Father Bob’s homily 2 Sundays ago…
Christ the King of the Universe B
It seems strange that the last week of the liturgical year, a week before we begin Advent, that we find ourselves in the middle of the Passion narrative of the Gospel of John as Pilate interrogates Jesus. Pilate is confused as to why Jesus is even there. He is the purported King of the Jews yet there are few signs of kingship about him. They said he might be a king yet there are no followers clamoring for his release and no soldiers threatening the Roman guard. Pilate, the Roman Governor is familiar with politics and power which he wields ruthlessly, yet what he sees before him is a singular man, a forgotten man, a small man. It is with incredulity that he asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus himself is formulating what it means to be his kind of…
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1st Reading – Daniel 7: 13-14
We need to appreciate what has come before the passage we read today in order to know the wonder of this vision of the coming of the son of man before the throne of the Ancient One. The writer has been sharing a vision of four beasts who have emerged from the sea, the realm of evil and chaos. These beasts represent the various oppressive kingdoms that have tormented the Jewish people: 1st the lion with eagle’s wings and a human heart (the Babylon empire), 2nd a bear with three ribs (the Medes), 3rd a leopard with four heads and four wings (the Persian rule), and 4th a beast with huge feet and iron teeth who ate and trampled over everything. This fourth one was the Greek empire; its ten horns represented the ten kings of the Seleucid dynasty. This was the dynasty under which Daniel and his people were now suffering. Unlike the tyrants who emerged from the realm of evil (the sea), the Son of Man would come from heaven, from goodness, from God. The tyrants’ rule was cruel, but would exist for only a time. The Son of Man would rule over all peoples for all ages. (Preaching Resources, Nov. 23, 2003)
When this book was written, the author probably intended the image of the Son of Man to represent all the faithful people of the Lord – people whose trust in God would end in fulfillment and not disaster. As Christians we see in this passage a fore-seeing, a ‘vision’ of the final establishment of Christ’s rule. All things are not yet under our King’s feet – all do not follow his way of love. But that all will do so in the end is our Christian hope.
(Reginald Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
2nd Reading – Revelation 1: 5-8
Here, too, is imagery of hope for those who are persecuted by an evil beast (Rome). Christ is given three titles. 1st Jesus is the faithful witness to the truth of God. Jesus’ very life, death and resurrection is the witness par excellence of God’s power of love and goodness. 2nd Jesus is called the first-born from the dead. He is Lord of the living and the dead: in resurrection he gains a victory over death; he is the first-born in whom the power and the honor of his father is fully invested. 3rd, Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth; he is affirmed as king and messiah. In all these ways we are assured that Jesus loves and frees us by making us his own – a nation of priests in God’s service, mediators of divine presence here on earth. In that way, his kingdom that is not of this world (the gospel) will transform this world. (Preaching Resources, Nov. 2003)
From John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. :
Throughout the readings for this Sunday we ‘dream’ of kingship and regal splendor – we hope for an eternal Lord whose decrees are worthy of trust. Here in Revelation we find the “Alpha and Omega” – the One who is and who was and who is to come. This king is a liberator and lover. The lord of history who stands before the throne of God is not a lion. He is a lamb. In John’s gospel, we see that he is a servant-king, who washes his follower’s feet. In the face of Roman power, he is strangely grand and noble in his vulnerability and the utter truth of his being. He does not muster armies. He just invites. In Jesus’ kingdom people are drawn into a life of liberation, freed from false securities armed only with humility and truth. The human heart will never outgrow its longing for such a promised friend and rule. Something deep rises from within us in the face of its beauty. It awakens a long-lost ache to give everything else away for a cause so good and true . . . “When Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?” (an old Shaker hymn)
The Gospel – John 18: 33b-37
In this conversation between Jesus and Pilate, John the Evangelist is offering to his readers a challenge. Jesus — faced with suffering and death at Roman hands — invites Pilate to listen and to respond to the truth. But Pilate just responds with his own question – a question for which he does not want an answer: “What is truth?” We, too, are asked through this story, “Will you respond to the truth?” Jesus and his kingdom do not originate from human scheming and political power. Jesus’ kingdom is not like Pilate’s. Pilate’s kingdom is one of domination, privilege, power and prestige. In Jesus’ kingdom, love and justice and service are present. Jesus’ kingdom comes into human history, enhancing it and leading it beyond itself . . . (Mary Birmingham, W&W for Year B, p.744)
From Henri Nouwen, written in his journal on the feast of Christ the King, 1995:
Today, “Christ is presented to us as the humbled king on trial for his life and as the glorious ruler of the universe. The greatest humiliation and the greatest victory come together in Christ today. How important it is for us to look at this humiliated and victorious Christ before the liturgical year begins. Today, Christ, humble and victorious, reminds us to stay close to him — close to him in humility, close to him in victory. We are called to live both aspects of Christ in our own daily lives. We are small and big, specks in the universe and the glory of God, little, fearful people and sons and daughters of the Lord of all creation.” (Preaching Resources, Nov., 2003)
1st Reading – Daniel 12: 1-3
The book of Daniel is apocalyptic, the 4th of the major prophets. It is filled with dreams and visions that reveal coming events. This kind of writing is called a vaticinium ex eventu, a “prediction after the fact,” in which an author creates a character of long ago (Daniel) and puts into his mouth as predictions all the important events that have already happened right up to the author’s own time and place (about 165 BC). It is actually written by an unknown person. Antiochus Epiphanes of the Seleucid empire in Syria ruled of Palestine around 175 BC. He stripped the temple twice of its wealth to fund military campaigns. To encourage unity, he demanded Hellenization (follow the Greek ways) which devastated the Jewish people. A small revolt in 167 began a constant struggle for religious freedom and political independence (not much new for that area!). So all of this colors what Daniel is trying to say (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, p. 503-509).
Apocalyptic writing usually has these elements:
- Famous names
- Prophetic prediction
- Confidence in divine intervention
- Cosmic viewpoint
- Use of intermediary beings such as angels and demons
- Old prophecies being fulfilled
- Hope in the resurrection of the dead
- Hope in a glorious new kingdom in heaven or on earth (p. 513-514)
The words, “At that time” are repeated in this passage. The emphasis it gives should not be overlooked. It is calling everyone to the present…right now. What happens right in this moment makes a difference. Your life can change for better or worse in an instant. How does this emphasis on NOW matter to you?
A word on the angel Michael: He was thought to have fought and defeated Lucifer. His name means, “Who is like God?”. All angels of God’s own active presence in our world. Whereas men and women have bodies and souls, angels are pure spirits. They were created before humankind, and they are capable of sin (Catholicism for Dummies, p. 306). Some are sent to guard over people. Have you felt like you had a guardian angel in times of distress?
2nd Reading – Hebrews 10: 11-14, 18
From Roland Faley, Footprints on the Mountain: The standing posture of the priests in their endless work contrasts with the seated posture of Jesus whose work has been realized. The sitting position, symbolizing work accomplished, is not at odds with the high priest image which depicts Christ as continually offering his one sacrifice in the eternal ‘now’. The two are complementary, not exclusive. Christ’s one sacrifice continues to make holy those who appropriate its benefits. With sin now forgiven and ready access to God assured, no further sacrifice is needed. Isn’t this good news?
Every day at Temple, morning and evening, the priests would offer a burnt offering of a 1 year old lamb without blemish, a meat offering of flour and oil, a drink offering of wine, and incense. Did they make a difference? What Jesus offered as himself could not be repeated. He offered his whole self as living sacrifice (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 117). How do we offer ourselves daily?
The Gospel — Mark 13: 24-32:
From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, B, 164:
Mark’s Jesus is absolutely convinced that everything he has announced will occur during the lifetime of his audience. Jesus died around 30CE and the temple was destroyed in 70CE. These were certainly difficult, frightening, changing times. The audience needs certainty that better times are ahead (so do we!). They need something to count on. By saying ”Amen, I say to you…” it guarantees the truth of what one says. Jesus is saying, “Trust me! I speak the truth and won’t fail you no matter what!” This is more good news.
The cosmic events (sun darkening, stars falling) are entirely and exclusively under God’s control. How does it feel to allow God to take the wheel completely?
From Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship, p. 726, 730-731:
The ‘fig tree’ had been a common symbol for Israel. Jesus uses this idea and then changes it to become a symbol of the new kingdom of God. Here in Mark 13 the fig tree is blossoming as opposed to its withering in Mark 11. For these early Christians, as followers of Christ, the religious world that they knew was over. They can no longer be centered around the Temple. Jesus’ new kingdom of God’s love was and is ready to emerge. Jesus’ words do not pass away; through Jesus, the Word of God, and his cross, the powers of domination will be defeated. Mark calls all disciples “to live in history with eyes open, to look deep into present events.” The fig tree that seemed dead will be blossoming again. The old world, centered around the Temple, was coming to an end, but Jesus’ new world was emerging. It still is.
The trick to understanding these readings is to not to reduce them to an historical period. We must let them speak to every historical time and place – even our own. After all, the end times happen to us all, individually at our death and communally as a generation that passes into the midst of disappearing ages . . . As our projects and pretenses mount, as our labors and tasks surround us, as our entertainment and doodling pass the time . . . we may forget that the upshot of our lives is to love and evoke love, no matter where we may be–living and dying. (John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered”http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
From Ronald Rolheiser, “In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. :
Perhaps Jesus is not so much talking about cosmic cataclysms as cataclysms of the heart. Sometimes it is our inner world that is shaken, turned upside down, and darkened. But in this upheaval, only one thing that remains: God’s Word of love and fidelity. When our world is shaken, we have the chance to see more clearly, to grow more authentically, to love more unselfishly. Honeymoons are wonderful, but we do need to love what is real what is beyond the pleasant. God’s love leads us to reality, to bedrock, to truth beyond illusion. Jesus is NEAR, he is at the gates, his words stay with us.
Father Bob’s homily 11/1 weekend…
All Saints Day B
Why do we hear the Beatitudes on the Feast of All Saints? Well, for all the beauty of the beatitudes, we by now recognize there is an edge to them, a dark tinge. We recognize that we do not invite all these “blessings” in our lives. We do not want to be poor, we do not want to be known as meek, we certainly do not want to mourn. When was the last time you said, “I had a great day except that nobody persecuted me.”
Knowing that the Saints are the ones who chose the tougher path, who endured the mourning and the persecution and indeed even martyrdom, one would have to conclude that is what made them saints. And you would be half right. The truth is that they already knew they were saints and were able to love like the belonged to the…
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1st Reading – 1 Kings 17: 10 – 16
What does this story illustrate to us about the ‘true God’?
What happens to us when we think that we do not have enough to share or anything worthy of sharing? What can we learn from this widow and this story?
From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 711-712:
All the ‘Elijah’ stories are written to show us who the real God truly is.
The fertility gods, especially the god, Baal, have no place before Yahweh. Elijah was in conflict with King Ahab and his pagan wife, Jezebel. Ahab had allowed his wife to bring her pagan worship of Baal with her into Israel. The prophets of Baal with Jezebel’s encouragement sought to destroy the prophets of Yahweh. Elijah had therefore informed King Ahab that a drought would come upon the land. Baal and his prophets had claimed that Baal had ultimate power over the land and natural elements like rain for crops. Yet, during this famine Baal proved powerless. Elijah had initially taken refuge near a stream where God had provided bread and meat in the morning and evening; ravens brought these ‘gifts’ to Elijah by order of Yahweh. But eventually the stream dried up. This is when Elijah is told to go to visit this widow in Zarephath of Sidon. This area was the very pagan home of Baal. Elijah trusted in God’s Word and proceeded headlong into this place of danger. When Elijah saw this woman in mourning clothes, he decided to ‘size her up’ by asking for a drink of water – a precious commodity in the desert climate at the time of famine. She responded with generosity and truthfulness which showed her openness to God’s Word in her own life. Unlike the corrupt King Ahab, this widow trusted in the God of Elijah and her needs were met.
2nd Reading – Hebrews 9: 24 – 28
How is Jesus’ sacrifice like that of the widow’s?
Jesus took pain, rejection, even death and filled it with God’s presence and love. So even the worst that life may throw at us can no longer separate us from God’s love and presence. When Jesus comes again – and He does come again and again and again – What does He bring? – a life that is eternally bursting forth!
The ‘holy of holies’ that was in the temple was referred to as being a copy of the true one, heaven itself. The sanctuary is empty and dark, covered with a veil (how different from actual heaven hopefully!). It was entered only by the high priest and then only once a year, on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Two goats would be sacrificed as a sin offering and their blood sprinkled in the sanctuary – the scapegoats. Jesus is our scapegoat! He sacrificed himself as our sin offering, though sinless. But through him, there is life! He is our advocate…always for us. By entering into the ‘holy of holies’, he opened the way for all the redeemed to enter also. (Preaching Resources, Sanchez, 2).
From William Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrews, 109-110:
Christ did not enter into a man-made Holy Place; he entered into the very presence of God. As Christians we are to know that in Christ we also can enter into this intimate fellowship with God.
The Gospel – Mark 12: 38 – 44:
From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Encountered” http://liturgy.slu,edu. :
There are times when we are down, and we think we have nothing left to give. Little remains in the barrel of our lives. Then, for some reason, we still manage to give more out of the nothing we have left. And grace is born again. How often the mere pennies of others replenish us. It happens in that moment when someone seems to have nothing much to give us: no education, no program, no sermon, no sound advice, no solution to our problems. If they do not give up on us, but give us something else — if they give not from their surplus, but from what they have to live on — we find that they have offered their very being — their presence. their hearts . . . the very life of God growing in our faith, hope, and love.
From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle B, 160-162:
The scribes were lay theologians who were experts on the Law of Moses and scripture. Jesus hurls a scathing insult at them. Because of their position of honor, they were used to being greeted first by those who were considered ‘lower’ in honor. They loved to be given the best seats at synagogues; these seats were up on the platform facing the people. Jesus’ comment on this widow’s behavior is more a lament than praise. The Temple authorities had promised to redistribute the Temple collections to the needy. Yet, they would spend the funds on conspicuous consumption like expensive clothing and banquets. They “devoured the estates of widows.” Jesus laments this corruption. In fact, in Jesus’ culture it would be very wrong to donate to the Temple if it meant that you would be plunging deeper into poverty and thus dishonor.
From Journey of Faith, Cycle B, 115:
Here Jesus is trying to teach the crowd and his disciples. Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus has associated with the weak, the needy, the sick, the unclean, the tax collectors, etc. He is using this widow to again show us all that discipleship necessarily calls us to serve. Jesus’ disciples are not to exploit the poor and the powerless. They are to live the law of love that was taught in last week’s gospel. Do you think that the widow thought her ‘2-cents’ was worthless?
Neither widow gives very much. What is important about this? How can we apply these stories to our lives?