Ad Hominem Attacks Are as Old as the Hills of Jerusalem (Lenten Scriptural Commentary #32)
by Erik Ritland
"Let’s make sure that we can take prophetic criticism seriously, not brushing it away – or crucifying it – as it might be in our nature to do."
Fully Alive’s Lenten Scriptural Commentary helps Christians get more out of Lent by taking God’s word seriously.
Mostly avoiding personal stories and anecdotes, our commentary dives deeply into the scripture readings for each day and applies them to the broader context of Lent. We use the daily Mass readings from the Catholic lectionary.
If possible, read each passage slowly, taking in each word. If you find that you’ve hurried through a reading, read it over a few more times. Let the words reverberate in your heart. After you’ve let it sink in, read our Lenten Scriptural Commentary.
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent
The prophet Jeremiah prophecies Jesus’ passion, and the people of Jesus’ time argue over who he is.
Readings: Jer 11:18-20/Jn 7:40-53
Click here to read the complete text from the USCCB website
Yet I, like a trusting lamb led to slaughter,
had not realized that they were hatching plots against me:
"Let us destroy the tree in its vigor;
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will be spoken no more."
(cf Jer 11: 18-20)
Tradition says that the Israelites didn’t have a great record when it came to how they treated the prophets. Most were ignored, exiled, or executed. It’s not for nothing that Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you” (Mt 23: 27).
In a way, who could blame them? The prophets had difficult messages. They held up a mirror to the people, and often looking in the mirror isn't the most pleasant thing.
Jesus was the ultimate version of this, which is why it makes sense that He’d cause such a stir with the religious authorities, and ultimately be killed.
Let’s make sure that we can take prophetic criticism seriously, not brushing it away – or crucifying it – as it might be in our nature to do.
Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them,
"Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him
and finds out what he is doing?"
They answered and said to him,
"You are not from Galilee also, are you?
Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee."
(cf. Jn 7: 40-53)
This is an all too familiar scenario, is it not?
We're caught up in the whirlwind of crowd mentality. We just know that someone is guilty, that they should be punished.
And then that one annoying person has to point out the hysteria in our haste. “Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?”
What is our response? Personal condemnation of the speaker, which conveniently side-steps the good points that they have.
In the ancient world, Galilee had a bad reputation. To say, “You are not from Galilee also, are you?” was to say, “you aren’t as worthless as him, are you?” The ad hominem attack is the perfect deflection from his reasonable response to the hysteria.
I don’t need to list the most recent contemporary examples of the desire to find people guilty without evidence, and the attack on the character of those who dare stand up to the crowd against such injustice.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician. The founder of Fully Alive Christian Media, he also created The Minnesota Sport Ramble and is a writer and copy editor for Music in Minnesota. He was Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blogs Curious North and Hometown Hustle. Reach him via email.
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Erik Ritland received his MA in Theology in 2017. He's the founder and content manager of Fully Alive Christian Media and Rambling On, copy editor and writer for Music in Minnesota, and an acclaimed songwriter.