Franciscan Spirit Blog

Lent with Richard Rohr: The Demonization of the Threatening ‘Other’

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent | Readings: Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22; John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30


We have perhaps read the studies which show that once a group has decided to differentiate itself from another group, the rules of conversation change toward that group.We are inclined to believe the worst of them, paranoia and conspiracy theories soon abound, they are fair game for the commentators, and our chosen mistrust looks for any justification whatsoever to fear, hate, or even kill. Soon any defensive or even offensive attacks toward that person or group are fully rationalized and justified. It is a rare person who can stand uninfluenced by this field of gossip and innuendo. This is the sad pattern of human history.

It is just such an atmosphere that is presented in both readings today, as we near the climactic events of Holy Week. The taunting verses from the book of Wisdom sound familiar to most Christians because they are the backdrop of the Crucifixion scene: “If he is the son of God, then God will defend him.” In the full text we read a kind of bravado and defiance, daring the “just person” to prove himself. It feels like the school bully mocking the classmate who might be smarter, more popular, or even more mature. For some strange reason, fearful humans are threatened by anyone outside of their frame of reference. They are always a threat and must be brought down.

The same pattern is then found in the Gospel. So strange that even religious authorities can speak openly of wanting to kill Jesus, and the crowds even openly know about this. What has religion come to? Vengeance is often an open, but denied secret when fear and gossip reign in a society. Every attempt is being made to discredit Jesus, and even his family of origin, which is a very common pattern. (The whole of John 7 might give you even more of the feeling of malice and intrigue than the selected passage here in the Lectionary.)

Jesus is slowly being isolated for the attack, he moves around “secretly.” You can feel his loneliness and anguish, and all he can do is claim his true origins—to deaf ears. In these days, we are being invited to share in the passion of Jesus, and in the aloneness and fear of all who have been hated and hunted down since the beginning of time.


“Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us, he sets himself against our doings. . . . To us he is the censure of our thoughts. Merely to see him is a hardship.” —Wisdom 2:12, 14

“[Jesus] had decided not to travel in Judea because some of the Jews were looking for a chance to kill him. . . . Some of the people of Jerusalem remarked ‘Is this not the one they want to kill?’” —John 7:1, 25


“God of loving truth, keep me from the world of gossip and accusation. Do not let me ‘kill’ others, even in my mind or heart.”

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