23 March
Jn 10:31-42

The Jews took up stones again to stone Jesus. Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.” Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, 'I said, you are gods'? If those to whom the word of God came were called 'gods' – and the scripture cannot be annulled – can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, 'I am God's Son'? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.

“If I am not doing the works of my Father then do not believe me.”  Talking about God is not enough, even when it is Jesus who is talking.  This is the greatest challenge to every preacher and every professor of theology.  Christians often talk about “the Christian message” as if it could be written on a piece of paper.  The Word was made flesh, not ink.  St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “You are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on the tablets of the human heart” (2 Corinthians 3:3).

The word ‘orthopraxis’ was coined to supplement ‘orthodoxy’.  Orthodoxy means ‘right teaching’; orthopraxis would mean ‘right action’.  Our words have to become flesh too: to reach our fingertips, so to speak. “What good is it,” wrote St James, “if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food: if one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17). 

Meister Eckhart said, “When St Paul spoke a great deal to our Lord, and our Lord to him, this availed him nothing till he abandoned his will and said: ‘Lord, what do you want me to do?’ (Acts 9:6). Then our Lord knew well what he should do. So too, when the angel appeared to our Lady: nothing that she or he said to one another could have made her the mother of God, but as soon as she gave up her will, at once she became a true mother of the eternal Word and conceived God straight away: he became her natural son.”


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24 March
Jn 11:45-56

Many of the Jews who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.

            Poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
            In the valley of its saying where executives
            Would never want to tamper… (W.H. Auden)
These lines are part of a poem written in memory of another poet, W.B. Yeats, but I think Yeats was not so sure that poetry made nothing happen.  He once had reason to wonder:
            Did that play of mine send out
            Certain men the English shot…?

Sometimes words can be a substitute for action (see yesterday’s reading).  But this is not always the case.  Sometimes they don’t “survive in the valley of their saying,” as Auden put it; sometimes they flood down from the mountaintops and shake an Empire.  The Sanhedrin knew this.  “The Romans will come and sweep away our Holy Place and our nation.”  So they were determined to kill him.  “It is better to have one man die for the people than to let the whole nation be destroyed,” said the High Priest, exactly according to Nietzsche’s saying: “Where there are four of you a fifth must die.”  These people were not the first, and they were not the last, to kill someone in order to silence him.  Most of us don’t go that far, but we go some of the way.  An interesting list to compile: all the people I silence in subtle or unsubtle ways.


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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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