Thursday, March 17, 2016

Friday Week 5 in Lent 2016

Jeremiah hears the whisperings of many. The whispers say, "Denounce him." Even Jeremiah's friends speak against him. They look for a way to trap him. He is the Lord's prophet and the people he addresses will have none of him. They will not listen to his words which are God's words. But Jeremiah is not cowed by their threats. Most of the selection for today's first reading in the liturgy is Jeremiah's threat to his enemies. He is very certain that God is with him, that God will protect him and save him.

God tests the just, he claims, which is why Jeremiah can speak so optimistically, so assuredly. He knows God so well. He knows God's desire that Jeremiah suffer is how Jeremiah is subjected to God's testing of him. The Lord probes the mind and the heart. Jeremiah lives in the knowledge that God knows him through and through. Thus Jeremiah can praise the Lord. He can rejoice in the Lord even though he is the object of persecution by his own countrymen. He recognizes himself having been rescued by God.

Jesus does not just hear whisperings in the Gospe reading. Men are actually picking up stones ready to destroy Jesus. Why, Jesus wants to know? You blaspheme, they tell him. You are making yourself God. There is some clever word play here on Jesus' part. Scripture says, "You are gods, so why can I not say I am the son of God?" But forget all that. "Recognize me by what I do if you cannot believe'" he tells his enemies. Not infrequently we ask one another to prove that we are who we say we are by demanding we act accordingly. "If I don't do the work of God," Jesus announces, "don't believe me. But if I do the work of God, acknowledge the goodness of the works. Thus, see God in me." God is in Jesus just as much as Jeremiah recognized what God had done in him.

So Jesus goes back across the Jordan and many come to him now because they do believe.

All of Lent has been a preparation for the coming week. All of Lent precedes Holy Week and the death of Jesus. Just as all of our lives are a preparation for our deaths, so with Jesus. Lent is very serious now. If we have paid attention to the Scripture, we have been aware that Jesus is stretching his disciples as well as the people of Israel. He is pushing the envelope. He is challenging us to follow him further. This is not just about saying our prayers and sticking with our petty Lenten 'sacrifices'. This is about following Jesus to the cross.

Have you ever sat with someone who is dying? One way to look at this week is to imagine yourself accompanying a dying person. Years ago I was called out of my sleep to anoint a parishioner in a hospital known to be dying of cancer but who had taken a turn for the worse. I was told he would not live through the morning. I went to see him, found him sitting up in bed, looking very alert and speaking as articulately and clearly as any two-person conversation might be. When he saw me, he asked me if it was as bad as that? I anointed him, chatted with him a bit, left, and he was dead within the next six hours.

Jesus is on his way to his death. Can we go with him and watch him die? Can we sit beside him and watch him as he goes through his suffering and death? We are going to want to look for things to do while we are waiting for him to die - check our email or the latest Instagram or Snapchat we've received. We are going to want to turn on some tunes with our headsets so we don't have to think about death. We are going to want to turn on the TV which is only a distraction to us and just noise to the dying. We are going to want to find excuses for leaving his bedside - I have to use the bathroom - I need a smoke - I need to eat. Anything to keep ourselves from watching Jesus die. And as horrific as the scenes of Jesus' passion were in the movie, it was, after all, only a movie, and the actors might have shown up at the end of the film to take their bows. But Jesus really died. And his desth was agonizing and ugly.

He invites us to die with him. Every time we are asked to live in His name, we are invited to die with Him. I resist that and I suspect you do too. As we look to Holy Week, would you seriously consider staying with this dying man? Would you willingly accompany him on his final journey and stay with him through the pain of his suffering and carry him to his place of rest?