Fourth Week of Lent | Mark McEntire
The text in Jeremiah 17:19-27 reports a divine command to the prophet to stand by a gate in the wall of the city of Jerusalem and command the inhabitants not to carry items through the gate on the Sabbath. The text ends with a dire warning of destruction should the inhabitants of Jerusalem fail to heed the commandment. The incongruity between the offense and the punishment is so striking that it commands my attention. The text from the gospel of John is equally odd for modern readers. Jesus performs a magic trick, walking on water, the primary purpose of which seems to be to prompt the crowd to ask him a question, “Teacher, when did you come here?”
Taking a cue from the Lenten season, which urges us to move away from our world for moments of contemplation, we might take the time to move ourselves into the worlds of these incongruous texts, avoiding the common impulse to try to pull them into our world and “make sense” of them. We move into and out of the season of Lent not to reduce and transform its story to some moral or point of application, but to be transformed and even reduced ourselves, to withdraw from religious practice that is self-serving. There is no way to do this work without the experience of discomfort, and it is exactly that kind of experience which these texts offer.
I am preparing once again to take a group of Belmont students to Africa, a place that makes me uncomfortable, despite my many years of having lived there. Once again, I will struggle to make myself do what I will encourage my students to do, to lean into that discomfort rather than push it away, to resist the temptation to force a strange place, like a strange text, to fit into our lives. Instead, we let those worlds—geographical, social and textual—host us, even if the result is pain or confusion. Jeremiah and Jesus hurt and confuse me. The call of Lent is to let them.
Professor, School of Religion