A Homily – The Gospel of Luke 9:28-36 ©

The Gospel of the Day – 2016.02.21 (Sunday)

 

The Transfiguration of Christ

 

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. Suddenly there were two men there talking to him; they were Moses and Elijah appearing in glory, and they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep, but they kept awake and saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As these were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ – He did not know what he was saying. As he spoke, a cloud came and covered them with shadow; and when they went into the cloud the disciples were afraid. And a voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’ And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen. (NJB)

Myth and Reason

 

Theology; the words we use to speak about God. These words are only good and useful, if they are grounded and rational.

Mythology; the words we use to contextualize our experience, when we wish to speak in metaphors, and analogies, so that we may link our experiences to the world beyond ourselves.

These two modes of narrative are not necessarily at odds with each other, but they can be. Myth can be grounded and rational, when the motif of the metaphor, or the allegory are understood and properly balanced, when you engage this narrative with your eyes wide open. By the same token theology can be irrational, when the assumptions we make about the nature of reality, the nature of humanity, the nature of the divine, and the divine economy are not rooted in truth. Or worse, if they are rooted in fear, hate and greed.

The mythology behind the transfiguration is easily, and often misinterpreted. It is likely, that this is so because the root of the narrative in itself has its origins in a fundamental misunderstanding of who Jesus was.

It may be the case that those who first gave voice to the narrative, and those who first penned it, only intended the message to be that Jesus stood in the same tradition as Moses; the lawgiver, and Elijah; the prophet.

The motif of the cloud descending on Jesus may have only been meant to suggest that Jesus’ authority, his understanding of the divine will, came from a place of mystery.

The voice from the cloud naming Jesus as “son,” may have only been meant to convey the message that Jesus is the “heir” to the Abrahamic tradition, and not merely a “teacher” in that tradition.

This is the grounded and rational interpretation of this myth.

However, as happens most often, the interpreters of this myth point to the more sensational images in the narrative; the bright lights, and the shining garments, the presence of Moses, and Elijah (as if they were actually there), their journey into the cloud with Jesus (as if they went there bodily), the voice from that cloud naming Jesus as God’s son, as an actual declaration of paternity.

This fantasy-based in interpretation has led to great confusion through the centuries. Incredible conflict has ensued based on these fantastic beliefs; conflict and bloody warfare among Christians, and with non-Christians. All because they felt the need to take sides on the question of who Jesus was, and defend their side with violence.

It is a tragedy.

Jesus was a human being, like any other. Like all creatures he carried a seed of the divine within him, and where the divine is, the divine is present fully. The fullness of God dwelt within Jesus, just as the fullness of God dwells within each of us. We are connected and in relationship to God, and Jesus, just as we are connected and in relationship to every creature who ever was, is, or yet will be.

What differentiated Jesus from his followers was his understanding of these truths and his ability to apply that understanding in a way that points the way for us; to live in a moral and just society to, for our own understanding of that truth to flow from it.

2nd Sunday of Lent

A Homily – The Gospel of Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21 ©

The Gospel of the Day – 2016.01.24 (Sunday)

 

Purpose and Witness

 

Seeing that many others have undertaken to draw up accounts of the events that have taken place among us, exactly as these were handed down to us by those who from the outset were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, I in my turn, after carefully going over the whole story from the beginning, have decided to write an ordered account for you, Theophilus, so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received.

 

  Jesus, with the power of the Spirit in him, returned to Galilee; and his reputation spread throughout the countryside. He taught in their synagogues and everyone praised him.

 

He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up.

 

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,

for he has anointed me.

He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,

to proclaim liberty to captives

and to the blind new sight,

to set the downtrodden free,

to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

 

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ (NJB)

 

Following Jesus

 

Something happened in Palestine, something happened in old Judea, a movement began in Galilee, and spread throughout the world.

The Gospel of Saint Luke purports to have been written by Luke, who was physician, and a follower of the sainted Apostle Paul. Together Luke and Paul brought the “good news” to the diaspora, and to the gentiles. In the good news, there was hope, and trust and love; it was the blue print for a community that was not of this earth, in it was the promise of salvation.

Luke’s Gospel, however, was not written by a man named Luke, it was written by the community he formed, decades after his passing, and it was not dedicated to a man named Theophilus, but to all of God’s children, everywhere.

This passage tells us of the beginning of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth; a Jewish man who taught in synagogues, as his followers would do in later years. He was a Jew of the diaspora. People called him Rabbi, this marked him as a Pharisee, a teacher of the law.

Jesus taught in the prophetic tradition. He exhorted people to action, he performed works of service, and he told the truth as if it had descended on him like the Spirit of God.

Any of us who have taken on the work of carrying the mantle of Christ; we must adhere closely to the central point of this reading:

Our ministry is to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim liberty to captives, to restore sight to the blind, and to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the jubilee (a year of favor, the forgiveness of debts).

This is working is never done, even though it is fulfilled every day.

As long as the world endures, this ministry will need to be proclaimed, the year of God’s favor, the jubilee; that year never ends. It is God’s year, it is eternal.

If you envision yourself as a servant of God, then you must be a servant of the people; there is no other way to serve God. Your teaching must be joyful, and full of hope.

If you are going to proclaim liberty to the captives, you must set people free. In the time of Christ the captives he spoke of were the populations of people who had been taken from their homes as the spoils of war. The Romans called these people servi, servus meaning servant, meaning slave. The slave economy of the ancient world does not look the same today as it did then, but there are hundreds of millions of people living in servitude, without rights, without recourse to the law. If you follow in the footsteps of Jesus, you must call for justice, and the freeing of these people.

You must restore sight to the blind, which is to say you must convince the rulers of the world, and their armies, the powers that be; you must convince them that there is other way to peace, and security than for them to relinquish their power, give up their wealth in order to foster justice for all. The blind are the world’s elite, the 1%, and the only cure for their blindness is the truth.

This is how you will set the downtrodden free, forgive their debts, not just once every seven years, but now and forever.

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Homily – The Gospel of Luke 2: 41 – 52

The Gospel of the Day – 2015.12.27 (Sunday)

 

Propaganda

 

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

 

  Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

 

  He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.

 

(NJB)

 

Dangerous Myths

 

This narrative is a myth. It does give us any reliable information about who Jesus was, nor about his relationship with his parents; even though it purports to do so.

This is unfortunate.

It does tell us something about what the author of Luke wanted us to believe about Jesus. That his parents were faithful and observant Jews. They obediently went to Jerusalem for the Passover as required of them by the law. There they were counted and made their offerings to the temple.

The authors of Luke were also trying to tell us that Jesus was wise beyond his years, that he was capable of self-direction, that he had a sense of mission and purpose for his life. The authors of Luke also want us to believe that Jesus understood at this early age, long before his adult ministry began, that he was, in a unique way, a child of God. Finally, Luke wants us to understand that his submission to the authority of his parents was voluntary.

What is unfortunate about this narrative is this; instead of informing us about who Jesus is, it muddies our understanding by mythologizing him, and instead only tells us what the authors of Luke wanted us to believe about him, what their followers hoped was true.

Though the authors of Luke could not foresee this, these writings would come divide the Christian community from itself and precipitate centuries of bloody conflict over the question of Jesus’ divinity, his humanity and so forth.

I contend that the man who was Jesus of Nazareth, Joshua son of Joseph, would have been aghast at those developments. Jesus, the man spent his life and went to his death as a champion of justice, an advocate for mercy, as healer, as an advocate for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the widow and the orphan.

Luke’s narrative is therefore a cautionary tale, reminding us of the necessity to cleave to the truth at all times, to separate our hopes, our desires, and most importantly our fears, from values we wish to convey.

The First Sunday of Christmas

Feast of the Holy Family

A Homily – Luke 3:1 – 6

The Gospel of the Day – 2015.12.06 (Sunday)

 The Historical Witness?

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrach of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:

A voice cries in the wilderness:

Prepare a way for the Lord,

make his paths straight.

Every valley will be filled in,

every mountain and hill be laid low,

winding ways will be straightened

and rough roads made smooth.

And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.

(NJB)

 

Forgiveness

 

The understanding of History is a great tool. The Christian tradition has always attempted to root itself in historical realities; with greater and lesser degrees of success.

The study of our tradition gave birth to modern historical criticism; without which, as a culture, we would have no understanding of the uses and limitations of history whatsoever, and that took eighteen hundred years to develop.

Our stories, our narrative about the life and mission, the arrest and killing of Jesus are a part of the testimony of our faith. It helps us to locate in time the singular moment when our cultural commitment to the teachings of Jesus took place.

We remember the rule of Tiberius, heir to Augustus, and the Herod’s, and Pontius Pilate.

We recall the role that Pilate played in the killing of Jesus, we shout it out at every hour of every day in all parts of the world; that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and buried. This story is told unceasingly and without end.

It is long since time that we, as heirs to the ministry and teaching of Jesus, forgive Pilate for the role he played in that political murder.

John the Baptist taught us to repent, and be forgiven, but Jesus taught us to simply forgive.

Jesus forgave those who killed him he asked God to forgive them when he was up on the cross.

It is time we do the same.

The promise of Isaiah, which John echoed in the wilderness cannot be received unless we do this.

God is the author of our salvation, but we are the agents. It is incumbent on us to proceed with the healing, if the human race is to be healed.

The Second Sunday of Advent

A Homily – The Gospel of Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36

The Gospel of the Day – 2015.11.29 (Sunday)

 The End of Days?

 Jesus said to his disciples: ‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.

  ‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’ (NJB)

 

The Trouble with Prophecy

The authors of Luke report that these are the words of Jesus. In so doing they place lies in the mouth of their friend and their teacher.

Jesus never spoke about the end of the world, because Jesus spoke the truth, and he did not seek to motivate with fear, but with love.

When the sun spends the last of its nuclear fuel; that will be a sign of the end of the world (billions of years from now).

If the moon were to slip in its orbit, that would be a sign of the end of the end of the world (the world as we know it).

The stars are in fact so distant from us, that what happens with them can have little to do with what happens here, but before our sun burns itself out, our galaxy will collide with another, and that will radically change life on this planet (billions of years from now).

God, the creator of the universe, made us, our world, and our universe free. God does not interfere, or intervene in our lives and our choices. Because that is true, the only futures we can predict are those that flow naturally from their antecedents that are present in reality, right now.

We can predict global warming; because it is happening, and the antecedents for it were laid down decades ago.

Just as we can predict the continuation of wars, terrorism, and economic injustice, they are present realities, and matters of statistical certitude.

We can predict these things, not because God has decreed that these things will come to pass, but because we have.

The only liberation we will have from the vicissitudes of this life, will come at the end of. God will not stretch out God’s hand to save you from any danger.

Pay no attention to those who use fear to shape your faith.

They are liars.

God wills that you live a life without fear, and the things that flow from fear; hate, anger, greed, and violence.

To the extent that any of us are drunk, or debauched, it is certain that we will pay for it in your own ways; through the loss of monies, the loss of opportunities, the loss of friendship, the loss of dignity. These habits, (the nature of sin itself), is not that they are traps that will prevent you from reaching your ultimate destiny. They may frustrate you in this life (to one degree or another), but they will not separate you from God. Anyone who says differently is trying to sell you something.

The first Sunday of Advent

A Homily – The Gospel of John 18: 33 – 37

The Gospel of the Day – 2015.11.22 (Sunday)

 Christ the King?

 ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a king then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’ (NJB)

 

The Trouble with Analogies

It is an unfortunate moment in the development of our faith; that the gospel writers felt compelled to use the narrative, of Jesus’ arrest, to give Jesus any claim to kingship at all.

He did not seek kingship, kingdoms are human constructions. It is not a different type of kingdom that Jesus wanted to inaugurate, but a world without kings.

The analogy we ought to look for, in order to understand the Way, has nothing to do with royalty and power, with thrones and dominion, but with life; growing things, caring for things, loving things. The Way of Jesus is like living in a garden.

That language of God as king, has dogged us down through the centuries, and it thwarted the mission of Jesus just as soon as it was first put into use. It gave rise to empires, to principalities, and to the quasi caliphates that even today use the sacred traditions to prop up their greed, their vanity, and their callous disregard for humanity.

All Christians bear some responsibility for this. God, the creator of the universe is not a king, Jesus is not a price. They are gardeners.

The 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The feast of Saint Cecilia, Mother of Music

A Homily – The Gospel of Mark 12: 38 – 44

In his teaching Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.’

He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury, and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.’ (NJB)

I read a headline today, the Good Pope Francis is saddened by the number of priests, and prelates who use their office to enrich themselves; loving money, seemingly more than they love the people who they have been appointed to serve.

I think of the priesthood today, the priests strolling around in their long dresses. Doing today exactly what Mark complained about, in regards to the scribes.

Today’s priests are yesterday’s scribes.

I think of the monies that all churches spend on their liturgies, their choirs, their incense, their candles; ostensibly to honor the creator, but really I think it is vanity, and they seek only to honor themselves, to take pride in their pageantry, and pat themselves on the back.

The liturgies themselves do little to honor God, or creation, with the creeds and the common prayers serving more to divide one group from another than to bring them together. In my church, the Catholic church, even the eucharist (imagined as God’s own self) is used as a bludgeon, to beat back the people if they are not toeing the line. Those traditions dishonor the gospel, by seeking to keep God confined.

The real presence of God is already alive in all people. The church, if it is to be relevant to more than a few, needs to empty itself, empty its treasury, and meet God where God is living in the hearts of God’s ministers, in the hearts of their neighbors, in the poor, and the sick, in the criminal as well as the “good” citizen.

The church must emulate the widow in this Gospel, and give all it has.