After the Easter Triduum, when most of you will be reading this, we have opportunity to look back at what led up to Jesus’ Passion, and thoughtfully to consider with St. John deeper meanings than we have understood previously, even after a lifetime of Holy Weeks. There are always other treasures to be mined in the Scriptures and in the Church’s liturgical celebrations. This is a primary reason why I am so grateful to have become Catholic late in mid-life. I can now mine the Church’s treasury, unimpeded by anything except perhaps some of my own lingering weaknesses and sins.
What we see and hear in John 8:2-59 took place in the Temple. And the chapter ends with these words: “but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.” The tremendous historical and spiritual significance of the fact of Jesus teaching so often in the Temple is brought out in a particularly moving way by Benedict XVI’s writing in Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week, chapter 2, especially pp.24-46. And, St. Thomas Aquinas has good things to say as well concerning Jesus’ coming into the temple and sitting down in order to teach those who were truly receptive, even childlike, in their attitudes; he refers us to Psalm 25:9; Matthew 11:29; and Isaiah 2:3 while also making much of the place, the Treasury, and its symbolic meaning.
In the previous blog entry, I covered much of the first part of chapter 8, but I have added to that blog some thoughts of St. Thomas, and also want to remind you of our discussion earlier on the ferry concerning the “unforgivable sin” (Matthew 12:31), which obviously is the sin against the Holy Spirit, that is, calling good evil and vice versa. When Jesus says in 8:21 that the unbelievers would die in their sin, we see by the rest of His teachings that they are indeed calling good evil by their rejection of Jesus’ claims, even hurling insults at Him (verses 48 and 52). The Ignatius Study Guide cites a teaching from St. Gregory the Great which is worth pondering here: “Jesus sets the example of perfect composure in the face of insults, since He denied the charge of being a demoniac but did not counter it with an abusive response. If Jesus did not avenge Himself, then neither should we return injury for injury when reviled by our neighbor.” (Homily 18)
Although Jesus did not revile in return, He did not spare words of warning as He looked upon their hearts with divine knowledge and authority. If we consider what was to happen to the unbelievers and Jewish Temple worship within four decades of this confrontation, something discussed in detail by Benedict XVI in his book just referred to, we can enter in more fully to Jesus’ frankness with these people to whom He spoke in John 8. And at the same time, we hear the Lord making very, very clear the essential truth concerning the most fundamental of human desires, the desire for true freedom and for life that conquers even death. In verses 31 and 32 and again in 50 and 51 Jesus offers His listeners the greatest treasures imaginable, and yet, human pride stops up the ears of those who refuse to hear what they are listening to!
But, obviously, His true disciples like St.John, those “little ones” to whom He spoke with gentleness in the Temple, did indeed hear these words, and held on tightly to the treasures He was offering. We know this because we have before us, through the Gospel of John, those very teachings which the hostile Jewish leaders ignored and rejected. St. John heard, and this is why we have the treasures now. The implications of grasping deeply and handing on to the coming generation the gospel message are very great when it comes to our own lives and daily teachings in our homes and out in the world, no?
In understanding verses 31-39, it is good to recognize the centrality of the last part of verse 37, “….my word finds no place in you.” Look at CCC 391 and CCC 2466 to see what the Catechism says concerning this situation Jesus is confronting. When the Lord talks about the devil being the “father of lies” I am reminded of a superb meditation for Holy Thursday Vigil written by Msgr. Albacete, which can deepen our understanding of Jesus’ own Temptations in the wilderness. This meditation can be found in Magnificat, if you subscribe to it. I intend to make copies of it for those who join us during April 3’s Faith on the Ferry book group. I will also bring copies of a column on discipleship which our Archbishop Peter recently wrote. This is a good meditation to ponder as we see again, at the end of John 8, the remarkable personal claim of Jesus which caused the unbelieving Pharisees to take up stones to kill Him for blasphemy.
I look forward to seeing many of you soon on the ferry! JC