Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 19, 2023
Detail: Mosaic in Jerusalem. Attribution: zeevveez from Jerusalem, Israel, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Star_of_David_Mosaic_Art_%289929543666%29.jpg

Today’s Invitation

Today, we invite you to explore the painful context of the Gospel of John’s depiction of Jews and Judaism through the insights of the Jewish New Testament scholar, Adele Reinhartz; engage the change in the Church’s teaching on Judaism in the twentieth century through Vatican II; and embody an opposition to anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism through the examples of Johannes Oesterreicher and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ).


Commentary by Marjorie Corbman

Fourth Sunday of Lent


Reading 1

1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13

YHWH said to Samuel,
“How long will you grieve for Saul,
whom I have rejected as ruler of Israel?
Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.
I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem,
for I have chosen my ruler from among his children.”
As they came, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought,
“Surely this is YHWH’s anointed.”
But YHWH said to Samuel,
“Do not judge from Eliab’s height and appearance; this is not the one.
YHWH does not see as people see:
people look at appearances, but I look at the heart.”
Jesse then presented seven children to Samuel,
but Samuel said to Jesse,  “YHWH has not chosen these.”
He then asked Jesse, “Are these all you have?”
He answered,
“There is still one left, the youngest,
who is out looking after the sheep.”
Then Samuel said to Jesse,
“Send for him. We will not sit down to eat until he comes.”
Jesse had the youngster brought to them.
He was ruddy, a youth with beautiful eyes and a handsome appearance.
YHWH said,
“Come, anoint him, for this is the one.”
At this, Samuel took the horn of oil
and anointed David where he stood with his siblings.
And the Spirit of YHWH came mightily upon David from that day on.
Samuel took his leave and went to Ramah.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 23

Response: Adonai, You are my shepherd, I have no wants.

Adonai, You are my shepherd, I have no wants. / In verdant pastures You give me repose;
Beside restful waters You lead me; / You refresh my soul.
R: Adonai, You are my shepherd, / I have no wants.

Even though I walk in the dark valley, / I fear no evil; for You are at my side
With Your rod and Your staff / that give me courage.
R: Adonai, You are my shepherd, I have no wants.

You spread the table before me / in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil; / my cup overflows.
R: Adonai, You are my shepherd, I have no wants.

Only goodness and kindness follow me / all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in Your house / for years to come.
R: Adonai, You are my shepherd, I have no wants.

Reading 2

Ephesians 5:8-14

There was a time when you were darkness,
but now you are light in Christ.
Live as children of the light.
Light produces every kind of goodness, justice and truth.
Be correct in your judgment of what pleases our Savior.
Take no part in deeds done in darkness, which bear no fruit;
rather, expose them.
It is shameful even to mention the things these people do in secret;
but when such deeds are exposed and seen in the light of day,
everything that becomes visible is light.
That is why we read:
Awake, O sleeper, arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

Gospel

John 9:1-41

As Jesus walked along, he saw someone who had been blind from birth.
The disciples asked Jesus,
“Rabbi, was it this individual’s sin that caused the blindness, or that of the parents?”
“Neither,” answered Jesus,
“It was not because of anyone’s sin — not this person’s, nor the parents’.
Rather, it was to let God’s works shine forth in this person.
We must do the deeds of the One who sent me while it is still day —
for night is coming, when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

With that, Jesus spat on the ground,
made mud with his saliva
and smeared the blind one’s eyes with the mud.
Then Jesus said,
“Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” — “Siloam” means “sent.”

So the person went off and washed, and came back able to see.
Neighbors and those who had been accustomed to seeing the blind beggar
began to ask, “Is this not the one who used to sit and beg?”
Some said yes; others said no
— the one who had been healed simply looked like the beggar.
But the individual in question said, “No, it was I.”
The people then asked, “Then how were your eyes opened?”
The answer came,
“The one they call Jesus made mud and smeared it on my eyes,
and told me to go to Siloam and wash.
When I washed, I was able to see.”
“Where is Jesus?” they asked.
The person replied, “I have no idea.”

They took the one who had been born blind to the Pharisees.
It had been ona Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud paste and opened this one’s eyes.
The Pharisees asked how the individual could see.
They were told, “Jesus put mud on my eyes. I washed it off, and now I can see.”
This prompted some of the Pharisees to say,
“This Jesus cannot be from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.”
Others argued, “But how could a sinner perform signs like these?”
They were sharply divided.

Then they addressed the blind person again:
“Since it was your eyes he opened, what do you have to say about this Jesus?”
“He is a prophet,” came the reply.
The Temple authorities refused to believe
that this one had been blind and had begun to see,
until they summoned the parents.
“Is this your child?” they asked,
“and if so, do you attest that your child was blind at birth?
How do you account for the fact that now your child can see?”
The parents answered:
“We know this is our child, blind from birth.
But how our child can see now, or who opened those blind eyes, we have no idea.
But do not ask us — our child is old enough to speak without us!”
The parents answered in this way
because they were afraid of the Temple authorities,
who had already agreed among themselves
that anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah
would be put out of the synagogue.
That was why they said, “Our child is of age and should be asked directly.”

A second time they summoned the one who had been born blind and said,
“Give God the glory instead; we know this Jesus is a sinner.”
“I do not know whether he is a sinner or not,” the individual answered.
“All I know is that I used to be blind, and now I can see.”
They persisted, “Just what did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
“I already told you, but you will not listen to me,” came the answer.
“Why do you want to hear it all over again?
Do not tell me you want to become disciples of Jesus too!”

They retorted scornfully, “You are the one who is Jesus’ disciple.
We are disciples of Moses.
We know that God spoke to Moses,
but we have no idea where this Jesus comes from.”
The other retorted:
“Well, this is news! You do not know where he comes from,
yet he opened my eyes!
We know that God does not hear sinners,
but that if people are devout and obey God’s will, God listens to them.
It is unheard of that anyone ever gave sight to a person blind from birth.
If this one were not from God, he could never have done such a thing!”

“What!” they exclaimed.
“You are steeped in sin from birth, and you are giving us lectures?”
With that, they threw the person out.
When Jesus heard of the expulsion,
he sought out the healed one and asked,
“Do you believe in the Chosen One?”
The other answered,
“Who is this One, that I may believe?”
“You are looking at him,” Jesus replied.
“The Chosen One is speaking to you now.”
The healed one said, “Yes, I believe,” and worshiped Jesus.
And Jesus said,
“I came into this world to execute justice
— to make the sightless see and the seeing blind.”

Some of the Pharisees who were nearby heard this and said,
“You are not calling us blind, are you?”
To which Jesus replied,
“If you were blind, there would be no sin in that.
But since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”


The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.

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Explore

On Jewish-Christian Relations


Today’s gospel reading depicts hoi loudaioi (“the Jews”) persecuting a suspected follower of Jesus, a man born blind. The most literal option for translating hoi loudaioi is “the Jews.” Many translations of the Gospel of John opt for “the Jews,” while others remove or replace the term with something else (in this translation, “the Temple authorities”). The reason this decision is so difficult is that the literal meaning does not make complete sense – after all, Jesus, his disciples, and probably the gospel’s author were also Jews. Moreover, the choice is fraught because of how this term is used in the gospel.

In Befrieding the Beloved Disciple: A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John (2001), Adele Reinhartz, a Jewish New Testament scholar, explains that in the Gospel of John, 

“Jews are associated with unbelief, the execution of Jesus, and the persecution of his followers. Their self-understanding as the children of Abraham and of God is denied. Their festivals and their institutions are replaced, usurped, or undermined. The most difficult verse is 8:44, in which Jesus accuses the Jews of being liars and murderers and declares: ‘You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.’ This image of the Jews as children of the devil has echoed through the centuries, in theology, art, literature, and anti-Semitic invective, and, most recently, on the websites of neo-Nazi groups (20).” 

As someone with a mixed Jewish and Christian background, I feel similarly to Reinhartz that, “each of the seventy references to ‘the Jews’ in the Gospel of John [feels] like a slap in the face,” (13). Because the gospel is read publicly as part of the liturgies of Christian communities, I am sympathetic with the position of those who have argued that hoi Ioudaioi should be translated as something, anything, other than “the Jews.” However, scholars such as Reinhartz show us why simply changing the language – without reflecting on the gospel’s verbal violence against “the Jews” – limits our understanding of the text.

In today’s reading, Jesus compares the blind man’s recognition of his divine identity with his detractors,’ hoi loudaioi, figurative lack of sight. As Reinhartz explains, the gospel is structured around a binary opposition of acceptance or rejection of Jesus. The author, “exercises ethical judgment with respect to his readers by separating those who are good – who believe – from those who are evil,” (25). 

Reinhartz attempts to “befriend” the author of the Gospel of John, to open up space for dialogue, by showing how the story looks different from either side of acceptance or rejection of the writer’s claims about Jesus. But then she goes further, approaching the gospel, not on the author’s terms, but on her own. In the final section, Reinhartz confronts her main issue with the gospel: “My profound discomfort with the cosmological tale goes beyond the anti-Judaism inherent in the Gospel,” she writes, “to a more general concern with the polarized, dichotomizing way in which the [author] offers his gift. I object to this Gospel not just because it marginalizes the Johannine Jews, a group with which I identify… but because the ethical model that it implies allows no room for a different model,” (141). 

But recognizing that an alternative ethical approach – one that appreciates difference – also has to make room for the gospel writer’s difference (159), Reinhartz examines the possible sources of his binary worldview. She concludes that the author had theologically painted himself into a corner, making alienation from his (Jewish) community inevitable. Even if this were his choice, “his feelings of otherness within his social situation might be just as painful as the feelings of otherness that his Gospel creates in me,” (156). Through Reinhartz’s insights, we can recognize the wounding rupture between John’s Jesus and hoi loudaioi. In this text, we see the breakdown of relationship between members of the same community who are no longer able to understand one another. Rather than attempting to resolve the tension, Reinhartz invites us to acknowledge and feel the pain of division.

For more on Adele Reinhartz’s work, see her faculty webpage. Reinhartz a professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa.

Commentary by Marjorie Corbman


Marjorie Corbman is an educator and theologian who currently spends her days working with the wonderful students at Mansfield Hall, a residential learning community for neurodivergent college students in Burlington, Vermont. Her theological writing is informed by her mixed-faith Jewish and Christian background, and her experiences working with organizing/activist communities associated with both religious traditions. She lives with her wife, Meg, and their very silly dachshund in Vermont.
Explore

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Racial Justice

In From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965 (2012), historian John Connelly addresses Nostra aetate (1965), the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions,” one of the most influential documents of the Second Vatican Council. Connelly notes that,

“the Declaration signaled a ‘180 degree turnabout’… reversing all that the church had thought about Jews since its early days… From the third century at the latest, church authorities taught that the Jews’ destiny was to wander the earth suffering retribution from God for rejecting Christ (2).” 

In contrast, Nostra aetate declared, drawing on previously neglected New Testament texts, that, “the promises – thus the Covenant – made by God with the Jews were still in force… [and] asserted – quoting St. Paul’s letter to the Romans – that the Jews remained ‘most dear’ to God. That is, they continued to enjoy God’s favor,” (2). 

The horrific ramifications of the earlier Christian teaching on Jews cannot be overstated. While the Church officially condemned the murder of Jews, its characterization of them as killers of Christ rejected by God was inspiration for many acts of violence toward Jews, most notably the 1096 massacres of German Jewish communities, persecutions of Jews during the Black Death, expulsions of Jews from numerous European countries from the 13th to 16th centuries, and pogroms in Eastern Europe. 

Even the most stringent Christian defenders of Jewish communities typically argued for their protection on the basis that Jews must persist in a miserable state until the end of time, as a witness to the truth of revelation. For instance, St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote in a letter in 1146 that “[t]he Jews must not be persecuted, slaughtered, nor even driven out… They are living signs to use, representing the Lord’s passion. For this reason they are dispersed into all regions, that now they may pay the just penalty of so great a crime.” These views persisted well into the twentieth century. Connelly writes: “Even the most determined Christian opponents of Nazism – including Dietrich Bonhoeffer – shared with the antisemites the basic belief that Jews lived under a curse for killing Christ” (9).

Nostra aetate unequivocally rejected these earlier views, making possible previously unthinkable connections between Catholic and Jewish communities. Pope St. John Paul II, who grew up having close relationships with Jewish neighbors in Poland, visited the Great Synagogue of Rome in 1986, and formally apologized for the history of Christian persecution of the Jews in 2000. Pope Francis, similarly, has expressed respect for and interest in Judaism as a living tradition, co-writing a book with his close friend, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, in which they discuss Jewish and Christian theology and practice. On the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra aetate, Pope Francis declared: “Deserving of special gratitude to God is the veritable transformation of Christian-Jewish relations in these 50 years… From enemies and strangers we have become friends and brothers.” Nostra aetate is a crucial example of how the Church can repent of immense harm it has caused in the past.

Engage

A Contemplative Exercise


In the Jewish tradition, one of the central spiritual practices is studying texts. An important aspect of this study is a commitment to engaging texts from multiple points of ,and from different angles. In Befriending the Beloved Disciple, Adele Reinhartz does something similar by engaging the Gospel of John in four distinct ways. 

For today’s contemplative exercise, we invite you to study the gospel reading with the four approaches used by Reinhartz in her book. Start by reading over today’s gospel as a “compliant” reader, accepting the point of view of the author voiced by John’s Jesus. Ask yourself: what possibilities or ways of seeing the world does this reading open or close off for you? 

Next, reread as a “resistant” reader: temporarily experience the text from the point of view of hoi loudaioi. Does this approach allow you to see things or feel things that otherwise you would not have? 

Next, read the gospel as a “sympathetic” reader, setting aside the claims made about Jesus temporarily, and seeing if there are details that draw you in that are not related to the conflict in the story. 

Finally, read the gospel again as an “engaged” reader, bringing your own concerns and questions to the text. Speak back to the author, letting him know how the text makes you feel, and what questions it raises for you. And in the midst of that dialogue, listen to God speaking to you through your engagement with this difficult chapter.

A Witness

Johannes Oesterreicher

In From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965, John Connelly focuses on the “border-crossing” of Christian anti-racists that constructed the theological foundation of Nostra aetate. Especially notable were a number of, “Christians whose family members were Jews, who keenly felt the contempt contained in traditional Catholic teaching” (5). 

In particular, he highlights Johannes Oesterreicher, one of the authors of Nostra aetate. Oesterreicher was born into a Moravian Jewish family, converted to Catholicism in his early twenties, and began his anti-racist activism a few years afterwards, as the Nazis rose to power. He continued tirelessly, and at times at great risk, to advocate against anti-Semitism in society and in the Church. Oesterreicher is also an important witness due to his capacity to reflect on and revise earlier ideas. While he had been active for decades in efforts to convert fellow Jews to Christianity, his theological investigation, which so transformed the Church’s position on Judaism, also led him to revisit his own views. 

In 1970, Oesterreicher asserted that he no longer thought, “of conversion as a change from one religious group or spiritual family to another… I take conversion in its deepest sense as a reorientation of one’s total existence in the sight of God,” a reorientation that is as important to Judaism as it is to Christianity” (277). Oesterreicher shows us the importance of reflecting on our empathy with those who are suffering, especially those suffering from harm caused by the Church.

A Community

Jews for Racial and Economic Justice

Anti-Semitic ideology continues to harm and threaten the safety of Jews in the twenty-first century. As white nationalist and neo-Nazi movements have gained prominence in the United States and globally, Jews, along with other minority populations, have faced increasing violence and insecurity. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), a New York-based Jewish organizing group that, “fight[s] for a New York where every community has the freedom, opportunity, and resources to thrive” (“About”), has responded to these increasing attacks by forming a campaign to organize against anti-Semitism. As part of the NYC Against Hate coalition, JFREJ and community partners, “representing Jewish, immigrant, Latinx, Muslim, Arab & South Asian, Black, and LGBTQGNC populations,” respond to incidents of hateful violence in New York City.

Art

Abraham and three Angels by Marc Chagall

 

Abraham and three Angels by Marc Chagall. 1966; Saint-paul-de-vence, France. Oil, canvas. Via WikiArt https://www.wikiart.org/en/marc-chagall/abraham-and-three-angels-1966

Image description: Against a red-orange background, the artwork Abraham et les trois anges shows three angels sitting together at a wooden table. One wears white, with white wings; one wears purple, with white wings; and one wears blue, with yellow wings. To the left stand the figures of Abraham and Sarah, watching the three figures at the table. To the right is an image of the figure of Abraham being lifted into the air by the three angels.

In the gospel of John, Jesus and hoi loudaioi argue over their descent from Abraham, who is the first participant in the covenant between God and the people of Israel according to the Hebrew Scriptures. In Abraham et les trois anges (1966), the Jewish artist Marc Chagall portrays an important scene from the stories of Abraham in the Book of Genesis, in which Abraham and his wife Sarah offer hospitality to three strangers, later revealed to be messengers or manifestations of God. 

Because of this lavish act of kindness to strangers, the Jewish tradition has depicted Abraham as a model of hesed, or lovingkindness. According to the Mishneh Torah, a text authored by the Jewish scholar Maimonides in 12th century Egypt, accompanying strangers is, 

“a practice introduced by our father Abraham, a way of kindness which was habitual with him. He served food and drink to wayfarers and escorted them. Hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the Divine Presence, as it is written: ‘He saw three men… he ran to meet them’ (Genesis 18:2). Escorting them is even greater than receiving them” (Mishneh Torah, Mourning, 14:2). 

As shared inheritors of the covenantal relationship between God and Abraham, Jews, Christians, and Muslims should follow his lead in welcoming and accompanying each other (and all others) with the same generosity and lovingkindness.

Embody
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