Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
The readings for the day can be found here.
Just a few days into Pope Francis’ papacy, the media have already unleashed a flood of stories about the new pope, most of them quite positively reporting on such mundane things as him taking the subway to work and paying his hotel bill after the conclave as evidence of his down-to-earth style. The sensationalism and scandal-mongering of the media aside, I suspect there is something of the “sensus fidelium” in people that is able to sniff out authenticity and see the relationship between claiming to be a follower of the humble Christ and actually living humbly with the people whom he serves as shepherd. The fact that Jesus had a lot of not-so-nice things to say to the religious authorities of his day points us in the direction of what good religious authority looks like – humility, charity, respect – and by all accounts, our new Pope seems to have a long history of staying close to his people.
Maybe that’s why when I first read the readings for today, I couldn’t get past how the Pharisees hit upon a strikingly elitist tone with their declaration that “This crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.” (JN 7:49) Is this simply a claim of superiority by religious officials or scholars, looking down their noses at “the great unwashed,” people whose daily lives were not focused on rigorously studying the law or upholding the details of purity codes? Or, as is far more common in John’s gospel, a grand bit of irony that links the reader to not only the chapter of Jeremiah from which today’s first reading was taken (Jer 11:3 – “Cursed be anyone who does not observe the words of this covenant”) but the “Twelve Curses” in Deuteronomy 27, which conclude with “Cursed be anyone whose actions do not uphold the words of this law!” Those curses are levied against those who tear apart the network of right relationships that should exist in a healthy community, whether through use of sexuality that damages relationships with family members or through practices that deprive neighbors of their dignity and their rights.
Meanwhile, Jesus is being pursued by the religious authorities because he healed a man on the Sabbath (see JN 5:1-18) – restored the health and dignity of one who had been suffering for thirty-eight years, and all that the religious authorities can see is a man carrying his mat on a day when he is not supposed to do so. In light of the twelve curses from Deuteronomy, then, who is really mistaken – those in the crowd who “do not know the law” but rightly imagine a God whose will is for healing and wholeness, or those who intimately know the law but imagine a God whose will is for obedience to rules but does not care for people?
Let us pray for the new Pope – I can’t even imagine the complexity and challenges of his ministry – and for all religious authorities: for the humility and courage to represent the God who calls us into right relationships.