Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Evening reflection

It was a full day: we invited two sets of guests over (lunch guests and supper guests) to meet with Sr. Kathryn as part of her theological reflection process for our book center ministry. I was the lunchtime cook, because my evening was already spoken for. (In fact, I was not only "spoken for," I was the speaker for the Cathedral's last "Lenten Lecture" program.) I got home in time to participate in some of the evening session, but needed to pack for my next evening's commitment (see you tomorrow night at St. Paul's in Ham Lake, if you are in the Twin Cities area!).
It's pretty late now, but I'm packed and ready, so I wanted to put in a few words about today's Gospel, because it highlights what I see as amazing parallelisms between John the Evangelist and St. Paul, even if sometimes they choose opposite vocabulary. One of Paul's key words, for example, shows up (in two different ways) in the reading for today: "works." Anybody who knows anything about the rhetoric often used to distinguish Catholics and Protestants can tell you that it comes down to "faith" and "works," with "works" definitely being a negative term. John knows that use (look at today's "works of the devil"!), but he also uses "works" in a positive way: "doing the works of Abraham." Paul, master wordsmith that he was, prefers to use a different word to heighten the drama. When Paul wants to set up a conflict between "the works of the devil" and "the works of Abraham," he uses the term "works" (negative) and "fruits" (positive: recall that passage about the "fruits of the Spirit"?).
But there's more in today's liturgy than works, whether grace-filled or not. In fact, what is more important than the works is the source, and in this we find John using his most distinctive word: "abide." "If you remain/abide in my word, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." Later in John 's Gospel, Jesus will modify (or rather, more fully reveal) what he is getting at: "remain/abide in me, and I in you; whoever remains/abides in me will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."
The Nazis had their ironic and hypocritical promise written across the gates of Auschwitz, "Work sets free." But the Gospel says that good "works" (Paul's "fruits") come from freedom; the freedom of living in Jesus, like branches in the vine. The branches freely produce the vine's fruit; it is not the branches' labor, but the vine's life that produces "life in abundance."

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