Apr 2, 2022: Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent

1st Reading – Jeremiah 11:18-20

I knew their plot because the LORD informed me;
at that time you, O LORD, showed me their doings.

Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter,
had not realized that they were hatching plots against me:
“Let us destroy the tree in its vigor;
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will be spoken no more.”

But, you, O LORD of hosts, O just Judge,
searcher of mind and heart,
Let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
for to you I have entrusted my cause!

Today’s first reading is the first of five passages in the Book of Jeremiah referred to as the “confessions of Jeremiah,” trusting prayers in which the prophet opens his heart to the Lord and tells him his deepest feelings. They are given this name because they are reminiscent of Saint Augustine’s well-known book with that title.

Some commentators believe this first “confession” goes back to the early years of Jeremiah’s ministry when the priests of Anathoth opposed him because his preaching provided backing for King Josiah’s religious reforms, which went against their vested interests.

I knew their plot because the LORD informed me; at that time you, O LORD, showed me their doings.

Jeremiah expresses the pain and puzzlement of someone who sees the wicked prosper and is only too aware of his personal limitations.

Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter, had not realized that they were hatching plots against me: 

Jeremiah knew nothing of the plots against him and came to Anathoth fearing no harm from them — like a lamb that thinks he is being driven as usual to the field, when in fact he is being brought to the slaughter.

“Let us destroy the tree in its vigor; let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will be spoken no more.”

This is a proverbial expression, which is rendered in other translations as “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.”

This proverb expresses the desire of Jeremiah’s enemies to destroy not only him, but his entire family, in order to completely wipe out all traces of his existence (as with Naboth in 1 Kings 21:1-16; 2 Kings 9:26).

But, you, O LORD of hosts, O just Judge, searcher of mind and heart, let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause!

Jeremiah confidently appeals to God as the powerful Lord of hosts, one who judges righteously. There is a note of human frailty in this prayer (a desire for vengeance), but also note that he is doing exactly what Jesus would later teach, which is to pray for one’s enemies. Rather than seeking vengeance himself, Jeremiah refers his case to the righteousness of God to sort out the matter in his supreme justice.

Christian tradition sees Jeremiah as a figure of Jesus Christ, who was also rejected by his own people and was sacrificed as the Lamb of God to atone for the sins of humankind.

Psalm 7: 2-3, 9bc-12

R. O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.

Psalm 7 is an individual entreaty in which the psalmist seeks God’s protection and justice.

O LORD, my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and rescue me, lest I become like the lion’s prey, to be torn to pieces, with no one to rescue me.

The psalmist petitions God for protection from his enemies. These enemies are not identified but are dangerous, like a lion, and are trying to bring about his death.

Do me justice, O LORD, because I am just, and because of the innocence that is mine.

The psalmist is confident in his own integrity and desires only to be judged by God according to his righteousness.

Let the malice of the wicked come to an end, but sustain the just, O searcher of heart and soul, O just God.

The psalmist prays for the end of sin and the perpetuity of righteousness, acknowledging that God knows what everyone thinks and desires (“searcher of heart and soul”).

A shield before me is God, who saves the upright of heart; a just judge is God, a God who punishes day by day.

The psalmist confidently puts himself under God’s protection; he takes comfort in the righteousness and justice of God.

Gospel – John 7:40-53

Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said,
“This is truly the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.”
But others said, “The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he?
Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David’s family
and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?”
So a division occurred in the crowd because of him.
Some of them even wanted to arrest him,
but no one laid hands on him.

So the guards went to the chief priests and Pharisees,
who asked them, “Why did you not bring him?”
The guards answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.”
So the Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?
Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?
But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.”
Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them,
“Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him
and finds out what he is doing?”
They answered and said to him,
“You are not from Galilee also, are you?
Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

Then each went to his own house.

We continue our journey in John’s gospel. The Jewish people are still divided over Jesus’s identity.

Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said, “This is truly the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.”

“The prophet” refers to Deuteronomy 18:18, which predicts the coming of a prophet during the last times, a prophet to whom all must listen (see John 1:21, 6:14).

“Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew word Messiah; this was the title most used in the Old Testament to designate the future Savior whom God would send.

But others said, “The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he? Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David’s family and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So a division occurred in the crowd because of him. Some of them even wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

Many Jews, not taking the trouble to check, were not aware that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, the city of David, where the prophet Micah (5:2) said the Lord would be born.

It was their own fault that they used this ignorance as an excuse for not accepting Christ. Others, however, realized from his miracles that he must be the Messiah.

The same pattern prevails throughout history: some people see Jesus simply as an extraordinary man, not wanting to admit that his greatness comes precisely from the fact that he is the Son of God.

So the guards went to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not bring him?” The guards answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.”

The truth begins to influence the straightforward souls of the servants of the Sanhedrin. Instead of arresting Jesus, they came under his influence, and return to their masters with bold conviction.

So the Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.”

The Pharisees seek to bring their guards back in line with three methods: 1) portraying Christ’s teachings as deception, 2) reminding them that they are contradicting the authorities by extolling Jesus, and 3) disparaging the people who believed in Christ as accursed; i.e. “you don’t want to be in the company of these vulgar people, do you?”

Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them,
“Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?”

Nicodemus, who had come to Jesus at night to learn from him (John 3), prudently argues against the Pharisees from the principles of their own law, and an incontestable universal rule of justice, that no man is to be condemned unheard.

Presumably Nicodemus is suggesting that Jesus called to the Sanhedrin for an impartial hearing, in which he would give them an account of himself and his doctrine.

As we will see, the Pharisees not only fail to second this motion, they will not even acknowledge it.

They answered and said to him, “You are not from Galilee also, are you? Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

Like the crowd earlier, the Pharisees presume that Jesus is from Galilee, a falsehood that would easily be rectified with a proper hearing.

They arrogantly suggest that Nicodemus look into the matter himself, noting that he will find that “no prophet arises from Galilee.”

Then each went to his own house.

The assembly breaks hastily and somewhat in confusion. With Nicodemus’ perspective coming to their attention, it was fruitless to try to proceed with their designs while he was present. Therefore, they adjourn and put off the debate.

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