Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Wednesday in the Third Week of Lent

In the second half of Genesis 45, Joseph acts with Christlike mercy and devotion: he welcomes the brothers who had wronged him; he tells them not to care for possessions, but instead to trust in the plenty of the land; and he urges them not to quarrel or “fall out” with each other (a timeless message, and one in harmony with Jesus’ command that we love one another, John 15:12).  
The meaning of Psalm 82 is clear: it is good and right to defend the poor and needy.  The psalmist speaks to judges in particular, and to magistrates generally: the more power and influence we have, the more we must wield it to help those who have not.
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul is lovingly willing to abstain from a thing, even if that thing is not inherently wrong, in order to set a good example for those of weaker will and weaker faith.  This big-hearted self-denial, this Lenten virtue, can be very simple in practice, e.g., in the way that many adults choose, lovingly, not to drink or smoke around children. Paul also contends that knowledge itself, without Christ, is not much good—a message especially challenging for us self-styled cognoscenti.  The Latin of the Vulgate is especially winning here: scientia inflat; caritas vero aedificat.  Knowledge “puffeth up” (and how quickly the balloon starts to leak!), but selfless love offers a real, firm basis for everything else: our charity builds a home, for others in this life and for us in the next.
The death of John the Baptist is cruel; Herod Antipas himself knows he has ordered the death of a good man. Cruel because unjust, but also cruel because whimsical: the result of a hot-blooded promise at a drunken birthday party. And most cruel in the irony of its circumstance: this paragon of austerity, this man who gladly lived without, has his fate decided by the recumbent opulent (in 1CE Latin, “Herod’s birthdays” was   slang for unimaginable luxury).             
Matthew’s version of John’s demise ends on a touching note. After Jesus hears of the violent demise of his kinsman and catechist, he withdraws to solitude (out of a sense of danger?  the better to mourn?).  But the multitudes soon follow, and next comes the Feeding of the Five Thousand—how resilient and generous is Jesus, even in time of sorrow!  What, then, do we do when we suffer horrible loss?  Do we turn our thoughts to the needs of others?

                                                                                        Matthew Carter

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