Faith in the Resurrection is more than accepting an amazing fact. Looking at today’s readings, we can see that even for Jesus’ disciples it was difficult. Thomas of all stands out because he refused to be swayed by what anybody told him or to accept only what he himself could see. Certainly, at the time, many saw the Risen Jesus but in actuality it was the relationship of the Apostles and early community that bore witness and brought about the acceptance of His Resurrection. The acceptance of the Apostles and early community and the works coming forth from he believers of Jesus is what testimony led to the faith in Jesus and the carrying on of his community, the church founded on his Apostles. No one has seen God, but in history in revelation God has spoken and encountered humanity. As creator, his love flowed to his creatures and with that love came his forgiveness and exoneration through the death and resurrection of His Son. To believe is not the easiest thing, it requires that the believer gives a certain part of her/hisself to something that is unprovable and here amazing. Even belief in God requires such a challenge, yet these beliefs have come to us from Jesus’ time to ours.
These beliefs have come in a relationship that we call church or community. God’s love and action is certainly towards all of us and through Christ’s teaching and Sacraments we are not only related to our community but enter into a personal and spiritual relationship with God, Father, Son, and Spirit. The Apostle Thomas in a special way shows us that the personal relationship he had with Jesus in life was one of seeking to protect Jesus and now that he was crucified he found it impossible to believe what he heard about Jesus because he needed to see for himself. . His overwhelming acceptance of his risen Lord on seeing Him should help us in our own times of doubt and despair. Our relationships with each other and with God tells us that Christ has died, has risen, that he is with us now today here in our church, in His Word, in his Eucharist, and will be when he comes at the end.
After reading the Passion, it is very difficult for a homilist to add to the account of Jesus’s passion, death and resurrection. The whole concept of what he endured would seem foreign to us today for the most part. The founders of our country forbade in our constitution cruel and unusual punishment. Torture, whipping, extreme cruelty and to a degree death are forbidden. In Roman times, these were seen as ways to control unruly masses of people to make them fear a nation of conquerors, namely the Romans. Their execution by crucifixion was meant to be bloody, painful and a slow dragged out process, sometimes taking days. It is one of the reasons Rome was able to rule for so long
In today’s world punishment is not supposed to be the ideal, but rehabilitation is what our prisons are called to do. The death penalty is not really common and is now carried out in the US in a sterilized non threatening, non suffering way. Strangely, we carry it out like we are doing a kindness in making it easy for the condemned and our conscience by anesthetizing the person to sleep.
That aside, Suffering and death is something foreign to us. Yet God chose to use the darkest side of humanity’s barbarity to extend his forgiveness and love through his very own Son. No one can miss the singular act of a Father giving his son to make whole what is broken. We heard today the account of Jesus following out the will of his Father, even feeling reluctant as any of us would be, but in the end He said “Your will be done”.
So today, let us reflect that Christ freely gave himself to be taken and condemned by the Jews, sentenced by Pilate and scourged and crucified. This was a giving of himself for all time, for all men and women, for reparation of all sins against God for all time. When we fail, fall short remember to ask Please forgive me.
Mark Twain once said: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
In today’s second reading, we see a prime example of that in Paul. From his encounter on the road with Jesus leading to his conversion, his past became irrelevant and his ministry and mission and future became all important to him.
In the gospel, Jesus himself was a man who was also at ease with himself and was dedicated to his own mission to teach and bring God’s message to humankind. He spoke and talked with authority, so much so that the Scribes and Pharisees felt challenged and thought they had to discredit Jesus as a threat to their own authority and to the present rule of law and authority. Their relationship to God for them was a set of Laws and rules and regulations that determined everything they did. They were fanatical and unbending in carrying out the law. God’s mercy and love and forgiveness were lost in their all consuming rush to judge and force everyone to meticulously follow the law. One law that required quick resolution was adultery. With this in mind, the Scribes and Pharisees bring a woman they say was caught in adultery. They quote that the law says such a woman be stoned to death. For Jesus, it is a conundrum since the law of Rome forbids such a thing and Jesus’ teaching is of love and forgiveness of God. Not mentioned in the story today is the fact that no witnesses are present, and the ancient law prescribed that both the man and the woman be stoned. So even in testing Jesus, the Scribes and Pharisees were being deceptive and themselves using the law for their own purposes. When Jesus first bent down and basically ignored them, it seems they just continued pestering him with objections and questions. Note that after a time Jesus replies, but not with a judgment or a law or a teaching, but with a challenge: “If one of you is without sin, throw the first stone.”
Now tell me, who in any society, or assembly of friends or coworkers, or even standing alone could present themselves as sinless. Who could kill another while saying they were an innocent person. In such a way, Jesus disarmed the fanaticism of the crowd, pointed out the deficiencies of mindlessly following the law of words instead of the law God implanted on the hearts of all. The story of the woman should remind us all that what we did, what happened in the past is forgiven if we leave it in the past. It is what we do from here on that matters. It is what Paul tells us today and even Mark Twain in his own way tells us that there is a moment, a time when we know God is with us and it is what matters most.
4th Sunday of Lent yr C, 3-6-16 Joshua 5: 9-12, Ps 34, 2 Cor 5: 17-21, Luke 15: 1-32
I was talking with a friend about preaching on “The Prodigal Son.” Her response was, “Ooh, that’s a hard one. Good luck!” I understood exactly what she was saying. Then I began to wonder why Jesus even the story. Every generation and every culture has stories about wayward sons. Every society has rules about inheritances. But reading this as a wayward son story or inheritance law story just doesn’t give us an adequate interpretation or reveal the purpose of the parable. We need to look closer.
The 15th chapter of Luke consists of three parables, which all lead in the same direction. They are: (1) The Lost Sheep, (2) The Lost Coin, and (3) The Lost (or prodigal) Son. The Lost Sheep (the guy who leaves the 99 sheep to search for one) ends with this: “I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate! I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 people who do not need to repent.” Now, how did that happen? How did we go from sheep, to repentance and heaven?
The Lost Coin (you know, the woman who loses her coin, sweeps & searches until she finds it) ends almost exactly the same: “I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let us celebrate! In the same way, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.” Jesus is definitively not discussing inheritance distribution here.
Both of these first two parables focus instead on searching & the joy of finding. Then they compare that joy of finding with the joy that comes with repentance. The Lost Son focuses on those same themes, but in addition, it contrasts of the attitude of the father with the elder son’s attitude; contrasting compassion toward repentant sinners and refusal to celebrate repentance.
Now, the original audience listening to these parables included both the “sinners” that Jesus associated with – and ate with – as well as religious leaders who objected – strongly – to the presence of those “sinners. In fact, this may have been the “Hot Button” issue that ignited the plot to crucify Jesus.
But to find the birthplace of this parable, we must return to Luke 4: 18-22, which we read on Jan 31st. Remember Jesus reading from Isaiah in the synagogue: “(The Lord) has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty…recovery of sight…freedom for the oppressed and announce the time has come when the Lord will save his people.” It’s Jesus’ mission statement. It’s the announcement of the coming of the Messiah. It was widely believed then that the Messiah, or Christ, would bring a time of forgiveness, restoration, and insistence on joyous celebration.
To grumble in the face of his coming is to not understand what is happening. Jesus puts these parables in the context of why he is there, his purpose. It is a picture of the impact of his ministry, the coming of God’s kingdom….and the attitudes of those who find the Kingdom – those who repent, forgive, and who are forgiven.
“The Coming of the Kingdom” is a phrase we read in the Gospels, but it’s hard to be really sure what to do with it. The conflict which brought about this parable was the claim from Jesus that the kingdom of God was present and that God was at work. That’s fine and dandy when you sit in a church and feel safe among those of like mind. But it was met with great suspicion as long as those around Jesus were tax collectors who worked for and collaborated with the Romans (those oppressive invaders, those multi-god-worshiping heathens); AND those ceremonially unclean shepherds and lepers and disabled people that were so feared and despised; AND others who were absolutely disreputable and debase, like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet.
So, here is a contrast between the acceptance of the repentant by God and the suspicion and rejection of them by some religious leaders. But, Surprise! The parable ends without rejecting either side. How can it be that the father would desire a household that would offer love to the son who put every cent of his effort & time into the estate, alongside the son who is an obvious drain on the bank account and the emotions of everyone? Yet, the father of the sons rejects no one; both sons are chosen. The father loves and offers everything he has to the grumbling son with a disrespectful attitude as well as the son who has broken every rule in the book and come home at best only hoping not to die of starvation. Could I be so open and loving and generous on the very best day of my life?? In my own self, it would be impossible. Only if I was fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit of God could that happen.
You see, the kingdom does not divide but unifies; the kingdom is universal. This parable is without an ending, and so becomes an invitation to everyone who hears it to change their attitude and join in the celebration. The Messiah has come, forgiveness, restoration, liberty- all our inheritance. Our heavenly Father has given us all he has, and He is always with us. We are no longer slaves of darkness or ourselves. If we had a sliver of a clue what was happening, if we saw a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, it would be enough to make us rejoice until tears of unrestrained happiness streamed down our cheeks. What is now “ours” could be shared with the hungry, the dirty, the homeless, the refugee, the foreigner, the addict, the derelict. The hard years, the labor which seemed to be without reward could be remembered with gladness. Perhaps that is why we were given the Holy Spirit and Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
One of the marvels of our time is the instant sharing of news and events throughout the world. It almost seems simultaneous and even live and in our living rooms. When I was younger I remember the marvel of seeing Queen Elizabeth of England crowned with only a five hour delay as the film was flown to Canada and transmitted. Today with satellites we can see things live as they happen. In Jesus’ time, news traveled by word of mouth and was slow but people paid no less notice to it. So, in the gospel, when Jesus asked about the Galileans who were slaughtered in Jerusalem and had their blood mixed with the sacrifices in Jerusalem, the people were familiar with it. Also the falling of the tower and killing of eighteen people at Siloam was also known to them. However, remember in the view of the times, bad things happened to people who did bad or evil things. Jesus, as we heard, immediately rejected the notion that bad things happening were a punishment from God. Asking why does God allow this is the wrong question. The question is how we relate to God and how we adapt to things when they do not necessarily go our way. God doesn’t choose people who are sinners or who are worse off than other sand then punishes them with something bad. He asks if the 18 under the tower were worse than everyone else. He said, of course not, prosperity, wealth, happiness and the good things in life are not rewards for doing the right thing. Those things have nothing to do with virtue. What we are and our humanness come from God and prepares and leaves us to do the right things in life. In all our live, we have the time and chances to do and be right in relationship to God’s world and his call to be with him. How we live and love and relate and give of our time and selves to others determines what will be for us when our life ends.
Christ continues the discussion with the parable of the fig tree. The point of the parable is what good is a fruit tree if it gives no fruit? Jesus is the loving, caring gardener who asks for more time for the tree to develop and grow fruit. Surely, Jesus himself is in His death and Resurrection extending to us the time to grow and to produce fruit in the lives we live. Each day is a gift and an extension to love and share and relate as Jesus called us to do. If we are to truly live, we need to put aside what is wrong and sinful and turns our backs to God. Lent is the perfect time to begin or continue and to renew ourselves to love and relating. The fig tree becomes for us a sign that we have a little time to make our selves better and healthier Christians.
The tradition of lent developed early in the church in a twofold manner, as a forty day fast preparation for Easter and and time of preparing catechumens for baptism. Vatican II focused lent on Baptism and the need for communal conversion. Tied in with that of course is the work of the Spirit, given everyone at baptism and the same Spirit that led Jesus to the desert for his forty day fast. This became a time renew ourselves by once again turning away from sin and the negative attractions of this world. While each of us needs time to meditate and be alone with God. The Spirit leads forward to reach out to a world crying out for God, seeking reason and understanding in a world which leaves so many questions unanswered especially in regard to humanity’s action against itself.
God’s love is in the world, but that love can only be found in those who actively seek to love. Communal conversion calls for the entire community to hear and believe the good news of God’s love and embrace of all. Jesus Christ was a human being, a man who lived like any other. He had thoughts, desires, temptations like any other human. He had likes and dislikes, he loved and was loved as we all are. What set Him apart was the fact that he was divine, having come to bring God’s forgiveness to all humanity and exhibit the love he has for all of His creation. So, Lent is not meant to be a negative, foreboding time, but a period of renewing and seeking out God’s love and sharing it with all our sisters and brothers to follow Jesus. This we can do with a word, or by an act or some kindness given simply because a person needs the help. What we do for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, or someone in need, we do it to Jesus himself. His Spirit is not just confined to those we know and live with, but is present wherever and with whomever the Spirit chooses to be. Not only do we bring Christ to others by our actions, but Christ comes to us through those whom we ourselves touch. So as we begin lent, let us be aware that it is a time of conversion and growth of ourselves and our community.