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
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
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
Martha says to Jesus
after Lazarus dies, “Lord, I know he will rise, at the resurrection on the last
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
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
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?
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
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
For about 150 years they
were on edge.
From about 20 B.C. to 130
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
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
To be an example of
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.
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
Second part: Early
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
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+
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
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
They went about
proclaiming, not merely that God had
done a miracle, or even than Jesus was the Messiah even though he’d been
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.
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
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
They didn’t turn to
escapism, where they just wanted everyone to sit and wait for the chance to go
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
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.
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
Some have decided the
only thing to worry about is heaven, because it alone is deserving of our
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
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.
"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
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
the ancient past, (the
The gospel of Mark today
“Repent and believe in
A line that priests could
chose to use on Ash Wednesday when applying ashes:
“Repent and believe in
But what’s that mean,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
This might seem kind of
Jesus is telling everyone
to repent right?
What difference does it
All four groups just need
to repent of their personal sins.
But here is where we need
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
So it can’t just mean a
moral change for the good, like Luther presented it.
In this context, it
Change your mind based on
Give up your old agenda
because you now know better.
Believe based on better
Like a Garmin GPS:
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
It’s one thing if Jesus, whom
God the Father called his beloved at the Jordan, says “Repent and believe what
But here’s Joe Bob
Flavius Josephus saying:
“repent and believe in
“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”
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
The challenge of the split
Just focus on getting
Just focus on doing
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.
Catholic school / public
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
And we’ve fallen into it
We fight over the dumb
Instead of chasing
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
Or we don’t want to
devote time to things other than ourselves and our own interests, so we pull
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
We could be built up into
the body of Christ.
We could be healing those
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 change and let
go of our agendas,
and take on the gospel
Because that is what
Jesus is actually calling us to do when he says “repent and believe in the