One Monk of the Order of Saint Benedict

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The Word of God and the Body of God reveal each other -- the homily worships both.

March 12, 2009

For Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

Luke 16:19-31

Just before telling this parable, the Lord told us to make friends of the poor for ourselves by means of wealth that in itself is unrighteous, so that, when wealth fails, the poor whom we have befriended with wealth may be the ones who welcome us into the everlasting dwellings [16:9].
Then the Lord told us we are not able to serve both God and wealth [16:13].
Upon hearing all that, the Pharisees laughed, since they were lovers of money [16:14].
So the Lord told them the parable we have just heard.
The rich man did not use his wealth to be friendly to Lazarus the poor homeless man who slept outside the rich man’s door.
The parable upholds far more than the obligation to help the poor as a condition for escaping the flames of the netherworld and going instead into comfort on high.
Beyond underscoring God’s demand that we give alms to the poor, the Son of God is also telling some of the truth— but not all of it yet— about death, judgment, the afterlife, and the resurrection.
He is telling this parable for the Pharisees.
At that time in Jewish history, the afterlife was a controversy, with the Sadducees thinking one way, the Pharisees another way, and Jesus revealing more than either side believed.
The Old Testament had not settled the matter either way.
The oldest Jewish Biblical understanding was that after death there was nothing but everlasting silence and darkness for all men, good and bad, Jew and non-Jew.
No punishment in hell, no heavenly reward, no resurrection.
That’s what the Sadducees still believed in the days of Jesus.
The Pharisee beliefs about the afterlife were relatively new to Judaism in the time of Jesus.
The more recent Old Testament writings, the writings closer to the days of Jesus, had begun to teach some sort of punishment for the wicked after death, but the meaning of those writings was not clear until Jesus came and made it clear.
The Pharisees believed that law-abiding Jews would rise from the dead in a future that would see the faithful children of Israel in EARTHLY wealth and EARTHLY triumph.
No one— no Sadducee, of course, but also no Pharisee— believed that men would ever live face to face with God in heaven.
Sadducees and Pharisees agreed that in heaven lived God alone.
Pharisees believed angels served God; but Sadducees did not believe angels were real.
Sadducees and Pharisees believed that God made the earth, not heaven, to be the home of man.
So what did Jesus clear up or newly reveal?
Jesus taught that everyone would rise from the dead, the good and the bad, the Jew and the non-Jew.
That was unbelievable to both Sadducee and Pharisee.
Jesus taught that the bad would rise from the dead—BODILY— and then be condemned to suffer everlasting punishment.
That was unbelievable to the Sadducee, but not to the Pharisee.
Jesus taught that the good— the good Jew and the good non-Jew— would rise BODILY from the dead and see God face to face in a new and everlasting joyful communion of heaven and earth.
That was unbelievable for both Sadducee and Pharisee.
You and I, after more than two thousand years, you and I as Christians are far too accustomed to thinking of men going to heaven to live face to face with God.
That truth was absolute, enormous news in the days of Jesus.
It was part of the truth that got Jesus killed.
The testimony that man would be in heaven was the last straw that got St. Stephen killed.
They let Stephen speak for a long piece at his trial— longest speech in the Bible— but they killed him as soon as he dared to say, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of MAN standing at the right hand of God.”
A long homily can get you killed, particularly if your listeners are Sadducees and Pharisees.
But seriously: ignoring the poor is a wickedness that will put you in hell.
That’s the moral lesson from Jesus in his Gospel today.
However, he puts in a twist.
Even if a man rose from the dead to warn the living face to face, men would not repent.
Jesus rose from the dead, and did not bother showing himself to those who did not already believe in him.
The Risen One did not bother to show himself to the High Priest, the scribes, the Pharisees in general, the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin or National Council of Elders.
The Risen One did not go to them, and use his resurrection as “The Big Stick” to prove that he was right and they were wrong.
They would have to accept the testimony of his believers, just as his believers had accepted his testimony that he had seen the Father even before his death and resurrection.
Testimony demands of me more freely given faith and humility than getting slapped by the Risen One.
The testimony of the Eucharist demands of me untold faith and lowliness of heart.
In the Eucharist, I am the poor man sleeping and begging outside God’s door.
In his Eucharist, God feeds me far more than the scraps that fall under his table.
He takes me into his house.
In his Eucharist, he breathes his Spirit of adoption upon me and into me.
He clothes me as his son and heir.
In his Eucharist, he feeds me with his own self.
Now I am the rich man dressed in all-surpassing finery and dining everlastingly with immeasurable sumptuousness.
By his Eucharist, I am endlessly more accountable than those who do not believe the resurrection of Christ.
Should I now turn and dare to ignore the poor, and never repent, I would be trampling the boundless, precious goodness of my Father, and go to hell by the word of the Lord’s Gospel today.

That God Be Glorified in All

March 08, 2009

For the Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 22:1-18 passim
Romans 8:31-34
Mark 9:2-10

In the first reading today, the Word of the Lord tells us about an ancient father, Abraham, who obeyed his covenant with God, and raised his knife on Mount Moriah to kill his only-begotten son and burn him to ashes as a sacrifice to God.
That is a foreshadowing of God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son to be offered up in the sacrifice of the cross to cut open and raise up the New and Everlasting Covenant with men.
We eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ so as to live in communion with the covenant sacrifice of the cross.
At the close of the Lord’s Gospel reading today, we hear a hint of the sacrifice of the cross as Jesus bids Peter, James, and John not to tell others they saw Jesus transfigured until after his death and resurrection.
This is the Holy Gospel according to Mark.
When the Gospel of Luke retells the Transfiguration, it says Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were speaking about the day at Jerusalem, straddling Mount Moriah, when Jesus would go out of this life.
Hundreds of years before Christ, Moses and Elijah had climbed other mountains, and with their own eyes had stared at the mystery of God.
Jesus, Moses, and Elijah— all three men presided over mountains, and all three were involved in killings— killings that had to do with the life-and-death gravity of covenants between God and men.
Twelve hundred years or more before Christ, Moses had come down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments from God, asking the People of Israel to choose the terms of the covenant God offered them.
They did so.
However, right afterwards, at the foot of the same Mount Sinai, Israel turned and made an idol, worshiped it, called the idol lord and god, and credited the idol with saving them from Egyptian slavery.
Moses held the people accountable for sinning against their covenant with the true and living God.
Moses sent the priests with their swords into the camp at the foot of Mount Sinai to kill three thousand of Israel.
About four hundred years after Moses, or about eight hundred years before Christ, Elijah went up Mount Carmel to stand alone against the eight hundred and fifty prophets who led Israel in worshiping the idols Asherah and Baal.
Elijah won from God miraculous intervention on Mount Carmel, and slit the throats of the eight hundred and fifty idol-worshiping prophets, thus turning Israel back to God’s covenant.
Moses and Elijah— two holy mountain men who killed for the sake of God’s covenant, a covenant that spelled out NO forgiveness of sins for breaking it.
Jesus— the Son of God who chose to be killed on Mount Golgotha, next to Mount Moriah, and to rise from the dead as the New and Everlasting Covenant between God and men for the forgiveness of sins.
Today in his Gospel, on the mountain where he is transfigured, the “new” and the “everlasting” shine from the body and the clothing of Jesus.
Moses and Elijah appear there, and speak with Jesus about the killing of Jesus— his death that will give rise to the New and Everlasting Covenant of light and life.
The new and everlasting shines from Jesus and from his clothing.
His clothing.
Like bread and wine, clothing is what earth has given and human hands have made.
What earth has given and human hands have made becomes for us the Bread of Life in the Body of Christ.
What earth has given and human hands have made becomes our Spiritual Drink in the Blood of Christ.
What earth has given and human hands have made shines with Light from Light in the Transfiguration of the Body and Blood of Christ, True God from True God, the Same in Being God with the Father.
The Father— his voice resounds on the mountain of Transfiguration.
His Holy Spirit overshadows the mountain with a cloud.
His Beloved Son shines upon the mountain.
All the mysteries of the New and Everlasting Covenant are veiled and unveiled on the mountain.
Through Baptism, we enter the death and resurrection of Christ, and begin to live in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
We are then sealed and confirmed with the anointing of the Holy Spirit as the royal, priestly, and prophetic sons and daughters of God.
Then we offer the sacrifice of the New and Everlasting Covenant, and take our share of communion with God in the Body and Blood of Christ.
If we do not betray this covenant, there will be no need for Moses and Elijah to kill again.
Even if we mortally betray the New and Everlasting Covenant, we can turn back to God in sacramental repentance, because the New and Everlasting Covenant has come so that sins may be forgiven.
It is as we hear from God in the second reading today.
Christ Jesus... who died... was raised— who also is at the right hand of God... intercedes for us.

Yes, now if we turn back again to God, there is no longer need for Moses and Elijah to kill.
Where the New and Everlasting Covenant is accepted, and listened to, the old covenant fades away.
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Hearing the Father of the New and Everlasting Covenant, the holy mercenaries of his older covenant, Moses and Elijah, disappeared, leaving Jesus alone with Peter, James, and John.
If we are faithful to the New and Everlasting Covenant, we shall rise from the dead to join Peter, James, and John, even Moses and Elijah, to see God face to face.
We shall live and be clothed in perpetual light.
For the sake of that joy, we must listen to God’s Beloved Son.

That God Be Glorified in All