Franciscan Spirit Blog

Lent with Richard Rohr: Could the ‘New’ Thing Be Inclusion?

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent | Readings: Isaiah 65:17-21; John 4:43-54


There is not a clear and evident connection between the two readings today, just plenty of opportunities for the reader and the preacher to make the connections themselves. Let’s try this one. Most of us have been led to believe that prophets “foretell” the future. That is true, and it is also misleading. It is not the point here. Prophets are seers of the big patterns; they see what is always and forever true. Prophets like Isaiah know how God acts by watching and listening, and they have no doubt about the “meta-narratives,” the Real Story that is always going on inside of our little stories. One of the big patterns is that God’s message always gets wider and more universal, despite our best attempts to limit it.

So when Third Isaiah talks about Yahweh creating “new heavens and a new earth” and “delight” and “rejoicing,” the passing away of “weeping and crying,” or the extended life of a man, he is not so much talking about concrete particulars as he is talking about universals, the big things that are always true, and might also be true here or there. It seems that ancient peoples had a larger sense of history and truth than we do. Maybe they were just more patient in seeing the big patterns unfold.

So when we have Jesus come back to Galilee, the first new thing is that he is accosted by a “royal official” who wants a miracle for his dying son. Now for a non-Jew of the “nobility” to trust an itinerant Jewish healer with no formal credentials is certainly a breakthrough into newness. The official trusts Jesus at his word, with no evidence at hand. When the official returns home, his weeping is indeed turned into delight, and we have one of the few examples of non-local healing in Jesus’ ministry. There is no mention whatsoever of any checklist of beliefs, no correct loyalty systems, no asking whether the royal official is in his first marriage, or whether he has made a good confession of his sins. It seems really rather irresponsible of Jesus.

The whole story seems to be an illustration of the opening line, “A prophet gets no respect from his own” (John 4:44), who are often asking the wrong questions, it seems. As it comes to be expected in the Gospels, it is the outsider who invariably “gets it,” while the insiders will largely continue to fight him, as they defend much smaller truths. The circle of the biblical revelation keeps widening to create that “new earth” of Isaiah, and within a century a people who will call themselves catholic or universal. Here comes everybody! One wonders how we ever made religion into any kind of exclusionary system whatsoever when the vast majority of Jesus’ healings seem to happen to the excluded ones and maybe even the unworthy ones. 


“The things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind. Instead there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create.” —Isaiah 65:17–18

“The man put his trust in the word that Jesus had spoken to him, and set off for home. . . . He and his whole household thereupon became believers.” —John 4:50, 53


“God of all names and all love, give us hearts to include all that you are willing to include, to forgive all that you so easily forgive, and to join you in doing something truly “new” on this earth.”

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