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Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent: A fit of giggles

Thursday, March 22, 2012
Readings: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 106:19-20, 21-22, 23; John 5:31-47

When I was young, if ever my parents accused me or my siblings of some trivial misdeed at home, I had enormous difficulty protesting my innocence. Of course, I was a perfectly sweet and blameless child – give or take a few practical jokes now and then. But in the concrete circumstances where I knew I was innocent, I would find the accusation so ludicrous that I would collapse in a fit of giggles! While this rendered me physically incapable of uttering a coherent sentence in my defence, my parents would simply suspect me all the more…

And why exactly did I find these situations so funny? I think, on reflection, it has something to do with the nature of testimony. If my mother wanted to know which naughty boy had put the sugar in the salt cellar, it may come down to a stark contest between my word and my brother’s – one versus one – unless another sibling gave their testimony on either side. If my siblings, for a laugh, all accused me (the innocent one), how on earth could I disprove their case? There was nothing to be done but laugh at the absurdity.

Fortunately, in today’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t giggle in the face of his accusers. For a start, the accusations (of healing a man on the Sabbath and calling God his Father) are very serious – and also true. The Jewish leaders are trying to have him killed. So Jesus is perfectly calm, composed, and rational. He tries teaching them about his intimate relationship with God the Father, who sent him into this world to bring it to new life (Jn. 5:21).

Christians know, by faith, that Jesus is the Truth. So, for us, his testimony comes with an automatic guarantee. ‘Truth himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true’ – as St Thomas Aquinas puts it in his famous hymn.

But what about those who don’t – or don’t want to – accept the testimony of Jesus? Aren’t there many people who struggle to believe? Many who want to make up their minds about Jesus based on the evidence? Yes, many people find themselves doubting Jesus, and in this gospel he takes them seriously. He knows that Jewish law required at least two witnesses in court: ‘If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.’ So he appeals to three others: God the Father, John the Baptist, and Moses. The Father’s testimony, however, though visible in the very words and deeds of Jesus, does not penetrate to Jesus’ accusers. Tragically, their hearts are closed to the love of God (Jn. 5:41). And while John the Baptist, by signs and preaching, also pointed to Jesus, they did not fully believe him and have since turned away from his testimony (Jn. 5:35). So Jesus appeals to Moses in the Scriptures – the highest authority his accusers will recognise.

What about us? We can study the Scriptures, reading the words of both Moses and John the Baptist, and that would be an excellent start. But this is not enough. After all, the highest authority is God the Father, from Whom all Jesus’ authority comes. If we want to recognise the Truth, we must accept that highest authority of all by opening our hearts to receive the love of God. To be honest, none of us is sweet and blameless, so giggling won’t help. But the love of God is so purifying and transformative that we’ll end up rejoicing anyway.

Matthew Jarvis OP


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