Monday, February 26, 2018

Kingdom Hopes

I think I accidentally wrote an Easter homily and dropped it in Lent, but the themes built so directly on top of what I said last week that it seemed crazy to break the thread.  

This is also the most I've ever carved off a homily before. I cut a minute off after Saturday night and another two minutes off after the first Sunday attempt. If 17+ minutes is still too long, here are three TL;DR quotes. (The audio and full text start below those.)

So [the Apostles'] hopes changed. They went about proclaiming, not merely that God had done a miracle, or even than Jesus was the Messiah even though he’d been killed; they went about declaring that God’s kingdom had come. God had rebuilt and restored Israel in the family of the Messiah, and the Apostles were inviting people to come rethink, reconsider, recalculate and believe in this Jesus and join his family through baptism. 

Why? Because they believed what Jesus had believed: that God’s kingdom had come, and yet that kingdom was also a project for us all to go about building. To put it in a single sentence: The kingdom was inaugurated by Jesus, but it was not fully implemented— since that is the work of every Christian.  

We might have to do some recalibration to get that right balance—in the world but not of the world; a worker in the vineyard but a citizen of heaven—but that’s the whole game plan within the six weeks of Lent. 

2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B

Kingdom Hopes

On Ash Wednesday, as you know, there was a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Whenever one of these happens I am reminded of something I heard back in the 1990s. I don’t remember which shooting it was, but I was listening to Rush Limbaugh (cuz I was that weird kid that listened to talk radio back in junior high and high school) and Limbaugh was reflecting on these already-common shooting and what leads people to do this.

And this older man called—and this was 20 or 25 years ago—and he reflected that when he was growing up they were poor and had limited opportunities, the Depression, the wars, but what they had—what thy always had was hope. But he said that when he looks at the world today, he sees way more prosperity and opportunity, but it seems like there are many who have lost hope. He wondered aloud if some of the people doing these horrific things are doing them because they have no hope.

Again, I don’t know what year that was, I do know that about the same time, in Ocotber of 1995, John Paul II addressed the entire United Nations in New York City and he spoke of himself as coming to the nations as “a witness to hope”. That line was so compelling and programmatic of the Pope’s life that he chose it as the title for his 800-page, big blue biography of the John Paul, “A Witness to Hope”. Someone later said that he had come “as a witness to hope to a world on the verge of giving up hope.”

What’s weird is that when you look at his life:

Mother dies when he’s 9. Brother dies when he’s 12. Father dies at the end of his teens. When that happens they had already been invaded by the Nazis. And when the Nazis were driven out they got Soviet Communism after that. And finally, when Communism fell in 1991, into the vacuum came Western-style liberal democracy and greedy capitalism from Europe and America, turning it into a different kind of grind.

So having gone through all that, it would be quite reasonable if Karol Wojtyła, of all people, had lost hope. And yet he was full of hope. And he came as a witness to hope.

You might have guessed by now: this homily is about hope.

But what should people hope in?

What is our confidence?

We Christians like to put faith and hope together.

So we would probably say: “I have faith that Jesus rose from the dead, and therefore I have hope that he will raise me up too to be with him in heaven.”

We take this for granted, but clearly that wasn’t the mindset of the three apostles at the Transfiguration in today’s reading: “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what ‘raised from the dead’ meant.”

Last Easter, I pointed to this text as part of the evidence that his body wouldn’t have been stolen and that they weren’t making up the stories of his appearing, because no one thought resurrection was what would—or should—happen after the crucifixion.

No one, Jewish or Greek or Roman spoke about this idea: that one man would be walking around in the same space-time continuum after having been killed a few days before.

I pointed to this passage after the Transfiguration and to his words about rebuilding the temple in three days: in both cases we are told the disciples were confused—because nobody assumed this was remotely possible.

Now certain Jews at the time thought that maybe there would be a final, general resurrection at the end of time.

Martha says to Jesus after Lazarus dies, “Lord, I know he will rise, at the resurrection on the last day.”

And Jesus has to correct her: “No; I am the resurrection.”

But still, that was not clicking for them during Holy Week.

Besides, this wasn’t a necessary concern: They didn’t worry about what “raised from the dead meant” because they didn’t think the Messiah would get killed.

That’s part of being the Messiah: you’re not supposed to lose.

And they didn’t think he would be fighting with the contemporary religious leaders.

So, topics for today: Israel’s hope, the hope of the early Christians, and our hope.

First part: Israel’s Hope

I know the homily last week was long.

Tried to cut parts out, but the pieces didn’t fit together once I pulled some parts.

One question that arises from last week’s homily is: Were they really so political?

Were even the rank and file people of Jesus’ time so intense?

And, from sources of their day, the answer is yes.

And that had to do with their hopes.

The Jews of his time had an eschatological view of the world.

We hear eschatology and either think of the end of the world or of our own last four things: death, judgment, heaven, or hell.

But there is a greater sense too: The idea that history was coming to its climax. Israel’s great story was nearing its goal.

But, why would that idea wind these guys up so?

It has to do with two prophets, Jeremiah and Daniel.

Jeremiah had been prophet at the beginning of the Babylonian Exile. He had been told in prophecy that the exile would last 70 years. That gave the people hope as the hunkered down for 70 years knowing it would end.

But then Daniel, a prophet in the Exile was praying and lamenting their captivity and the angel Gabriel tells him that it won’t be 70 years, but “70 weeks of years”, i.e. 490 years.

Now the people did return to Jerusalem, but it didn’t feel like the Exile was over. They still had pagan overlords: Persians, then Greeks, then Romans. So they could feel like they were living out Daniel’s 70 weeks of years.

So, when were these 490 years supposed to be up?

That was the problem.

For comparison, think of all the times the Irish had a rebellion against the British, especially in the last 200 years.

They kept looking for the moment to fight for freedom.

Now for comparison sake, let’s imagine that back around 800 A.D. some Irish mystic, a monk maybe, had made a prophecy that in a thousand years, with the help of a great power, the Irish would throw off the English and British.

But the problem would be that nobody knew exactly when he lived and whether a thousand years was perfectly literally, and from when to count, etc.

Something like that would help make sense of all the Irish risings, and especially with their intensity in about a hundred-year range.

Back in 1789, the leaders of the French Revolution promised to land and army in Ireland and lead them to throw off the Brits. There it is: the help of a great power! Hundreds rose, and hundreds died because the French army never came.

Then in 1848, when revolutions broke out all across Europe, it must’ve seemed the moment—great powers were at work. And they rose. And the British killed them.

Later maybe they thought they were themselves the great power and started doing guerilla raid and assassinations. Which only led to British coercion crushing them down.

Even the much-celebrated Easter Rising of 1916, which many think of as beginning the Irish War for Independence, ended with defeat. The men who barricaded themselves in the General Post Office were taken and executed.

It was a another three years before the actual war for independence began.

So this then is how Israel felt.

For about 150 years they were on edge.

From about 20 B.C. to 130 A.D.

Always thinking, “Maybe the 490 years was fulfilled and liberation was here!”

They weren’t constantly trying to fight, but they had this promise that the climatic moment was coming.

So they were always trying to discern: Is this the moment? Is this the time we were told?

So that’s why the skeptics kept asking questions like “Are you the one?” “Are you the messiah? Or should we look for another?” “What sign can you show us?” “Could anyone have done the things this man is doing if he wasn’t sent from God?”

They don’t want to miss out if this is the moment and this is the guy, but they don’t want to die in another failed revolt either.

Because of our post-resurrection, modern, thoroughly de-Judaized view of the NT, we assume the skeptics were asking “are you the guy that can save us from our sins and lead us go to heaven when we die?”

But they were thinking, as the two disciples said on the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday night, “We were thinking that he would be the one to free Israel and make us independent.”

They had hope, and their hopes were scriptural, and they made perfect sense from the OT scriptures.

If anything, it was Jesus who was fiddling with the knobs on the stereo and tweaking how the music was sounding to the crowd.

But, as I talked last week, while they and Jesus were reading the same scripture—they were reading it according to their political agendas—and Jesus was reading it differently and critiquing their takes.

But everybody had one hope in common, and Jesus had it too: That God’s kingdom was just about to come, and that justice would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

To reiterate from last week, the largest segment of the people assumed that “God’s Kingdom Coming” meant: a new messianic king, a reestablished kingdom of Israel, a cleansed and renewed temple, and a renewal of the ancient covenant.

This would require some war perhaps, but it was meant to lead to peace.

Jesus shows up saying the same thing, kind of.

Last week he announced: “the kingdom of God is at hand, now is the time of fulfillment.”

He says the kingdom is at hand. And he’ll even say “The hour is coming and is now here.”

But he’s reading the scriptures differently.

He sees the kingdom coming as a moment of grace for Israel to be a witness to all.

He sees it that Israel has been called to be different.

To be a light to the nations.

To be an example of justice.

To be humble and patient stewards, as Genesis and Exodus had appointed them.

To answer the nations’ pride and cruelty, with humility and forbearance.

To live such that the nations will want to know what Yahweh has done for Israel.

The prophets all agreed that Israel is different from the nations, but the Zealots and Pharisees saw this as a reason to overcome them, and Jesus saw it as a call to be a witness.

These kingdom-visions were incompatible.

Jesus had called out the agendas of all of his contemporaries.

And this incompatibility would lead them to use the very Romans they hated to get rid of him.

The people had hoped God would give them a kingdom just like all the other kingdoms (cp. 1 Sam 8).

Jesus was announcing what God was really going to do, and that was that he would establish his kingdom as quite different from all the other kingdoms.

Second part: Early Christians

So let’s jump then to the hope of the earliest Christians.

They had thought like their fellow Jews.

They had said on the road to Emmaus “we thought this Jesus would be the one to rescue and restore Israel.”

Even after the Resurrection—just minutes before the Ascension—one asked “Lord, are you now going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus’ answer to that question was: “You will receive power from the Holy Spirit and go be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, and to then to the ends of the earth.”

That was not what they expected. But that had been a theme for the last 40+ days.

On Good Friday night and the next day, they couldn’t believe he was dead. Couldn’t have imagined he could be raised. And they never would’ve dreamt that a person could be the Messiah without defeating the pagan armies.

On Good Friday night, everything they had hoped in was over.

But, also, everything they had built their hopes around was wrong.

From the moment Peter and John came back from the tomb, backing up the strange stories from the women earlier that morning, they began to realize that the world was a very strange place.

And after they saw Jesus that night, they realized they had been reading it all backwards.

God had vindicated his Messiah, by raising him from the dead, overturning the verdict against him.

The path to victory had ironically come through surrender.

The way to defeat death hadn’t been to run away from it. It had been to plunge headfirst into death and come out the other side.

Jesus had met Roman pride and cruelty—not with his own power and pride—but with creative and sacrificial love.

And he had won.

So their hopes changed.

They went about proclaiming, not merely that God had done a miracle, or even than Jesus was the Messiah even though he’d been killed…

They went about declaring that God’s kingdom had come.

God had rebuilt and restored Israel in the family of the Messiah, and the Apostles were inviting people to come rethink, reconsider, recalculate and believe in this Jesus and join his family through baptism.

And because they had seen that love is greater than cruelty and power, and self-surrender had proved stronger than even death, they were not afraid to go and tell this good news to everyone, whether it be angry Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin or bewildered and annoyed Greeks and Romans.

Now notice:

Last week we talked about 2 dangers:

To focus just on his death and resurrection, and therefore just on getting to heaven

Or to focus just on his preaching and parables, and therefore just on changing people’s social interactions.

It’s worth noting that the first Christians avoided that trap.

Their hope was in his resurrection, but they worked massively on earth.

They believed these were inseparable.

They didn’t turn to escapism, where they just wanted everyone to sit and wait for the chance to go heaven.

But the also didn’t imagine that there was going to be some perfect human kingdom.

Why? Because they believed what Jesus had believed: that God’s kingdom had come, and yet that kingdom was also a project for us all to go about building.

They were certain the kingdom had come—surely the vindication of Jesus in the resurrection had proved that.

And yet they heard in all of Jesus’ commands, in his parables, and in the commission to his disciples the charter of “work to be done”.

To put it in a single sentence: The kingdom was inaugurated by Jesus, but it was not fully implemented— since that is the work of every Christian. 

Third Part:  Today.

So what about us. What do we take as our hope?

And for that matter, what do we think of the kingdom?

Again, I think most Christians have chosen an “either/or” about the kingdom, and so they have placed their hopes in one of those two buckets.

Some have decided this world is the kingdom to worry about and have thus built all their hopes around it.

Some have decided the only thing to worry about is heaven, because it alone is deserving of our hopes.

And of course the earliest Christians would insist that Jesus and heaven and the hope of them both was their great motivator, but oddly enough, that didn’t make them sit around; that made them very, very busy.

They took his message, his saving death, his social plan to the ends of the earth because they knew a new day had dawned in the rising of the Messiah.

Lent is a time to repent—which as I explained last weekend is an act of rethinking, reconsidering upon new information, and recalculating—and so this is great chance for us not merely to forgo our own old agendas, but also to retune our hopes and re-center them.

We might have to do some recalibration to get that right balance—in the world but not of the world; a worker in the vineyard but a citizen of heaven—but that’s the whole game plan within the six weeks of Lent.

I want to go back to that speech of John Paul II in 1995 because I think you’ll see that it pulls together all the points I’ve made both about our double-duty in the kingdom and about how that’s the goal of our hope.

And it might give us some thoughts for dealing with the despair we have in our world too.

As a Christian, my hope and trust are centered on Jesus Christ. [...] We Christians believe that in his Death and Resurrection were fully revealed God's love and his care for all creation. [...] 

Because of the radiant humanity of Christ, nothing genuinely human fails to touch the hearts of Christians. Faith in Christ does not impel us to intolerance. On the contrary, it obliges us to engage others in a respectful dialogue. Love of Christ does not distract us from interest in others, but rather invites us to responsibility for them, to the exclusion of no one and indeed, if anything, with a special concern for the weakest and the suffering. [...]  

Ladies and Gentlemen! [...]  I come before you as a witness: a witness to human dignity, a witness to hope, a witness to the conviction that the destiny of all nations lies in the hands of a merciful Providence.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Repent of Your Agenda

"Repent and believe in the gospel" is a line forever connected with the ministry of Jesus and with the season of Lent. But what does it mean? What did it mean to Jesus' hearers? Was it "do penance" as St. Jerome translated it? Or was Martin Luther right that it was more of an interior awareness of moral failings and of conversion to good? Or did it mean something else?   

This long homily discusses the meaning of metanoia, the agendas of Jesus' hearers then and now, the gulf we often let separate the ministry of Jesus from his death and resurrection, the debates in Catholic and Protestant circles because of that, and how Jesus lived out—literally enacted—the things he exhorted in his ministry as he suffered his passion.   

Like I said, it's long (20 min). But every time I tried to cut a piece and save it for another homily, the other pieces wouldn't fit together right. Also, this recording has a lot of oral mistakes; it was my fourth time through it and my third Mass in a row. I think my brain was tired and my mouth was dried out. See the text to alleviate confusions.

1st Sunday of Lent, Year B

Repent of Your Agenda

In 66 AD, about 35 years after Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, there was a young Jewish aristocrat named Josephus who was leading an army into Galilee.

Josephus had been sent north to try to talk down some of the rebellious hotheads who were rushing toward open war with Rome.

Josephus paints a marvelous scene straight out of a Clint Eastwood western as he awaits the rebel leader in an emptied marketplace, while both he and rebel leader want the other guy to come and negotiate without their posses behind him.

Eventually he and the rebel leader meet face to face in this market like it’s the OK corral.

I’m telling you a little about Josephus today—and he’s very important for this homily—because:

1) He gives us the greatest amount of information about the four kinds of people in Judea in Jesus’ time.

2) His words to this rebel leader have fascinating implications for how we read today’s gospel.

This homily has a lot in it, so I’m going to divide it into three acts so as to help keep things organized, but also so we can see what things stay the same even as times change.

The three acts will be:
the ancient past, (the biggest)
the recent past,
and the current day

Act One:
Ancient past

The gospel of Mark today says:

“Repent and believe in the gospel”

A Powerful line

An oft-repeated line

A line that priests could chose to use on Ash Wednesday when applying ashes:

“Repent and believe in the gospel.”

But what’s that mean, really?

To try to understand what Jesus might have meant in Palestine in the first century AD, we need to know more about whom he was talking to, and what the words meant in their ears.

Here is where Josephus comes in.

Josephus, in his other books, tells the big story of the Jewish people and of their climatic war with Rome that destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and scattered them around the world.

He tells us “who is who” in 1st c. Palestine and what they believe.

And his descriptions line up with what we can slightly glimpse in the gospels, especially for the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Before I go further, let me clarify that these four groups, which ultimately contain four different worldviews, are all Jewish.

They were faithful, practicing Jews, Jews who read their Torah and their prophets and psalms, and who all thought that those scriptures were telling them how they should be living in a Judea that is run by pagan overlords.

For us, we take separation of church and state as a given, and a generally good thing.

For them, the idea of separating religion and politics was not merely dangerous, it was actually impossible, because God had told them where they were to be in the world and what they needed to do.

First the Sadducees.

These were the caste of priests and Levites, centered around the temple and Jerusalem.

They held the power of worship and sacrifice, but they, as the power in the capital, had (along with Herod) become largely cooperators and partners with the Romans.

They were seen by the other three groups as compromisers.

The Romans kept them in power and the Sadducees made good money off it, and in turn they would defend the Romans against the hotheads and religious fanatics.

This is why Caiaphas would prefer one possible Messiah die on a cross rather than risk a riot that could lead Rome to punish all of Jerusalem.

Sadducees = compromise and submit to worldly power: “At least we get to keep the temple and some freedom.”


Zealots were not just ready for a holy war, they wanted it as soon as possible.

Had not the prophets promised that God would be with his people? That he would strike down the pagans like he did through David as of old?

Whether they moved up to the mountains or prepared themselves secretly in the towns, they said their prayers, sharpened their swords, and made ready to fight God’s war against the hordes of darkness and the pagan monsters of Daniel chapter 7.

Zealots = direct military confrontation

Third, Essenes

Don’t get much play in the New Testament, but that goes with their game plan.

Essenes were religious, and even civil, separatists.

They saw the temple system as corrupt, but really they saw the whole world as corrupt, so the fled to a village of caves down by the Dead Sea.

They were puritans who separated from all other groups and waited for the end of the world—which they though was coming very soon—in self imposed exile.

They were basically monastic, some even practiced celibacy, and they wrote and hid the texts we call the Dead Sea scrolls

So we have establishment-compromisers, zealot-crusaders, and otherworldly-escapists.

The fourth group was the Pharisees, who were actually the least extreme group, who mostly were seen as the synagogue keepers and the religion teachers, and faithful rank and file of observant Jews.

But they did think that Sabbath, Temple, and Torah were the pillars of a good Jewish life, and that they were the things that kept Jews separate from godless pagans. So when Jesus didn’t bow to those things—Sabbath, temple, and Torah—he could seem like a compromiser.

And politically, while maybe more patient and busy with education, their worldview of reestablishing the kingdom of Israel soon made them share kingdom-dreams with the zealots and their holy war ideas.

One thing to notice: all have a strong “us vs. them” sense.

So those are the four groups to whom Jesus shows up and announces the kingdom.

“Repent and believe in the gospel”

This might seem kind of pointless.

Jesus is telling everyone to repent right?

What difference does it make?

We’re all sinners.

Yeah, repent. Believe.

All four groups just need to repent of their personal sins.

But here is where we need Josephus again.

The meaning of the word “repent”—which is our translation of the Greek metanoia—is rather uncertain and highly debated.

St Jerome translated it into Latin as “do penance”—a very ancient catholic idea.

Later, Martin Luther would point out that “do penance” doesn’t cover the interior implications of metanoia, and translated it to mean “a change deep in the human heart”.

Later some Protestant writers will notice that “admit you’re a sinner” goes nicely with the “and believe in the gospel” part and that it seems like an early form of an evangelical Protestant confess-and-believe formula.

Those two oversimplifications for metanoia—“do something outwardly” and “think something inwardly” would survive for a long time and would pop up again in Act Two. 

But neither of those two meanings do justice to what metanoia meant according to other sources we have from the time which have Jewish authors, writing in Greek, about Jewish things.

And they don’t explain why Jesus’ message would seem so revolutionary or make him seem like such a danger to those other four groups: compromise Sadducees, escapist Essenes, war-hungry Zealots, and their allies the Pharisees.

Metanoia was used at the time to mean “reconsider”, to rethink something.

It’s used to denote “regret”, but not exclusively of regretting bad actions.

In referring to Pharaoh and Herod, authors used it to mean they had done a good thing originally and then had a metanoia—a regret—and now want to do evil, like chase after the Israelites as they had been allowed to leave Egypt.

So it can’t just mean a moral change for the good, like Luther presented it.

In this context, it meant:

Change your mind based on new info.

Give up your old agenda because you now know better.

Believe based on better evidence. 

Like a Garmin GPS: Recalculate! Recalculate!

And that is exactly how Josephus will use it.

He had been sent to this dusty marketplace to persuade the revolutionaries to stop their headlong rush to fight the Romans and to instead trust him and the other aristocrats in Jerusalem to work out a peace.

What’s crazy is that, Josephus, within 20 years of Mark’s gospel being written will use the exact same words Jesus uses in today’s gospel.

He tell the brigand leader: “Repent and believe in me”

(Philologist’s Note: Mark quotes Jesus commanding people metanoeite kai pisteute en tō euaggeliō, and Josephus convinces the rebels to (in the infinitive) metanoēsein kai pistos emoi genesesthai.)

It’s one thing if Jesus, whom God the Father called his beloved at the Jordan, says “Repent and believe what I’m announcing”…

But here’s Joe Bob Flavius Josephus saying:

“repent and believe in ME”

“rethink your plans and trust in ME”

So repent/metanoia isn’t just “admit you’re a sinner” or have a moral change”, as many treat it.

And “believe” is more than just “follow a God”

Jesus in today’s gospel was saying to all the groups of Israel: “Give up your own old agendas and accept this new proclamation”

He calls them out:

Essenes, you can’t turn your backs: we are the imaging-bearing stewards of Genesis 1&2, called to be witnesses, the light to the world, a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden

Sadducees, you cannot walk hand-in-hand with pagan oppressors. You can’t turn a blind eye to injustice. Your avarice and pride and surrender to pagansis what the bad kings of Israel did.

Zealots, and your friends the Pharisees, you are cruising toward destruction. Not only on a natural level of Roman retribution—remember his warnings about fall of Jerusalem “Not a stone will remain upon a stone… since you did not know what makes for peace”—but also a correction to them on divine level: God doesn’t want this. No. Turn the other cheek, go the second mile, surrender your tunic, you’re your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, humble yourselves, forgive the tax collector, the adulterer, the prodigal son.

Jesus is saying, I have a new plan, and you need to repent: i.e. reconsider, change your agenda, recalculate based on new information.


We can almost unintentionally separate Jesus proclaiming these things in the first three quarters of the gospels from what he did and what he underwent when he was arrested, beaten, humiliated, tortured, and killed.

Almost all Christians have this tendency to separate his public teaching from his passion and death.

We think “Oh they just hate Jesus and so they are going to kill him.”

Or: Jesus has to die on a cross and that will magically save us, but unconnected to anything else.

But no. Jesus is living out everything he has been telling people for the last three years.

The way of life he preached in the Sermon on the Mount and in the parables, he is going now to live out.

If you seize him in the night, he won’t resist.

When the guards punch him he turns the other cheek.

He willing walks the first and the second mile to Calvary when they command him.

He lets them strip him of the cloak and tunic.

He forgives his enemies and prays for those who persecute him.

He will drink the cup and be baptized with the baptism that he asked James and John if they could endure.

He becomes like the mother hen, gathering her chicks under her wings to shield them from the barnyard fire.

Jesus does not separate his passion, death, and resurrection from his proclamation of the gospel and the kingdom—he sees it as living out what he’s been trying to convince them to do all along.

“I literally want you to give up your kingdom-dreams, all four of them, and realize that I am giving you the right way to bring about the kingdom. I’m going to tell you it, and then I’m going to live it.”

That’s the metanoia he preached, and that’s the proof that what he preached and how he died are of a whole.

Act Two: the more recent past

Two splits in Christian thinking advance from this.

First, what I just mentioned: separation of the public ministry and teaching from his passion, death, and resurrection.

If you think about it, our creeds kind of added to this.

The job of the creeds was to cover what was debated.

So, explaining that Jesus is consubstantial to the Father or that he really died and rose were the big deals.

And so you write something concise but dense with meaning, like a creed.

It’s ok that they don’t mention the public message if they are just used for clarifying dogma.

But once the creeds became a main catechetical tool—once they became the way to teach converts and children—you can see how a gap could emerge between “what really matters: his death and resurrection” and “eh, the stuff he said before that”

A split develops between the paschal mystery and the public ministry, between salvation theology and how to live in the world

The second was kind of left behind.

Look at the mysteries of the rosary. For 800 years we followed the spare outline of the creeds: we have the virgin birth and then we skip thirty years to his death and his resurrection. It wasn’t until 2002 that John Paul II first said, “You know, we could have some mysteries for the three years of his ministry.” And only then did we have the Luminous Mysteries.

So you’ve got that going on after Jesus’ own day as the Church tries to sort out its dogmas in the early Christian centuries.

This will last for a thousand years and be handed on from Catholics to Protestants.

I mentioned earlier that Luther would see metanoia as a change of heart, recognizing oneself as a sinner and repenting inwardly, and people after him would say this is all you need: just confess and believe. What matters is getting saved.

So that was the second split.

For a while, there was an attempt at integration between the “the message of the gospels—how do I live” and “the gospel—ideas from St. Paul on how do I get saved?” but those split apart in Protestantism over time.

You had one group saying: we have to do things, we have to act to make the world a better place, Christ called us to love our brothers and work for the kingdom, a social gospel.

But there was pushback from another group saying “All that matters is getting saved, getting to heaven, we need to focus on evangelizing and getting people to accept and believe in Jesus,”

Kind of like the Essenes: “This world is passing away. Forget about it and focus on heaven.”

So you have a split: Social Do-gooders and Otherworldly just-believers — a split between mainstreamers like Methodists on one hand and the fundamentalists and evangelicals on the other.

This has been going on for the last 200-300 years.

Catholics were doing their own thing then, but I think in the last 50 years Catholics have had their own version.

First: “If we’re going to be Christians, we need to do, do, do.”

But then the pushback: “No leave the political world aside, leave the social world to others, just go be as holy as you can be, Convert others to the faith and get them holy too. Focus on religious practice and getting to heaven.”

We too face a split between theology and salvation on one hand and social critique and love your neighbor as yourself on the other.

Act 3

Where are we right now?

The challenge of the split remains:

Just focus on getting holy.

Just focus on doing things.

When we see this we should look back to the Jews in Jesus’ time, going in their different directions: avoid the world, compromise with world, fight the world.

Jesus: “That’s not the plan God has.”

Repent—leave behind your old agenda—and listen to this proclamation.

Calls us out because we’re still doing an “us vs. them”

And he would not like that we are separating out the ideas of “this is what the gospel tells us do and how to live” and “just believe and worship”.

Think about it. We get infected by the “us vs. them”.

And we get infected by ideas of our own agendas.

We slide into modes of fight, or escape, or compromise.

Social and economic questions begin to split even our religious world of formerly unified Catholics.

We split into:

Republican / Democrat
Catholic / Protestant
Catholic school / public school

Chasing after all our things, following our own agendas… and Jesus is like:

“Stop it. Lay down your agendas. Lay down those divisions.

Remember what I told you to do: to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to forgive willingly, to bear wrongs patiently”

That’s what he’s asking us to do, and that means letting go of our own pride.

That means letting go our factions and divides and the “us vs. them” that we naturally tend to.

I had a lot of time to think about this a couple weeks ago when I was driving home for vacation. This homily is probably so long because I had nine hours to ponder how much we do this and how we imitate the divisions of first century Judaism.

The line that kept coming back to mind as I thought on this was from the movie Braveheart. The Scots have beaten the English in their first battle but they keep fighting among themselves. And William Wallace, the hero of the story, says to them:

You're so concerned with squabbling for the scraps from Longshank's table that you've missed your God given right to something better.

It’s the reasonable critique of the Jewish people at Jesus’ time—they had given up on their call to something better and were squabbling over what to do about the Romans.

It critiques the split within Protestantism : of going all in for the world or going all in against the world.

And we’ve fallen into it too.

We fight over the dumb little things.

Instead of chasing something bigger.

We need to realize that if we really lived the gospel we wouldn’t need any of that.

Usually our debates are because we don’t want to spend money, so we have to decide who gets it and who doesn’t.

Or we don’t want to devote time to things other than ourselves and our own interests, so we pull away.

Or we hold a grudge over something that happened 20 or 30 years ago.

It’s because we are proud and avaricious and selfish that we have to be in an “us vs. them” mindset.

But if we heard the gospel, if we lived the Sermon on the Mount, we wouldn’t have to do that.

We could actually work together.

We could be built up into the body of Christ.

We could be healing those divisions.

We, right here in Wahoo Nebraska, could be the light to world —but we would have to choose it.

But we would have to let go of our squabbles.

That’s why we have to hear the message anew.

It’s not just for Jews 2,000 years ago.

We need to recalculate.

We need to reconsider.

We need to change and let go of our agendas,

and take on the gospel instead,

Because that is what Jesus is actually calling us to do when he says “repent and believe in the gospel.”