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Sam Sawyer, S.J. March 24, 2023
Man walking down aisle of a churchPhoto from Unsplash.

A Reflection for Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Find today’s readings here.

Both the first reading and the Gospel today give us examples of some tortured reasoning. In the first reading, from Wisdom, the “wicked” take aim at the “just one,” and they plan to persecute him. Part of the way that they excuse this persecution is that they are testing his claim that God is his Father: “Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes.”

But if they had actually stopped and worked out the consequences of this logic, they might have realized how awful it was. If he is the son of God, God will deliver him from the hand of his foes—so let’s set ourselves up as his foes to test it!

The logic of the inhabitants of Jerusalem who are skeptical of Jesus being the Christ is different, but no less convoluted. Seeing that the authorities are trying to persecute Jesus, but are not interfering with his ability to speak and teach, they wonder if they have realized that he is the Christ. Then they talk themselves out of this idea: “But we know where he is from. When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.” One possible summary of this long, complicated episode in John’s Gospel—which is already abridged a bit in the Lectionary’s selection of the verses for this reading—is that Jesus teaches, and is both convincing and controversial. Much of the controversy is over Jesus’ identity and authority. He lacks the training and credentials to teach with the authority that he does (i.e., much of the complaint against him is “Who are you to say such things?”), which leads to the speculative possibility that he is the Christ. But that possibility is then dismissed, in John’s telling, by the fact that they know where he is from (i.e., “We know who you are; that’s why you can’t say such things.”).

What happens when we silence our own defensiveness, our own loops of logic and accusation, long enough to ask: What is God inviting us to hear?

Challenging claims—claims that call us to conversion—are met with convoluted logic and loops of thinking that are often some version of “Heads I win, tails you lose.” Because the point of what the wicked in the book of Wisdom and what Jesus’ hearers in John are doing is not to get to the truth of what the just one is saying or what Jesus is teaching. Instead, they are mechanisms for dismissing someone who has called for change, conversion and repentance.

And how often do we respond this way ourselves, when we are challenged to change? How readily—often in response to someone from the “other side,” from another ecclesial or political alignment, from outside our “tribe” who speaks a challenging truth—do we find some reason to attack and dismiss the truthteller?: “What would they know about it? Have you seen what they said about this other thing? Don’t you know they took so-and-so’s side?”

Instead, we need to take a moment with Jesus’ answer to his challengers in John. He does not offer an explanation or a defense; he doesn’t try to convince them that their logic (convoluted though it is) is the problem. He simply says: “You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true.” Jesus’ answer, over and over again in the Gospel of John, is that he is from the Father. The response he gives is not proof or argument, but invitation: Do you want to know the Father? Then come to know him through Jesus. You know him; you know where he is from—and because you know him, if you listen and believe, you can come to know the one who sent him.

What happens when we silence our own defensiveness, our own loops of logic and accusation, long enough to ask: What is God inviting us to hear? How can we come to know the Father through this encounter?

More: Scripture

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