Jules Does

Jules Does Lent: Hip to be a Square?

Posted on: March 9, 2016


So the readings for today are… confusing?

I mean, the first reading is pretty easy-going, with lots of typical symbols that we’ve been hearing about lately – mountains made low, people returning home, God’s consolation and so on. Same goes for the Psalm, which is all about God’s great compassion and kindness. So far so good!

But then, there’s the Gospel. And the Gospel for today is a little bewildering. There are a few themes we can pick out, like the fact that God is beyond time (hence He carries on working on the Sabbath), and the fact that Christ has come so that whoever believes in Him will be given eternal life, which is all well and good, kind of Christianity 101. But that’s not the bulk of Christ’s long, poetic statement, as conveyed by John. Instead, Christ offers us a glimpse into the life of the Trinity, about how the Son relates to the Father, what the Son is supposed to do, what the Father allows the Son to do, and so on. The Son is the judge, but He only judges according to the will of the Father, who doesn’t judge. The Father, who is the source of life, has made the Son the source of life and also the supreme judge by merit of the Son also being the Son of Man.

It’s enough to drive a girl to drink.

Talking about the Trinity can sometimes seem like an impossible task, and to be perfectly frank it’s something that I’m usually happy to gloss over. Perhaps I do this at my own peril – after all, the Orthodox and Catholic churches were divided in the Great Schism in the 12th century partly because of a disagreement over the nature of the Trinity, specifically over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father (Catholics say yes, Orthodox say no). But do I know why the line was drawn there exactly, and what the arguments on either side actually were? No, I do not. Would I understand them even if I did a little Googling and found them? I very much doubt it.


I mean, if you say so.

If you’re confused like I currently am, I would really love to tell you about a book I’m reading. It’s called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, and was originally published in 1884. The main character is a square (named A. Square), who lives in 2-dimensional space in the Kingdom of Flatland. Stay with me! During the book, he visits other kingdoms called Lineland (where everyone is a line and can only see forwards and backwards; the concept of left and right have no meaning) and Pointland, which has no dimensions at all. It sounds mad, but it’s very charmingly written and more than a little reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth, which is also wonderful.

Eventually, our protagonist enters Spaceland, or 3-dimensional space. Gone are the circles and squares of his world, and here are spheres and cubes and pyramids and cones and other shapes moving in all directions! A. Square is dazzled by having his mind opened in this way and attempts to tell his family and friends back in Flatland, but to no avail. In the end he is imprisoned. He simply lacks the language to explain the nature of the third dimension to those who only know two dimensions. To make matters worse, he has a sneaking suspicion that there might even be a fourth dimension, but he’ll never find anyone who might have the slightest idea what he’s talking about.

Maybe you can see where I’m going with this. Perhaps Christ’s insight into the life of the Trinity is equivalent to a cube trying to explain itself to a square. This might explain why the descriptions and definitions kind of loop back on themselves in a slightly odd manner; perhaps it is the poetry of God clashing with the prose of humanity. Maybe the Gospel reading can’t be picked apart and analysed like a parable or a miracle because there’s no picking apart to be done. It’s like trying to pick apart an ocean.

Anyway, why this reading in Lent? How does it relate to the other readings? My guess would be that all of the readings are offering us an glimpse into the life and character of God. The Old Testament readings talk of low made high and rough made smooth and of unfailing love that surpasses even the love of a mother for her child, which is difficult enough, and the Gospel goes even further in reminding us that we don’t really know anything about God beyond what He has revealed, and even that is only a fraction of His true nature. Maybe the message is that we need to rest in our lack of understanding occasionally, trusting in our loving God to tell us in His own sweet time. If that sounds anti-intellectual, I assure you it’s not intended that way at all. It’s just that we need to remember sometimes that we are squares trying to understand cubes.



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