Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols, their abominations, and all their transgressions.
I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy, and cleanse them so that they may be my people and I may be their God.

Religion wants to be conducted without competition, that is with no other religious systems, churches or temples in the neighborhood. Religion wants its own village where all worship the same God, sing the same songs and recite the same prayers in the same language.

If that is the case, so far as I can tell, it never happened in Jerusalem, the putative “holy city” of the Jews. Jerusalem was always a polyglot city of many religions and languages. Foreign merchants and embassies brought their own gods with them and set up their own shrines in their homes and shops. And the ancient Canaanite beliefs, superstitions and customs persisted in the secrets alleys and nooks of the metropolis. The Canaanite "Lilith" is remembered as a Jewish legend though she is utterly foreign to our religion.

The Hebrew prophets railed against these alien ways but the more secular politicians knew to leave well enough alone. They went along to get along. So long as people paid their taxes and didn’t violate anyone else they could be left to their peculiar beliefs. Life in a crowded city is already sacrificial; there’s no point in demanding the unnecessary.

Nevertheless, Ezekiel and the other prophets hoped for the fulfillment of their dreams, “No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols….”

Periodically, prophetic voices demand the same thing of the United States. “We are a Christian country!” they declare. “The Founding Fathers were men of faith!” they suppose. It’s true that most of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence were nominally Christian but they preferred to leave religion out of the discussion. They attempted to create first a confederation, and then a federation that would balance the reasonable demands of citizens regardless of their religious beliefs. A middle class nation of merchants, manufacturers and farmers united in the pursuit of good governance could agree to disagree about religion. Their Constitution made room for all religions but would name no god; it was literally “godless.”

During Holy Week Catholics and Christians pull away from the dominant culture to practice our religion in the security of our own churches. We marinate our imagination in the story of Jesus’ last week on earth, letting its pathos temper our pleasure and its sublime meaning edify our hearts. If we cannot be like Jesus we can at least admit that his way is far superior to our own. We can hope that his faith, hope and love influence in some subtle ways our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and decisions.

We do not expect the world around us to stop everything and grieve on Good Friday, nor do we expect them to burst out in Alleluias on Easter Sunday. We can hope they’re not offended as we observe a week of prayer.

Renewed and reassured that we are God’s people and he is our God, we bless our native land, wherever it might be.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.