Homily March 23rd, 2023

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent – Jn 5:31-47

Today’s Gospel continues the discourse with Jews that began after the healing of the sick man (Tuesday’s Gospel), and we see the tension building between Christ and those who will seek to put Him to death. Jesus’ words today are filled with harsh rebukes for His listeners. We can focus on just two: first, the references to John the Baptist, and, second, what Christ says about the praise His hearers desire.

Regarding John the Baptist, Christ says, “He was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content [or willing, which is more literal for ἠθελήσατε] to rejoice in his light.” There’s a lot of subtleties in that phrase: the Greek emphasizes that it was just for a definite time, a limited season,[1] and the word for rejoice (ἀγαλλιαθῆναι) literally means “to jump up and down a lot.”[2] The emphasis, then, is not on following the lamp, or seeing where or whom it points out, but on the limited nature and the thoughtlessness of their response. Some scholars say that the image would’ve called to mind what insects do around a light: senseless movements that really don’t go anywhere.[3]

This was their response to John the Baptist: he was nice for a while, but the amusement wore off, and they walked away. Thus, they are on the same level as King Herod, since, as Mark tells us “when [Herod] heard [John] speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him” (6:20). Of course, he didn’t like John enough to change his life or even think about letting John go, but he enjoyed him. In the same way, Christ’s listeners were interested in John, but didn’t follow him or care enough to see whom he was pointing out. In his commentary on John’s Gospel, Aquinas explains Christ’s words this way: “You rested in John and put your end in him, thinking that he was the Messiah. But you did this only for a time, because you wavered on this [you were unstable]; for when you saw that John was leading men to another, and not to himself, you turned away from him.”[4] They avoided the effort of following through which what they saw. We can apply this to our lives in two ways. First, in our lives, too, we’re assailed by any number of things that call for and demand our attention. Many of these are good things, even great things, but everything must be seen as a lamp that leads us to God, as a light that illumines the path to heaven. Amusements fade away, novelties soon cease to be novel, and material things go by the wayside; only Christ remains. We must seek Him in everything we do; everything else in this life, be it good, bad, or indifferent, is simply a lamp, guiding us to Him and to heaven.

            Secondly, we’re reminded that our lives are for serving Christ, and that doesn’t necessarily imply novelty or great and grand things. Rather, our lives are often simple. St. Therese of Lisieux said: “To ecstasy I prefer the monotony of sacrifice.” This goes hand in hand with the first point: Therese “preferred the plain fulfillment of her duties . . . and the faithful carrying out of [her] responsibilities.”[5]

Secondly, Christ points out another problem that His listeners have as He tells them: “How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?” The Greek is strong here as well: the acceptance of human praise isn’t simply passive. Rather, the one receiving it aggressively and assertively seeks it when it’s offered, as though it were a motivation for them.[6] It’s clear, then, that in seeking such praise from men, the Jews ignore the praise that comes from God on account of following His will and living out the commandments. Jesus’ words are strong: “How are you able to believe,” if this is the way that you operate? If all you seek is the praise people give you, and not what God wants or desires, what sort of faith is that? That’s not faith at all; in fact, it’s opposed to faith. Speaking of faith-filled people who suffered, Saint Paul writes that “the world was not worthy of them” (Heb 11:38). The world loves its own and praises them, and if we’re “worthy in the eyes of the world,” we risk not being so in the eyes of God.

 This serves as a reminder for us that our sole focus in life should be loving and serving Jesus Christ, and Him alone. Of course, we do this through obeying our superiors and following our rule, but if our attention is fixed on what other people think, we start to see things only on the natural level, and lose sight of what really matters, which is the supernatural. Today, we can ask ourselves about our willingness to serve God. What is it we seek? Do we seek the consolations of God, or the God of all consolations?  Let us ask, through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, for the grace to give ourselves entirely to Jesus Christ, and to see in the ordinary things of our lives the extraordinary signs of God’s love for us.

[1] HELPS Word-studies: 5610 hṓra

[2] HELPS Word-studies: 21 agalliáō

[3] Cf. The Expositor’s Greek New Testament. “ὑμεῖς δὲ ἠθελήσατε ἀγαλλιασθῆναι πρὸς ὥραν ἐν τῷ φωτὶ αὐτοῦ; the expression seems intended to suggest the thoughtless and brief play of insects in the sunshine or round a lamp. [“Wie die Mücken im Sonnenschein spielen,” Hausrath in Holtzmann.] Like children following in a bridal procession, dancing in the torchlight: the type of sentimental religionists revelling in their own emotions.”

[4] “Dicit autem voluistis exultare, quiescendo et ponendo in eo finem, credendo eum Christum; sed tamen ad horam, quia in hoc fuistis instabiles: nam videntes Ioannem homines ad alium, non ad se, ducere, aversi estis ab eo.” C. 5, lectio 6.

[5] Cf. Benedict Groschel, A Still, Small Voice, Introduction.

[6] HELPS Word-studies: 2983 lambánō



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