Pathways through Lent

Weekday reflections from St. John’s in the season of Lent.

Wednesday in the First Week of Lent: February 21, 2024

Growing up in the South in a devout Black Baptist family, I spent most of literally every Sunday for the first 18 years of my life in church. As a young child, I spent a good portion of a lot of weeknights there, too, accompanying my mom to “Mission,” or sitting around the fellowship hall while my dad was at a prayer meeting. My parents’ idea of an ideal summer vacation well into my teenage years was “Vacation” Bible School, which meant two weeks of my memorizing and reciting the books of the Bible in order, studying various passages from both the Old and New Testaments intensively, and being quizzed on them. This is a long-winded way of saying that I thought I knew my Bible!

Well, our Gospel reading for today is a new one on me. Not only had I never read it or even heard of it, I find it striking and arresting. In it, we find Jesus, half marveling and half complaining that he—God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God—is here, literally standing before the people and speaking directly to them. Though they are looking at him, they do not see him; and though they hear him speak, they are not listening to what he is saying to them.

The Queen of Sheba believed in the wisdom of Solomon even before she crossed miles and miles of desert and sea to see and hear him; otherwise, why make the journey! In the reading from Jonah, the king and all the people believed Jonah’s prophecy the very instant they heard it, and they turned from their evil ways in the hope that God might spare them. So great was their faith and so immediate was their repentance, that God did just that.

But, in the Gospel reading, Jesus, the very incarnation of God, metaphorically throws up his hands. He seems to say, “Is the greatest one not great enough for you, O Israel?”

This passage has depths to be plumbed. In closing, let me focus on this one: During his ministry on earth, plenty of people saw and heard Jesus; far fewer followed him. If, then, even in his time, it was so hard for people to perceive who it is that they were seeing and the meaning of what he was saying, how much harder is it in our day when we can neither see nor hear him? This is not meant to be an excuse for lacking faith; it’s an explanation of why, if anything, having faith now is even more urgent than it was then.

Clark Ervin
Pathways Contributor

Links to the appointed readings for today