Friday of Week 4 of Lent – First Reading

Commentary on Wisdom 2:1, 12-22

Today’s reading comes from early on in the Book of Wisdom, in a passage describing life as seen by the godless (the “ungodly”). 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 exactly the opposite happens, and people feel somehow threatened by or resentful of our good behavior.

The description of the animosity directed against those who live good and virtuous lives is well put in today’s reading, and it applies so perfectly to how Jesus was treated – 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. Such individuals, as a result, have been persecuted and even killed.

In the passage, the “ungodly”, who are speaking about a prophet (called “the righteous man”) say:

Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions.

It is because the prophet’s words are felt to be true that they create feelings of guilt in those against whom they are directed.

Again, the “ungodly” say:

He [the righteous man] reproaches us for sins against the law and accuses us of sins against our training.

The reproach is not denied, but it is strongly resented:

He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
the very sight of him is a burden to us…

Of course, “the righteous man” is the very person whom Scripture says should be respected and protected. And that claim is not denied by the “ungodly”, but such a one is seen as an obstruction to how they live.

And then there follows a good description of the “righteous man”:

…his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange.

How true of Jesus and of many of his most faithful followers!

Subsequently 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 insult and torture,
so that we may find out how reasonable he is
and make trial of his forbearance.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected.

It is exactly what happened to Jesus at the hands of his opponents as his enemies mocked him during his trial:

Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him and beat him. (Mark 14:65)

And again, on the cross:

In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him…He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to… (Matt 27:41-44)

This has happened to many down through the centuries and it will happen in our times as well – and for exactly the same reasons. We call such dedicated followers martyrs from the Greek word for ‘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:

Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes 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 from the writings of Tertullian:

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?

Comments Off on Friday of Week 4 of Lent – First Reading

Printed from LivingSpace - part of Sacred Space
Copyright © 2024 Sacred Space :: :: All rights reserved.