It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew; then you showed me their evil deeds. But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be remembered!"
But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously, who try the heart and the mind, let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.
Lord God, I take refuge in you.
From my pursuer save me and rescue me,
lest he tear me to pieces like a lion
and drag me off with no one to rescue me. (R.)
Give judgement for me, Lord;
I am just and innocent of heart.
Put an end to the evil of the wicked!
Make the just stand firm,
you test mind and heart, O just God! (R.)
God is the shield that protects me,
who saves the upright of heart.
God is a just judge slow to anger;
but he threatens the wicked every day. (R.)
When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, "This is really the prophet." Others said, "This is the Messiah." But some asked, "Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?" So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why did you not arrest him?" The police answered, "Never has anyone spoken like this!" Then the Pharisees replied, "Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law .. they are accursed." Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, "Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?" They replied, "Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee." Then each of them went home.
The Jewish leaders disagreed in their assessments of Jesus, but generally refused to believe he could be the Messiah. While the same argument raged among the Jewish laity, some of them decided in Jesus’ favour. For example, the temple guards openly expressed admiration for him: “No one ever spoke like that before!”
Theologians and laity still debate the basics of our faith: Who is Jesus for us? How can he lead us to salvation? How should his church be organised? What attitudes and behaviours does God require of us? Is anything definitively right or wrong? Christians are still divided into denominations, each quoting the Bible as their authority. Because Lent calls us to deeper prayer and study, we might want to review our guidelines for reading the Bible profitably. The prophecy of Jeremiah and words from John’s Gospel offer some help for interpreting the Bible today.
Although Jeremiah was “like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter” he was fully open to the Lord’s revelation. And what St John says about Nicodemus suggests that we should keep an open mind about texts that are difficult to interpret. We should think hard before deciding.
As Nicodemus told his colleagues on the Jewish Council, we should be slow to condemn what we do not understand. Like him, we need to know the facts before rejecting or accepting something as true. And in order to understand, we must respect differences of opinion. If Jesus’ messiah-ship was a public issue among his people and their religious leaders during his lifetime, it’s no surprise that theological debate continues today.
Jesus never taught his disciples to abandon their Jewish faith. Rather, he sought to bring this faith to its perfection. His teaching gained the respect of honest people, who valued whatever is good and wholesome. The unlearned temple guards said to the theologians: “No one ever spoke like that before!”
The Bible should not be used to make what is good look bad, nor make what is bad look good. Biblical interpretation should be honest and fair. Honest, decent people who have a positive attitude toward their neighbours, people who are slow to condemn and who are tolerant of other people’s convictions, have the best chance of interpreting the Bible fairly and honestly, as God’s guidance to us here and now.