Apr 8, 2022: Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

1st Reading – Jeremiah 20:10-13

I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
“Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.”
But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.
In their failure they will be put to utter shame,
to lasting, unforgettable confusion.
O LORD of hosts, you who test the just,
who probe mind and heart,
Let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
for to you I have entrusted my cause.
Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD,
For he has rescued the life of the poor
from the power of the wicked!

Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom; his career began in his youth in 626 BC and extended beyond the ruin of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

More than any other prophet, Jeremiah did not merely preach his inspired message but lived it, too. He incurred hatred and persecution throughout his life and his faithfulness to his mission from God brought him nothing but heartbreak.

In today’s reading, we hear Jeremiah despairing about his situation. These few verses follow the classical pattern of a lament.

I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!”

Jeremiah is in danger because he has announced the judgment of God on the people. Just before this passage, Jeremiah prophesied that because the people had not been faithful to God, they would be defeated: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I will surely bring upon this city all the evil with which I threatened it, because they have stiffened their necks and have not obeyed my words” (Jeremiah 19:15).

For saying this, Jeremiah was scourged and put in the stocks.

All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.

In rejecting the prophet, the people are rejecting the God of the prophet. Even his friends seem to have turned against him.

“Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.”

He is alone, bereft of any support, and attacked on every side.

But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: 

Despite his distress, Jeremiah is confident. God is on his side as a mighty and awe-inspiring champion (gibbôr), a warrior who will fight for his cause.

my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.

Jeremiah’s assailants will not triumph (yākōl). They have been waiting for Jeremiah to misstep, but God will cause them to stumble.

This confidence has its foundation in Yahweh’s promise (Jeremiah 1:8, 19), which the prophet often recalled. In the midst of strong contradictions, he keeps his faith in Yahweh’s loyalty.

In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.

Jeremiah’s enemies will be put to shame and confusion, a fate that in an honor-shame society is sometimes worse than death.

O LORD of hosts, you who test the just, who probe mind and heart, let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause.

“LORD of hosts” evokes military imagery, since hosts (tsâbâ’) are army divisions. It is a title that calls to mind the cosmic war that God waged against evil, the battle in which God was victorious (see Psalm 24:9-11). The title was also used of God during wars against other nations, when God was believed to be the commander of the army of Israel (2 Samuel 5:10). In these battles, too, God was triumphant.

With such a God on his side, Jeremiah is confident of deliverance and protection. His trust is not misplaced.

Some contemporary readers might be troubled by the prophet’s prayer for vengeance. This must be understood within the context of the society of the prophet. It is not a prayer of bloodthirsty revenge but a plea for justice, for correcting inequity. Israel believed the justice of God was the source of authentic vengeance (“Vengeance is mine,” Deuteronomy 32:35). What is noteworthy is that Jeremiah turns to God for justice; he does not attempt to avenge the wrong himself.

Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!

The passage ends with a short hymn of praise. The prophet is confident of deliverance, confident that God has already begun the process of righting the wrong, correcting the inequity. Since the needy were no match for the wicked ones, God stepped in. This is certainly reason for song.

Psalm 18:2-7

R. In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.

Today’s responsorial comes from Psalm 18, a royal thanksgiving for a military victory. Attributed to King David, the psalm in its entirety gives thanks to God for the many deliverances he had wrought for David; it is thought that the king composed this hymn of praise as a way to preserve these feats in his own memory and to pass down knowledge of those feats to the people.

This psalm of praise is duplicated in 2 Samuel 22.

I love you, O LORD, my strength,

The psalm opens with a litany of invocations acclaiming God as savior.

The word translated here as “love” (rāham) is very unusual. It comes from the word for “womb” and denotes the kind of intimate love a mother has for the child she is carrying or has already borne. It conveys the sense of elemental connection, a connection with something that has come forth from one’s very being.

This word is usually employed to characterize the extraordinary, even incomprehensible, love that God has for human beings. The claim to love God with this kind of devotion is a bold claim indeed.

O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this psalm is the array of metaphors employed to characterize God. Although each has its respective meaning, they all embody some aspect of deliverance.

  • “Rock,” “fortress,” and “stronghold” depict God as an impregnable bulwark against which no enemy can triumph.
  • “Shield” and “horn of salvation” are military accouterments that protect the soldier from harm.
  • A “deliverer” (miplāt) is one who rescues someone from a calamity such as war.

All of these characterizations imply that the psalmist is protected by God from grave danger of every kind.

Praised be the LORD, I exclaim, and I am safe from my enemies.

In a world where people feel they are always at risk and where violence is the common response to threat, the idea that a powerful God will step in and act as defender is very consoling.

The breakers of death surged round about me, the destroying floods overwhelmed me; the cords of the nether world enmeshed me, the snares of death overtook me.

The psalmist is in imminent and threatening danger, which he describes in vivid detail. His spirit is overwhelmed, he is all but lost.

In my distress I called upon the LORD and cried out to my God; from his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.

The psalmist’s distress drives him to prayer, and God hears him.

Beyond this passage, the psalm goes on to describe God’s powerful rescue of the psalmist as vividly as his distress.

Gospel – John 10:31-42

The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus.
Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father.
For which of these are you trying to stone me?”
The Jews answered him,
“We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy.
You, a man, are making yourself God.”
Jesus answered them,
“Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, ‘You are gods”‘?
If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came,
and Scripture cannot be set aside,
can you say that the one
whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world
blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me;
but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me,
believe the works, so that you may realize and understand
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Then they tried again to arrest him;
but he escaped from their power.

He went back across the Jordan
to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.
Many came to him and said,
“John performed no sign,
but everything John said about this man was true.”
And many there began to believe in him.

We continue our journey in John’s gospel, moving ahead to Chapter 10 where the hostility toward Jesus of some has progressed to violence.

The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy. You, a man, are making yourself God.”

As we heard last week, Jesus revealed his divinity to the people. His hearers rejected this revelation of the mystery of the Incarnate God, refusing to examine the proof Jesus offered them. Consequently, they accuse him of being a mere man who is making himself God, which is blasphemy.

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, ‘You are gods”‘? If it calls them gods to whom the word of God came, and Scripture cannot be set aside, can you say that the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world blasphemes because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

On a number of occasions the Gospel has shown our Lord replying to the Jews’ objections. Here he patiently uses a form of argument which they regard as decisive: the authority of Holy Scripture.

Jesus quotes Psalm 82 in which God upbraids certain judges for acting unjustly despite his reminding them that “you are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you” (Psalm 82:6).

If this psalm calls the sons of Israel gods and sons of God, with how much more reason should he be called God who has been sanctified and sent by God?

If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

The works Jesus refers to are his miracles, through which God’s power is made manifest. Jesus presents his words and his works as forming a unity, with the miracles confirming his words and his words explaining the meaning of the miracles.

Therefore when he asserts that he is the Son of God, this revelation is supported by the credentials of the miracles he works: hence, if no one can deny the fact of the miracles, it is only right for him to accept the truth of the words.

Then they tried again to arrest him; but he escaped from their power.

Time and again Jesus demonstrates that he is in control. As Saint John so often puts it in his gospel, “Jesus’ hour had not yet come.”

He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.

Jesus departs the royal city, traveling to the most remote part of Israel, beyond the Jordan, as far away from Jerusalem as one could get.

This Transjordan topography recalls the great witness of John the Baptist to Jesus, as opposed to the hostility of the authorities in Jerusalem.

Many came to him and said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many there began to believe in him.

John the Baptist had an inferior role to Jesus; this is highlighted by the fact that he performed no miracles. However, the impact of John’s preaching and baptizing ministry remained; his preparatory work was still producing results.

Those who accepted the Baptist’s message now look for Christ and they believe when they see the truth of what the Precursor said: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (John 1:34).

Work done in the Lord’s name is never useless: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Just as the Baptist’s word and example had the effect of helping many people later to believe in Jesus, the apostolic example given by Christians will never be in vain, even though the results may not come immediately.

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