Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Interpreting the Signs of Our Time with God’s Judging Attitude
"Never before has anyone spoken like this man." How do we judge what is right and just even when that does not comply with the rules and traditions of a society or fulfills our expectations? How do we let God, the "just Judge [and] searcher of mind and heart," help us judge justly what is acceptable and satisfying even when it is uncommon and unconventional to the popular mindset? Do we remain open and true to the vast horizon of possibilities that our faith offers us, just as it happens to the guards who acknowledge in and through Jesus’ words and works the many possibilities of their Jewish faith? Or do we remain close-minded and, therefore, limit our judging criteria to our biases and expectations, as the religious and civil authorities of Jesus’ time did? To judge things and people by their appearance which is a common human tendency and not be able to see their cause and state of being or to disregard, as the reading from the Prophet Jeremiah suggests, what is in the minds and hearts of people, as God does, can leave us surprisingly embarrassed before God and others, to the point that we will have to take our words back.
Today’s gospel, especially the guards’ aforementioned statement and that of Nicodemus, who eagerly addresses his Jewish brothers with the question: "Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?" reminds me of the first public appearance of our newly elected Pope Francis, who appeared motionless, quiet, and inexpressive before the big crowd at St. Peter’s Square and all TV cameras capturing the moment for the rest of the word to see. Perhaps many, including myself, misunderstood the stillness of his posture and promptly and wrongly judged him as a timid, old, and tired fellow who was unsuitable for such a ministry he has been chosen to carry out as the leader of our Roman Catholic Church. However, once he started addressing and smiling to the crowds, which were in expectation of his first words and blessing, and showing gestures of humility and simplicity that connected him with God’s people, many in the crowds changed our biased, judgmental attitude for one of affirmation and possibilities. For soon after, we began to say that never before a pope has done what Pope Francis did during his first public appearance at St. Peter’s papal balcony.
As the optimistic people say of Jesus in John’s Gospel, "this is truly the Prophet. . . This is the Christ," let us trust God who inspired the cardinals’ election of Pope Francis, who, in many ways is a pioneer which makes us believe and hope that "he is the right man for the right time for the right job of the Catholic Church," as one of the journalists put it. Otherwise, we will be putting our hopes and expectations in what is predictable, familiar and acceptable which will make us think that the Pope cannot come from the New World, just as the Pharisees thought of the Christ, who "will not come from Galilee, will he?" Let us, therefore, look beyond what is before us, so that we do not dismiss the world of possibilities that our faith can certainly afford us because "faith makes things possible, not easy, so let us keep on going."
Fr. Alfredo Ocampo, C.P. gives retreats and parish missions. He is stationed at Holy Name Passionist Community in Houston, Texas.