Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 20:10-13; John 10:31-42)

Cell telephone numbers may help us understand the prohibition of blasphemy mentioned in the gospel today. If you know your boss’s cell number, you are not likely to use it without good reason. Nor would you share it with everyone who may ask you for it. God’s name -- certainly in the ancient world and still so today -- serves a purpose similar purpose. It invokes God’s immediate presence. Blasphemy, the flagrant use of God’s name, includes more than making light of it. Taking a false oath incurs the charge of blasphemy as does prophesying without due authorization and arrogating to oneself the place of God.

In the gospel the Jews accuse Jesus of blasphemy for calling himself the “Son of God.” The incident takes place outside evidently near an open field where the Jews can find rocks to stone Jesus for the well-attested Old Testament crime. Nevertheless, we must understand the charge as more serious than that of a few zealous thugs taking the execution of the Law into their own hands. John’s gospel lacks a trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (ruling council) of the Jews. Especially the Gospels of Matthew and Mark show Jesus in this much formal setting responding to the same charge. If Jesus were not the person he claims to be, he would justly be found guilty of a very serious crime.

When we pray “hallowed be thy name,” we give testimony to the seriousness of blasphemy. For good reason, we do not penalize everyone today who curses, takes a false oath, or acts as if s/he were God Almighty. Yet we must take care not to betray the reverence we have for God’s name and for Jesus’ by blaspheming ourselves or by allowing tolerance for such barbarity to melt into acceptance.