Israel in general, is a desert land sprinkled with stones as far as the eye can see – a whitewashed stony land.
It was the easiest thing in the world anywhere and at any time to stoop down, pick up a stone and throw it at a stranger, neighbour, teacher or rabbi who had irritated or offended one. In fact it was a familiar practice to ‘stone the prophets’ and today we read that Jesus is not exempt from this harsh and at times deadly practice.
The words of Jesus, more so his vision of our unity with God, challenge the world views of his audience; and the crowd – offended by such a challenge to long established belief systems – strikes out in the way of the ages -they pick up stones to throw at him.
With their ears closed to the further argument of Jesus, they then try to arrest him, but “he escaped their power”.
Perhaps we can pause there, and reflect for a moment on what it might mean to ‘escape’ such power. What kind of power is at work here? It might seem to be the power of belief, perhaps even of a sincerely held view. But is this so? Do we not in fact see a belief system or worldview which does not allow questioning or challenge? Is it not really a power of the mob, fueled by fear of a challenge or potential change to one’s views and thus based upon closed mindedness?
Surely the test of a true perspective and belief system is that it is open and able to enter into dialogue with other viewpoints? Such alternate views may or may not be correct, but surely the test of a mature faith is the capacity to hear another perspective. The ‘power’ of the crowd is only that of an unreflective, blind obedience.
By contrast, Jesus challenged his audience in his day, and us each day, to be the kind of person who can listen with the heart and to see into the heart of another.
Such tolerance and openness is surely needed in our world today. One cannot maintain good relationships at the one to one level without being able to hear and listen to one’s partner or friend. Communities cannot live together in harmony and mutual respect without being able to appreciate the value systems of one another. Nations cannot find the way of peace together if they do not give and receive mutual respect.
We see in today’s readings that the result of a closed mind is to close out the other, to deny them a voice and to prematurely close down any consideration or openness to another view point. Jesus is forced to flee, to take refuge across the Jordan and to remain there for some time.
As our Lenten journey draws near to a close, can we not ask ourselves if we have grown in tolerance, openness and a willing acceptance of the ‘other’ during these weeks.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.