Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thursday in the 4th Week of Lent
Long-Distance Love

Readings: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 106:19-20, 21-22, 23; John 5:31-47

We know how difficult long-distance relationships are to maintain, even in this present age of instant communication. The loved one is far away, physically absent. Yet one’s longing for intimacy and companionship often feels stronger than ever. And in such a difficult situation, the danger is well expressed in the phrase: out of sight, out of mind. It’s easy to forget the ties that bind, the commitments that oblige. It’s easy, especially in times of loneliness and trial, to reach out to others who are nearer, more visible, more convenient. It’s tempting to seek instant gratification even if doing so may damage the existing relationship.

The situation in our readings today is quite similar. The Israelites find themselves suddenly very much alone. Not only does the God who freed them from slavery seem painfully absent, but so does Moses, their leader and constant companion in the desert. And they do not have what it takes to carry on this long-distance relationship. In the desperation of their longing, they fashion an idol for themselves and worship it. The situation of the Jews in the gospel is not much different. They too are involved in a long-distance relationship with their God. Before the arrival of John the Baptist, the prophetic voice had not been heard for some time. And they too turn to idolatry. They worship the letter of the Law and look to one another for approval. They fail to recognize God’s voice in the ministries of John and of Jesus. In both readings the long-distance relationship crumbles under the strain of separation.

The causes of the failure are highlighted quite clearly by Jesus. If the Jews fail to recognize God in Jesus, if they fail to have faith in him, it is only because they have never really understood the scriptures, neither the Law nor the Prophets. What they excel in is merely the knowledge of the head but not of the heart. Jesus rightly questions whether they actually have a relationship with God in the first place: you have no love of God in you.

Yet, in the face of human forgetfulness and infidelity, God remains mindful of God’s covenantal commitment to God’s people. Like someone who ties a thread to a finger to keep from forgetting something important, God goes to great lengths to keep us in mind. God appoints Moses to recall the covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And – as we noted yesterday – in the crucifixion of Jesus, the new Moses, the thin thread of memory is replaced with an eternal inscription of our names upon the hands and heart of God. There is now no possibility of God every forgetting us.

But still, it takes two parties for a relationship to work. Isn’t this the reason for this season of Lent? Conscious of our tendency to forget, we intensify our efforts to allow the Lord to remind us of God’s commitment to us in Christ. We focus our attention more keenly on the price paid by Christ for our freedom, so that our hearts might once again be inflamed with love. We search more keenly for the many signs of God’s love for us in the everyday, so that we might be inspired to remain steadfastly committed to this long-distance relationship with an ever-present God.

Today, what do we need to jog our memory? What do we need to sharpen the vision of our faith, to inflame the fire of our love and to strengthen the perseverance of our hope?

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