Friday of week 4 of Lent – First Reading


Commentary on Wis 2:1, 12-22

The reading comes from early on in the Book of Wisdom in a passage describing life as seen by the godless.

We often feel that if we are good and virtuous and, even more, because we are good and virtuous, people should be inspired to follow and imitate our good example. However, experience tells us that many times the opposite is the case.

It is so well put in today’s reading and it applies so perfectly to Jesus, so much so that some people see in this passage a prophecy about Jesus. However, it also applies to hundreds of others down the ages whose goodness has been resented, whose behaviour is seen as a condemnation and a threat to those with different values and who have been as a result persecuted and even killed.

“He annoys us and opposes our way of life.” By itself that should not be a problem but it is because the prophet’s words are felt to be true and create feelings of guilt in those against whom they are directed. “He reproaches us for our sins against the Law and accuses of sins against our upbringing.” The reproach is not denied but it is strongly resented.

“He claims to have knowledge of the Lord and calls himself a child of the Lord.” This is the very people that Scripture says should be respected and protected. And that claim is not denied but such a one is seen as a “reproof to our way of thinking. The very sight of him weighs our spirits down.”

And then there follows a good description of the counter-witness: “His kind of life is not like other people’s, and his ways are quite different.” How true of Jesus and of many of his most faithful followers!

There then comes the justification for violent action to remove the source of criticism. If the prophet is really a spokesperson for God, then surely God will protect him against any violent attack. “Let us test him with cruelty and with torture and thus explore this gentleness of his and put his patience to the test. Let us condemn him to a shameful death since God will rescue him – or so he claims.”

It is exactly what happened to Jesus at the hands of his opponents as his enemies mocked him during his trial (“They blindfolded Jesus and hit him. ‘Guess who hit you!’ they said.” – Mark 14:65) and on the cross (“The chief priests and the teachers of the Law and the elders jeered at him: ‘…He trusts in God and claims to be God’s Son. Well, then, let us see if God wants to save him now’.” – Matt 27:41-44).

Among many others down the centuries, it will happen in our times to Bishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador – and for exactly the same reasons. We call such dedicated followers ‘martyrs’ from the Greek word for a witness. They give striking witness to the values of the Kingdom.

Those who carry out these actions can convince themselves that what they are doing is right. “This is the way they reason, but they are misled. They do not know the hidden things of God.” Their aim is to obliterate the source of their discomfort but the result is often the very opposite. It is a very dangerous thing to create martyrs. We remember the early Christian saying: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of faith.”

Jesus himself has told us not to be surprised that we too will be misunderstood and treated as he was. The following of Christ involves what is called a ‘counter-witness’ to the prevailing values in our societies. Such a counter-witness will often be deeply resented, attacked, rubbished and ridiculed and it may invite even violence and death.

Of course, we also have to be very careful that our witness is based on truth, integrity and love; we have to be careful to avoid any taint of Pharisaism or superior elitism, which we can fall into so easily. It is God we are proclaiming, not ourselves.

As we approach Holy Week, we need to reflect on these things and see how they fit into our lives. Whose side am I on? If I had been on Calvary, with whom would I have been standing? In issues of truth and justice in my own society, where am I seen?

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