Friday, March 18, 2016

Passion Sunday Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Sinless Sinner

In our reading of the Passion of our Lord according to Luke today we heard a strange request of Jesus. He told his Apostles, "one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one." In other words Jesus wanted by this request that each of his apostles should have a sword. To get one they would have to sell their cloak because they did not have extra money for this need of the hour. This cloak was their outer garment which was necessary to keep them warm during their sleep. Since this request of Jesus happened during the night, he thought that the sword was more important than keeping warm during their sleep that night.

But when the apostles told Jesus that they had already two swords, Jesus said that these were enough for their need that night.

The reason Jesus gave that they need to have swords was also strange. He said, as we heard in the recitation of the Passion, "For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me, namely, He was counted among the wicked; and indeed what is written about me is coming to fulfillment."

Jesus quoted a verse from Isaiah which reads, "Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses." (Isaiah 53:12).

Jesus wanted to be counted among the wicked. That is why he wanted his disciples to have swords so that they too with Jesus can be counted among the wicked, those who use the swords to harm their fellowmen. As it turned out the sword was used to cut off the right ear of the high priest's servant who came along with the temple guards to arrest Jesus.

Jesus wanted to be counted among the wicked. This is so unlike of us who do not want to associate ourselves with criminals. But Jesus was crucified between two criminals as we heard in the Passion story today.

Jesus also freely hanged on a tree by being nailed to the cross. In the Old Testament God said that the man who hanged on a tree, whether voluntarily or forced to do so, was cursed by God. He was a sinner by hanging on a tree. In the book of Deuteronomy we read, "God's curse rests on him who hangs on a tree" (21:23). Paul the Apostle took this up in his letter to the Galatians. He wrote, "Christ has delivered us from the power of the law's curse by himself becoming a curse for us, as it is written, "Accursed is anyone who is hanged on a tree." (3:13) That is, according to Paul, Jesus became a curse by hanging on a tree, the cross.

Jesus wanted to be counted among the sinners to such an extent that the same Paul affirmed, "For our sakes God made him who did not know sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21).

This attitude of Jesus of being identified with sinners although he himself did not commit any sin was clear in his dealings with people. The people saw that he went along with prostitutes and tax collectors who were thought of as public sinners. Those who thought that they were upright, holy people, the Pharisees and the scribes who were the religious and theologians of Jesus' day, did not like this attitude of Jesus. They wanted Jesus to associate himself with them. Instead Jesus condemned these Pharisees and scribes as frauds, blind guides, whitewashed tombs, beautiful to look at on the outside but inside full of filth and dead men's bones (Matthew 23).

Jesus identified himself with sinners. He still identifies himself with those who think they are sinners. And this is where we are in danger. Many of us do not want do identify ourselves with sinners. We think this way: 'We are not criminals. We are trying to obey God's commandment. If we fail to obey we have the sacrament of confession to go to. We go to the church regularly. We help our neighbor. We participate in the affairs of our parish.' Thus we go through life assured that God is pleased with us and will reward us with heaven when we die.

Such a mentality exposes us to the danger from which the Pharisees and scribes suffered, the danger of identifying ourselves with the upright, just and holy men and women when Jesus who was actually sinless did not identify himself with those people. He identified himself with sinners. He wanted to be counted as a criminal, as a sinner.

If we do not identify ourselves with sinners we will be surprised when later we will hear these words of Jesus addressed to us, "I never knew you. Out of my sight, you evildoers" as we find in Matthew 7:23. This is because we will never be justified unless we claim our sinfulness deep in our heart. Remember the story of the Pharisees and tax collector in Luke, chapter 18? The Pharisee thanked God because he was a good man. But all the tax collector did was to beat his breast and say, O God be merciful to me a sinner. Then Jesus declared that the tax collector was justified, made just, made holy before God, but the Pharisees went on being a condemned man, away from the happiness of God.

So, it is with us. We can be like the Pharisee all our life, thinking we are good human beings before God. But unless we get the attitude of the tax collector which was also the attitude of Jesus, identifying ourselves as sinners, we will not be justified. We will be condemned like the Pharisee.

It is not a matter of convincing ourselves that we are sinners. It is not making this kind of argument: "All human beings are sinners. I am a human being. Therefore I am a sinner." Rather it is a matter of responding to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit within us. Only this Holy Spirit can produce in us a real conviction that we are sinful. He convicts us of our sinfulness if we listen attentively to him.

As we bow down our heads to pray let us join David in the fifty first Psalm, as he acknowledges his being convicted by the Spirit of his sinfulness.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. For I acknowledge my offense, and my sin is before me always.

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