Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fifth Sunday in Lent Year B

Fifth Sunday in Lent Year
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Psalm 51: 1-13 OR Psalm 119: 9-16; Hebrews 5: 5-10; John 12: 20-33

Living through the threat to and then the destruction of Judah/Jerusalem, Jeremiah relentlessly bemoaned the fate of God's people and railed against their actions which he believed brought them to this heart=breaking circumstance.. Therefore, the chapters of "consolation," including chapter 31, are more striking due to their Hosea-like hope. Jeremiah expresses confidence that out of this terrible mess God will initiate a new covenant that will be as crucial as the original covenant through Moses! This re-start of God's relationship will be accessible to all. God will wipe the score card clean, "For I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more."

Among the most powerful (and prominently used in Christian and Jewish liturgies), this psalm of confession lays bare all past sins. It even confesses "in transgression was I conceived." Out of this full acknowledgment of past failures, the psalmist finds the audacity to ask God for forgiveness. He pleads, "Do not take your spirit from me."

In what shall a young person, starting out on the promises and perils of adult life, trust? The psalmist offers God's commands, utterances, laws, precepts, decrees, paths, word as more valuable to her than "all kinds of wealth."

Using a thorough familiarity with the Hebrew scriptures, the writer of Hebrews provides sustained, new interpretations of the significance of Jesus, "In the days of his flesh." The signifcance can be understood if one realizes that he is like the High Priest, except he surpasses the High Priest through his complete obedience and submission in his suffering, which made him "perfect" and "the source of eternal salvation for all who believe n him...."

In John's narrative, Jesus in omniscient. He knows precisely when "the hour has come." As the crisis approaches, should he ask the "Father, spare me from this hour," Jesus asks. Jesus walks into the betraying, mocking, humiliating actions of others that will finally kill him knowing full well and proclaiming to any who might hear that it is the necessary means through which God will be "glorified." To emphasize the situation and what he is saying, there is an epiphany. Some clearly hear a voice from heaven say "I have glorified it [God's Name] and I will glorify it again." Others hear the "thunder." Jesus declares this voice, confirming the significance of all that is about to happen is "for your sake, not for mine."

Gabriel Josipovici offers an intriguing insight on modern/postmodern approaches to scriptures and then poses a useful questions for Christians to consider. In The Book of God" A Response to the Bible, the British novelist, critic and playwright, reviews the "modernist crisis" that shrank the Bible to texts to be analyzed and the reaction of others (including Auerbach, Frye, Kermode and Alter) who take the "ragbag" of narratives which tradtion has collected together as biblical on their own terms. One approach reduces the biblical texts to conceptual systems, theological homogenization or endless archaeological speculations and wants to close-off interpretation. Another approach accepts the contradictions, wildly varying perspectives, incompleteness and even confusion as the cause for enduring, life-giving interpretation. In particular, he cites the Epistle to the Hebrews in the Christian scriptures.

Josipovici sees in the "Epistle to the Hebrews" a desire to take the wild, unruly Hebrew scriptures and re-cast them as "notions of perfection and fulfillment as hermeneutical tools." (p. 275) Then he writes: "The Epistle to the Hebrews forces us to ask such questions. Is clarity better than unclarity" Fulfilment than non-fulfilment? And what does better mean in this case?"

Hebrews and John's characterization of Jesus as "omniscient" raise the question on this penultimate Sunday before Holy Week: Are we merely going through the motions of a self-contained theological/liturgical conceptualisation of doctrine/ dogma or are we about to embark on something far more personal, upsetting, ragged and potentiality transformative? In Holy Week, the church reads a passion narrative from one of the "synoptic" gospels, (this year Mark) on Passion Sunday and always from John on Good Friday. Therefore, it could be said we begin both journeys-- with some sense of why these horrible events were "necessary," but also as awareness that each person who takes this journey with Jesus all the way to Golgotha and the empty tomb does
not know and cannot know ahead of time how he will react or how he will be changed this time around, this year.

There is a feel of a grand narrative of obedience, suffering death and resurrection. We have heard it before and it provides answers. But with Jeremiah maybe we can also hope/expect this year a truly fresh start in our relationship with God because of and through this journey. God seems willing. Are we? Our story has not come to the last page.