The reading from the Book of Exodus narrates a conversation between God and Moses. After Moses found that the people had made a molten calf and intentionally broke the 1st and most important commandment: “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no strange gods before me.” In the face of such an irrevocable deed, Moses is at once shocked at his people and terrified at the wrath that will consume them. In desperation he threw up his hands and reminded God of His relationship with the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Israel (Jacob). “You promised, he cried out, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’” Moses gives us an incentive to prayer. First we are sinners and, out of selfishness, we do in fact commit irrevocable deeds. Then we find ourselves in need of God’s mercy so that we can go on with our lives in peace. His example incites us to raise our hands before the faceless creator God and cry out: “You promised…”
Saint John’s Gospel is part of a long discourse native to the Gospel of the Beloved Disciple. He cites the historical memory of John the Baptizer, reminding the people that they were in the darkness of self-preoccupation and that John’s teaching regarding inner conversion is the shining lamp. It is important to remember that, because of the intense heat, the interior of ordinary homes in Jesus’ day did not allow for windows. Even in the middle of the day, they bumped into furniture. Hence, the shining lamp was the flashlight of life. By inference, Jesus compares the self-motivated search for the presence of God with the refusal to ignite an oil lamp, the most basic tool of Palestinian housecraft.
The second part of this pericopy underscores an important aspect of religious anthropology. We are apathetic. We act toward God and one another in a half-hearted fashion. We do not love totally and we do not allow God to love us with the completeness that should bring us satisfaction and peace. Jesus says: “I do not accept human praise; moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you.” This Gospel which is inserted in the liturgical pattern of Lent at mid-point stands as a stark reminder of the significance of the season. “Wake up!” it says. It is none less than God with whom you are dealing in the Ordinary. The word “ordinary” is a synonym for the furnishings of a household. In other words, lighting a lamp is something we do in the everyday. We often do it unthinkingly, but the presence of God is all around us and always. Are we attentive to it? In switching on the lamp we can reveal, at least to ourselves, the person of a presence of a loving God.
- Father Jerome Vereb, C.P.