My apologies for the late posting of Fr. Jim’s homily. My weekend flew by doing things with family and around home to find me each evening nicely tired and forgetful that I had this posting to do.
•Jeremiah 20: 7-9 • Romans 12: 1-2 • Matthew 16: 21-27•
Weekly Scripture Readings: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Vatican II was the beginning! Today the great explosion of information made available to us through modern science calls us to evaluate how we express our fundamental theological ideas. That in turn will lead to a certain amount of radical change. An example — how we understand this text: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
“Saving Paradise” is a very interesting book authored by two women. It is the result of five years of intensive travel and research. They searched early Christian art in churches, catacombs and museums around the Mediterranean Sea looking for visual expressions of the suffering, crucified Jesus. They discovered that mages of the suffering Jesus did not appear in churches until the tenth century. The dominant image of early Christian anctuaries was “Paradise” – “this world permeated and blest by the Spirit of God.”
Christians living in the first millennium read, meditated and prayed the same Scripture texts as we do. They were familiar with the words of Matthew’s Jesus. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” However “the Christ they knew was the incarnate, risen Christ. He was the healer of the sick and teacher of his friends. He was the one who defeated death and transfigured the world with the Spirit of life.” That was “Paradise” – not a future life in heaven but a fully human life here on Earth.
Toward the end of the first millennium various historical events led to an enormous theological shift. Christians turned from a vision of “Paradise” in this life to Christ crucified. Preachers called forks to repent, and awakened fear of judgment, fire and brimstone. The theology we inherited from them emphasized Jesus as the innocent victim sacrificed in atonement for our sins.
This theological perspective impacted the piety and spirituality of ordinary folks like us. If Jesus suffered in atonement for our sins, than we ought to identify with him in his suffering. Confession became more important than Communion. Penance, self-denial and mortification became the hallmarks of holiness rather than love, justice, nonviolence and caring for one another.
“If you wish to come with me, don’t rush from suffering.” In an evolving world pain and suffering are inevitable. Both are inevitable in human experience.
Jesus was open to the experience of others, listened to their struggles and was attuned to their tears. He reached out to eliminate human caused suffering and free people from sickness, hunger, injustice, abuse and death. Today he stands in solidarity with kidnapped girls in Nigeria, and innocent victims in the Ukraine, Palestine and Syria.
He wanted that fire burning in him, his passion for “the reign of God,” to be ignited in his followers. Our earliest ancestors in faith understood and built a community of faith grounded in love, justice and nonviolence. They shared resources and cared for one another. For them it was “Paradise!”
I am suggesting a radical change of how we understand this text. “Take up your cross, and follow me” is not an admonition to accept the misfortunes, annoyances or discomforts of life. It is not an admonition to allow someone to abuse you and certainly does not imply that illnesses and diseases are “God’s will” for someone. “Don’t rush away from suffering” means not focusing on self but setting aside my ego needs to enable others to live a more fully human life. It means standing in solidarity with innocent victims and speaking out for justice and on behalf of human rights and the dignity of others. It means enabling “Paradise” to emerge so it is evident to all that “this world is permeated and blest by the Spirit of God.”
Clearly our world is not yet ready for “Paradise.” So all who step forward to be builders of “God’s new reality,” builders of a more human world, and bearers of hope and life will encounter the cross as Jesus did. I pray you are able to do so. Be confident that the Gracious Mystery who raised Jesus also will raise us to the fullness of life.