Friday, April 19, 2019

LET US GO TO THE TREE OF LIFE a brief homily for Good Friday

Christ is upon the Cross or as even scripture calls it the ‘tree’.  This ‘tree’ symbolises both the Trees of Paradise and the Oak of Mamre.  Under the Oak God sat down to eat with Abraham and Sarah and promised them descendants, as many as the stars of Heaven, royal and holy.  The Trees of Paradise bear fruit that heal the nations.  Under this Tree we are offered healing, we are offered life or death.  His crown of thorns echoes His Eternal Crown as Lord and King of all that exists.  His arms are outstretched for they embrace all space and time, the past and the future.  Everything is in the shadow of the Cross for by the blood of Christ all things in heaven and earth, whether visible or invisible, are subject to Him and reconciled to God.  The cross is the epicentre of history.  Like a tree it is rooted in the earth but it reaches Heaven for Heaven has reached down and sanctified the Earth in His Incarnation.

What does He do that cross? What can the death of one man achieve? But He is no mere mortal.  He is both God and Man. On the Tree of the Cross Christ offers the Father a perfect act of worship. His whole life has been one long revelation of the Father for that is not only His mission but His very nature as Son. It is as if His whole life were one symphony that now reaches its extraordinary crescendo. It is on the Cross that the Son shows us how loveable, how worthy of obedience, how truly good the Father is by suffering and dying.  On the cross He reveals to us the Son’s love for the Father and offers that perfect love to the Father on our behalf. He offers the Father His loving humility and obedience and empties Himself even to embracing death for us.  The Cross is the heart of the Most Holy Trinity laid bare. Offering His Sacrifice through His human nature, His human body and soul, He makes of Himself and His Cross our means of salvation. He makes of the Cross a Throne of mercy, the Throne of Heaven and a Gateway to that Heaven. 
Come forward then and kiss the wood of the Cross and with your lips and your heart knock upon the Gate of Heaven and ask entry.  His arms hold the Gates  open for you.

Come kiss the tree of life and ask Christ to plant the root of His Cross in your heart.  Ask him to break the rock of sin and the hardness of all our hearts so that the Living Spring of the Spirit can well up to Eternal Life within us; so we can bear fruit in union with Him, fruit for the healing of the world.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

CHRIST THE BRIDEGROOM EXTENDS HIS MERCY TO US: a homily for the Fifth Sundayof Lent, year C (Jon 8:1-11)

This is one of the more famous stories about our Lord, made famous in modern times by films like Jesus of Nazareth and the Passion of the Christ.  It is poignant too.  The sinner, a woman, dragged out into public and exposed, faced with judgment and the risk of a horrible death. Now I am sure we all know, even among our relatives, married people who are in second ‘relationships.’  I have relatives, close relatives, in that situation.  Loving others does not mean approving everything they do but neither does it mean we can be judge and jury.  We are to be the mercy of God that helps others live according to God’s plan.
Our Lord is in the Temple, the centre of Jewish religion and here at the centre of Jewish religion our Lord is confronted by his enemies while He is teaching.  The Pharisees and scribes (lawyers) set up a trap for our Lord, that is, trying to set up a conflict between him and the people. They drag in a woman caught in adultery.  Could you imagine that happening to someone in your family?

Adultery had a double infamy among the Jews of that time because in the Old Testament it is often used as a metaphor for idolatry: of infidelity to the true God and the worship of false ones in His place.  If He allowed the stoning they could accuse Him of inconsistency since He taught about the mercy of God.  If He rejected the stoning they could accuse Him of rejecting the Law and their religion and by extension of approving of sin and even idolatry.  Note that His opponents misrepresent the Old Testament.  Yes it punished adultery with death by stoning. It did so teach the Jews the seriousness of sin. The Law commanded the death of both parties to the adultery and since it takes two to tango: where is the man?  Where, indeed, are the Old Testament injunctions to seek the conversion of those who do wrong?
Our Lord bends down and writes on the ground, in the dust of the temple floor, but John does not tell us what our Lord wrote! It could be a reference to an event in the book of Daniel where a hand appears and writes on the wall warning the pagan King Belshazzar that he and his cronies have been measured, weighed, found wanting and their kingdom would be given to another nation, the Persians.  Jeremiah says that “Those who depart from you shall be written in the earth” which means that  they will lose everything and no one will remember them. Perhaps He is pointing to Exodus where God wrote the Ten Commandments, the heart of the Law, on stone tablets. If so then our Lord is reminding them that He is the author of the Law and knows its true intent.  This would fit with the most common suggestion that He was writing down their sins.  Perhaps all of the above are alluded to.  

Then He famously tells them His judgment “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”  Remember that our Lord elsewhere said “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”  In other words if they want to stone the woman for her sins they ought to expect the same punishment!   Again He bends down and writes.  By bending down He shows both that He is not intimidated by them and He gives them the psychological space to reconsider.
The accusers leave starting with the eldest. At least they know their sins. As it says in the Psalms: “They have all turned aside, all alike have become unprofitable; there is not one who does good, no not even one.” But our Lord is the source of the Law and Justice itself so how can he let the woman go?  
Perhaps here we have another allusion to Genesis.  In Genesis 18 God and Abraham haggle over how many just men it would take to save Sodom - a city so evil it gave its name to a sin.  At least haggling is how it is usually understood.  If one reads the story carefully it emerges that God chooses to consult Abraham as the one would consult a  trusted advisor.  God destroys Sodom not because there are no just men in it but because Abraham does not believe in God’s compassionate mercy enough to ask for its salvation.  These people do not believe in God’s compassionate mercy enough to ask for the woman’s salvation but Jesus shows it anyway.  
In response to his question “Has no one condemned you?” she says “No one, Lord.”  ‘No one’ He takes to be a confession of her guilt.  “Lord’ He takes as a confession of faith.  He who writes His Law on our hearts by the power of the finger of God, that is, by the Holy Spirit shows mercy to whomever believes in Him and asks.  Note that Jesus does not say to the woman “It’s ok, I understand.  Take your time to think about changing your life.”  Nor does He say “Don’t worry I am full of mercy.  Keep on with your way of life and all will be OK.  I will look after you and you’ll get to Heaven.”  He says none of these things.  Instead he is direct: “Go and do not sin again.”  Our Lord revealed His justice and His mercy.  He neither denies the Law nor approves its enactment.  He is the one without sin and He chooses not to stone the woman. Yet He does not let her sinful accusers stone her either.  That they turn away shows that they had no real concern for the Law anyway nor did they care for the woman’s soul.
All sin is a form of idolatry: putting something other than God at the centre of our lives, usually our own will. Earlier in John’s Gospel, at the wedding at Cana and again at the well in Samaria, our Lord revealed that He is the true Bridegroom of Israel.  It is against Him that all sin is ultimately done.  He is the true and faithful spouse who has been betrayed by the idolatry of mankind; our idolatry.  He is the victim of our adultery. Therefore we are that woman dragged before the world and condemned by the evil spirits.  Christ the true bridegroom extends to us His mercy and the commands that we ‘do not sin again.’
The Lord has shown us how we are to deal with our own sins and the sins of others.  As sinners we should acknowledge our wrongdoing and throw ourselves at His feet trusting His mercy.  When it comes to the sins of others we should bend down in prayer and reflection, read the Law of God written in our hearts, that is, our informed conscience, and remembering our own faults and failings, extend to others the mercy God has extended to us. Let us drop from our hands the stones of judgment and condemnation so that we are free to receive God’s mercy and to be of service to others.  

However let us not call evil ‘good.’  Let us not pretend that adultery or any other sin is OK with God or with us.  Let us remind each other not to do evil but to do good instead.  Christ has extended HIs loving mercy to us and driven back the forces of evil that would condemn us.  He has restored us to life and made us holy by His grace.  It is up to us to share that mercy with others but in the truth and in love.  


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