Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wednesday in the 4th Week of Lent
Whose Work?

Readings: Isaiah 49:8-15; Psalm 145:8-9, 13cd-14, 17-18; John 5:17-30

Before we begin, it’s useful to notice that yesterday we started a semi-continuous reading of John’s gospel which will carry us through to Holy Week.

My Father goes on working and so do I…

These words of Jesus must hold a special significance for us who belong to a culture that seems especially hard-working. Isn’t it consoling to know even as we continue to slog for our daily bread that God is also working in and alongside us? Even so, we must not be too quick to find comfort. Instead, at least in this instance, it is important to see that God's word comforts by first challenging and convicting us. Our readings once again provide us an opportunity to examine our work and to compare it with God’s. We’ve had occasion before to highlight the differences between the work of the world and the work of the Father. These differences become especially clear when we consider their respective beginnings, middles and endings.

The work of the world often begins with greed. It is often born of the need to grasp and to hoard resources for ourselves. We look at the world in terms of a zero-sum game. If there’s more for you then there’ll be less for me. So better grab what I want as soon as I can. Given these beginnings, it’s not surprising that the work of the world is carried out in anxiety and competition. Even when one has more than one needs the fear always remains that it’ll all very quickly be taken away, or that others may have even more. And so we are driven to work ever harder, to move ever faster, to grab ever more. All this feverish activity quite naturally ends in forgetfulness. Not only do we forget God and others, but we also end up forgetting who we are. We lose touch with our dignity as children of God and become slaves of the very things for which we work. And this whole process is not only to be found in the corporate world. Can we not find the work of the world being carried out in church as well? Do some of us not approach even the spiritual life in much the same way?

The work of the Father is quite different. It begins not with grasping but with love. It is rooted in God’s desire to give and to share what God has and who God is who those whom God loves. As such, it is carried out not in anxiety and competition but with trust and compassion. As we were reminded in the response to the psalm today: the Lord is kind and full of compassion. And when our work is rooted in the compassion of God, then we can learn to trust that God will strengthen us in our weakness and lead us to feel for others without having to compete with them. All this ends quite naturally not in forgetfulness but in a deeper remembering. As we heard in the first reading, even if a woman forgets her baby at the breast, God will never forget us. And Isaiah goes on to tell us that God has inscribed us on the palms of his hands. We witness this taking place in the life and ministry of Jesus. As he continues to do the will of the Father, he is led to mount the cross on Calvary, where his hands will be marked with nails so that we might forever be inscribed on the Father’s heart. When we immerse ourselves in the work of God, we too are led into God’s remembering of us and so are led to remember our true identity in the God's sight.

The time is here already, says Jesus today, when the dead will leave their graves at the sound of God’s voice and rise to life. Isn't this voice an invitation to allow God to move us from the work of the world to the work of the Father?

Whose work do you do?

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