How to get value from our past negative experiences and move on with insight and energy can be difficult, and it’s addressed by these readings. Before the exile of Judah/Israel (culminating in the early sixth century B.C.E., with return beginning around 530 or so) it sounds as if the prophets can barely get the attention of leaders/people. As we hear even the selected Lenten readings, the prophetic denunciation of justice- and cult-related sins is relentless and the people seem incorrigible. After the exile, the tone changes. The voice from Chronicles (and post-exilic prayer like it) suggests that awareness of guilt has become internalized and the desire and need to avoid such sin has become clear. A short version of the same dynamic is caught by the Gospel reading: What was a struggle in the wilderness (sin, snakebite, bronze serpent, healing) is transformed in later times to a saving deed even more powerful for those who look on the uplifted Jesus. The challenge: To look honestly at the harmful or sinful situation and take appropriate responsibility, while at the same time to avoid being crushed and dis-spirited is the key goal. Israel’s prophets don’t say so, but sinfulness was not the only cause of the exile; other factors (imperialism, trade, war) played their part as well. The same may be true of situations we face that require honesty, self-knowledge, and insight but also are not so reducible to our culpability that we should feel crushed and hopeless. We need to see enough both to own our responsibility and to gather energy to move ahead. Incidentally, for a biblical novel treating the adventure of those returning from exile to take up life again in the land of promise, take a look at Barbara Green, Mindful, at amazon.com.!
Barbara Green, O.P.