.

The psalmist extolls the goodness and fidelity of God.

Note that this divine goodness is not reserved for Israel alone but is extended to all God’s works, including all people and all of natural creation. The covenant has been expanded to a universal embrace.

The LORD lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.

The psalmist next praises God’s compassion, which is especially evident toward those who are burdened. Not only does he not despise or reject them; there is a sense in which God especially draws near them to hold them up.

The LORD is just in all his ways and holy in all his works.

The Lord’s is a kingdom of justice (sedeq) in the sense that he responds with kindness and salvation to all those who invoke him and love him, and allows those who hate him to perish (verse 20, which is not included in this passage).

The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.

Another characteristic of God’s covenant is truth (ěmet). Here, it refers to the firmness or constancy with which the faithful rely on God. They can rely on God because God has entered into a solemn agreement with them, has made serious promises to them, and can be depended on to be faithful.

In order to experience the benefits of this covenant, one needs only to call upon God, who is always there to hear.

Gospel – John 5:17-30

Jesus answered the Jews:
“My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.”
For this reason they tried all the more to kill him,
because he not only broke the sabbath
but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.

Jesus answered and said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own,
but only what he sees the Father doing;
for what he does, the Son will do also.
For the Father loves the Son
and shows him everything that he himself does,
and he will show him greater works than these,
so that you may be amazed.
For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life,
so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.
Nor does the Father judge anyone,
but he has given all judgment to the Son,
so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.
Whoever does not honor the Son
does not honor the Father who sent him.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word
and believes in the one who sent me
has eternal life and will not come to condemnation,
but has passed from death to life.
Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,
and those who hear will live.
For just as the Father has life in himself,
so also he gave to the Son the possession of life in himself.
And he gave him power to exercise judgment,
because he is the Son of Man.
Do not be amazed at this,
because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs
will hear his voice and will come out,
those who have done good deeds
to the resurrection of life,
but those who have done wicked deeds
to the resurrection of condemnation.

“I cannot do anything on my own;
I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just,
because I do not seek my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.”

Today we continue our journey in John’s gospel, once again picking up where we left off yesterday.

Jesus is being criticized by the Jewish leadership for curing a paralytic on the sabbath. His response to them is a discourse about his relationship with God the Father.

Jesus answered the Jews: “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.”

The Jewish leadership interpreted the commandment for sabbath rest as a strict ban on any activity, in a desire to imitate God.

However, yesterday we discussed Saint Thomas Aquinas’s observation that Jesus rejects this interpretation because God is always at work: “for if for one moment he were to stop exercising his power, at that very moment everything that nature contains would cease to exist” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John).

Since the Son acts together with the Father, who with the Holy Spirit are the one and only God, Jesus can say that he is always working.

For this reason they tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.

Jesus’ response carries an implicit reference to his own divinity. The Jewish leaders realize this and they want to kill him because they consider it blasphemous.

Jesus answered and said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for what he does, the Son will do also.

Jesus speaks of the equality and also the distinction between Father and Son. The two are equal: all the son’s power is the Father’s, all the Son does the Father does.

However, they are two distinct persons, which is why the Son does what he has seen the Father do.

These words should not be taken to mean that the Son simply imitates the Father like a disciple imitates a master. Instead, this teaching shows that the Father’s powers are communicated to the Son through generation. The word “see” is used because humans learn things by way of their senses, particularly through sight; to say that the Son “sees” what the Father does is a way of referring to all the powers which he receives from him through all eternity. (See Saint Thomas Acquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of Saint John.)

For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he himself does,

Christ can do the same as the Father. Therefore, when Jesus does things which are proper to God, he is testifying to his divinity.

and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.

This may be a reference to the miracles Jesus will work during his lifetime. That being said, the miracle of Jesus was his own resurrection, which is the cause and pledge of our own (1 Corinthians 15:20ff), and our passport to supernatural life.

Nor does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

Authority to judge has also been given by the Father to the Incarnate Word.

Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.

God’s will is that everyone should be saved; Christ did not come to condemn the world but to save it (John 12:47).

Only someone who refuses to accept the divine mission of the Son puts themselves outside the pale of salvation.

Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to the Son the possession of life in himself. And he gave him power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.

To understand these statements we need to remember that because Jesus is a single (divine) person, a single subject of operations, a single I, he is expressing in human words not only his sentiments as a man but also the deepest dimension of his being: he is the Son of God, both in his generation in eternity by the Father, and in his generation in time through taking up human nature.

Therefore Jesus has a profound awareness (so profound that we cannot even imagine it) of his Sonship, which leads him to treat his Father with a very special intimacy, with love and also with respect.

He is also aware of his equality with the Father. When he speaks about his Father having given him life or authority, it isn’t that he has received part of the Father’s life or authority: he has received absolutely all of it, without the Father losing any.

I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.”

One of the amazing things about these passages of the Gospel is how Jesus manages to express the sentiments of God-Man despite the limitations of human language.

Christ, true God, true man, is a mystery which the Christian should contemplate even though we cannot understand it: we feel bathed in a light so strong that it is beyond understanding, yet it fills our soul with faith and with a desire to worship our Lord.

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