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April 7, Friday 5th Week of Lent - Jesuits of North-West Africa Province | Society of Jesus

When Life Throws Stones At Us!

Friday, Fifth Week of Lent 

April 7, 2017

Jer 20: 10-13/ Ps 18: 2-3a. 3bc-4. 5-6. 7/ Jn 10: 31-42

By *Fr. Benedict Ebogu, SJ

Let us for a moment pay attention to emotions; the emotions in the texts we just read: those of Jeremiah and Jesus but also of the psalmist and the Pharisees. The text of the first reading from the book of Jeremiah is annexed by verse 9 and verse 14. The former reveals the inner battles of Jeremiah, that is, whenever he refuses or hesitates to proclaim the word of God, "his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot." The later verse reveals the pain of Jeremiah over people's rejection of the word and subsequent attack on him should he proclaim this same word of God, "cursed be the day I was born"! One could imagine Jeremiah complaining in pidgin: If I talk, wahala! if I no talk wahala!

Jesus has had more than a fair share of attacks from the Pharisees who just before today's text, confronted him with a dubious question – are you the messiah? He gave them a dose of truth-telling that they were not yet ready for. Well, we can safely add that Jesus was equally surprised when he saw stones rising up and ready to send him to an early grave. And with a rather unusual stunt, Jesus escapes from his detractors. It must have been a day of many surprises! He has had enough of it! And he goes to where John the Baptist was baptizing – where this ministry of many joys and troubles had all begun. If one had sat down with Jesus in the silence of the running river of Jordan to feel and to share in his pains and hopes, which faces of Jesus would one see? Understand? And love?

Circumventing a little, the emotions of the Pharisees is captured within the context of the feast of the dedication of the temple, within which the fight and the conversations between Jesus and the Pharisees is handed down to us. This feast is a memorial of the Maccabean revolt when a group of Jewish freedom fighters rose up against an oppressive pagan regime that forced them to adopt pagan rituals. The temple in Jerusalem was thereafter re-dedicated to God. Nonetheless, the dream of total freedom, religiously and politically, burdened the Jews who over the centuries were subjected to a series of pagan governance and all its moral decoys. This is the political context of their question, "are you the messiah?" There is a hunger in the question, a hunger for wholeness, by means of the political, to their covenant relationship with God. If we are allowed to enter into the emotions of the Pharisees, should we be mad at them for trying to stone Jesus? They have been with this promising Jesus, a courageous one at that, that truly care about their plight. A good candidate for another Maccabean-like liberation! How could he have dashed all of these in an unthinkable manner by blaspheming? Let us sit with one them, perhaps the eldest and listen to his story about his own people, his own family and his own pains and hopes. Which faces would we see? Understand? And love?

The stories of yesteryears share a common denominator with our stories of today: the stories of our province, our apostolates, our families and countries – they all carry a hunger for wholeness amid fragmented life experiences in both the political and the religious spheres. It is this hunger that drives us to muse on the reading of today and to listen to stories of deep brokenness but also of admirable courage.

In the first reading of today, the prophet Jeremiah finds new confidence amid his many tribulations. He decried his agonies but soon turned with confidence unto the lord, "But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior." Such sudden surge of confidence from a pitfall of "tiredness with life" is special but not unusual. And must have only arisen from within a space of genuine dependence on God. In Jeremiah's narrative, we see a faith-journey that suggests that the strongest feelings of faith in God sometimes comes from the deepest downturns in our lives. And perhaps, it is often within such downturns that we experience an intimacy and tenderness that gives "a new life" for those who genuinely turn to the LORD.

The Psalmist evokes such emotions in his praise to God, a God who came to his rescue when he was in deepest need: "the cords of the graves coiled around my distress I called to the LORD". If we take a moment to read this psalm not as a psalm of thanksgiving, but as a love song, we may begin to see, understand the emotions of psalmist who has just been rescued from a near death experience by his great lover and God. It is this love experience that has enabled him to now know who his God truly is and to have a joyful confidence in him.

In the Gospel, Jesus goes back to where it all began; the place where his father publicly called him his beloved son. Let us now return to where we were sitting beside Jesus. What has been going on since then? What would he had said? Did you tell him what the old man said about his people? What did Jesus do to be healed, to forgive and to confidently rise to continue his work? Humanly speaking, the stoning experts may not have changed, but Jesus' feeling towards them did. His feeling seems to have become one of deeper understanding and deeper love for each of them. He must have known a few of them by their names. He loved them more, made more sacrifices for them and trusted in the Father's wisdom. Does the wisdom of God's way as we are seeing heal the soul and the land? Yes, it does! It has always allowed God's salvific plan to enter uncommon places and bring healing and wholeness. As it was in Jeremiah's time and David's time and Jesus' time so it is in our time!

The flip side of this is a secular orientation for overcoming turbulent situations. "We want Change!" And when the change comes, "No! change the change!" Ok, and after that? "Things bin better before, before oh." Ok, so you want before, before now? No problem, go and carry before-before! And the circle of blaming the other continues to feed our own brokenness!

The popular adage that informs the title of this reflection holds that "When life throws stones at you, build a house!" and I would add, "and when the house falls blame everyone else!" But seriously, perhaps the central point of our reflection lays within this adage after all. Perhaps, we should not start building while we are still hurting or frustrated! Perhaps, we should first return to the flowing waters, to the Kairos moments of our own faith journey, to God, so that we can see, understand and love genuinely, the faces of God and humanity around us. Any inspirational exploits outside of this God centeredness may be in error. It is this overshadowing of God that allows us to heal, to find our forgiving selves and even our laughter. It is only thereafter that we may forge the how and the when and the where and the who that we may need to create relationships and experiences that are modelled on Christ our LORD. Thereafter, we can then hope for a life that is of Christ and that is oriented towards the furthering of his kingdom on earth. And we may now have the joy and the freedom but also the courage to sometimes face and accept the cost of what we and our family and our province and our country needs: my way of the cross; my commitment to wholeness. In the characteristic Johannine motif of fulfillment. Jesus became the fulfilment of the feast of the dedication and everything it represents on the cross, a self-sacrificing act that transcended all hate and stones, all misunderstandings and conclusions, all fears and uncertainties. The cross!

So therefore, may the way of Jesus Christ be our way and may we seek continual change and conversion in our hearts so that we may to be bearers of the good news to everyone that encounters us to reconcile and be reconciled, to love and to accept love, to understand and to be understood, to laugh and to be laughed at, and maybe to share a bottle of Udeme with "that" brother or "that" sister. May St. Ignatius who reminds us to be attentive to the many emotions that springs up within us and around us each day, help us to hear within them the consoling voice of God inviting us to something greater. And may Christ grant us the courage to keep walking in his wisdom even in "near stoning experiences" when the time comes!

*Fr. Benedict Ebogu, SJ, is a Graduate Student in Scripture at the Biblicum in Rome, Italy.



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