There is a Hasidic story about a poor man who became a great rabbi. He was not well educated, nor handsome nor a great orator but he knew God, loved his people, and developed a large congregation. He had a son who was good looking, blessed with a great voice and due to his father’s success received a splendid education. When he returned from his schooling, his father retired and turned his synagogue over to him. He was not a great success. He did all he was supposed to do and when that did not work, he strived harder trying many styles of preaching and teaching. But something was missing, and his congregation drifted away. In frustration he went to a mountain, stood at a cliff, and called out to God that he would not leave until God told him what to do.
A voice came from heaven: JUMP.
The story ends here, but I think Mark is answering it for Christians today.
Think of the images of the year to date. The Capital invaded, emergency rooms overflowing, ecological revenge in fire and water, people on life support from the delta variant and most recently Afghanis hanging on to airplanes taking off from Kabul. Yet for me the most lasting image will be of Marine Corps Sergeant Nicole Gee holding a baby that was I hope eventually transported out of Afghanistan and posting “I love my job”. She was killed two days later. This is tragic, ironic, and poignant all at the same time, but also an illustration of what the Gospel means by “take up your cross and follow me.”
Marks’s audience knew that Jesus had been crucified and believed that he had been resurrected. This was an act of power which overshadowed the Roman Empire. Yet Rome was still persecuting them. Throughout the gospel, Mark and indeed all the gospel writers will show that Jesus is bringing the kingdom that is both already here, but not yet complete. The disciples can expect misunderstanding and persecution from their own families, communities, and the empire itself. Christians will be expected to give an account of their beliefs, and this will be difficult. It is literally the cross: they must confess that Jesus both died and rose. Jesus’ demand is that we show integrity when we are challenged and continue this proclamation and live its consequences. A person may be killed but the truth of the cross will set a Christian free, to hide in mere human power will enslave. Thinking like human beings and not like God has its consequences.
So joyous to be here with you this morning, so many faces from so many different parts of my life actually here today.
And they’re all here for one reason. That is to welcome Jason Chen into the church, we have with us someone who has been on a journey.
A journey that has led him to having an encounter with Jesus Christ and that encounter has led him to affirm it through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and communion, the three sacraments that initiate you into the church and not just becoming a member of a social organization, but becoming actually who you are called to be the very presence of Jesus Christ in the world.
That’s what we are all called to be as Christians, the very presence of Jesus Christ in the world, when people gaze upon us, they should see something different coming through our eyes and how we speak.
This week we return to Mark’s gospel and discuss the Pharisees. They are interesting for many reasons. By the time the gospels were written as they were the only Jewish group that survived the destruction of Jerusalem, so they were competition. Simultaneously, as some of their beliefs, resurrection of the body and angels for example were close to Christian beliefs they were prime candidates for conversion. Remember that St Paul was a Pharisee. But I think the prime reason for their importance was that they were good examples of what could happen to us. They still are.
To understand the pharisees we need to remember that the principal act of Jewish worship. was animal sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem. Indeed, only in the temple of Jerusalem. It would be as if we could only celebrate Mass at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. People wanted more than this and so they came together to pray, sing and celebrate the law as their connection with God. Some wished to go even further and took on the laws for priests as their own and applied them to every part of their lives. When the gospel today speaks about cleaning hands it was not for hygiene but for ritual and was extremely complicated and meticulous. This was impossible for most people so those who could do so were called “Pharisees” literally the separated ones. This caused some problems.
First, Spiritual elitism. Separate does not in and of itself mean better. Indeed, the original desire was possibly to do these rituals for the people. Yet that changed and the Pharisees thought of themselves and were thought of by others as being a higher, more noble and better Jew. By the time of Jesus, some professions were considered unfitting for a Jew because it would be impossible to obey these laws. Shepherds were one of these and it is no accident that they are the first to greet the baby Jesus.
Before we criticize the Pharisees, let us remember that until a half century ago Catholics commonly held that despite baptism there were two kinds of believers the laity – lower – and the clergy and religious – higher. It took the 2nd Vatican council proclamation of the universal call to holiness to begin to change this attitude.
Second, habit replacing spirit. The pharisees began as a movement of great and sincere devotion. There who still many who were joyous and devoted to the Lord. But placing such an emphasis on the externals of worship can loosen the grasp of the basic realties. The worship of the Jews as ours is to form a covenant, a living relationship with God and his people. If that is lost, worship becomes dry and meaningless. Jesus calls the pharisees hypocrites. A hypocrite is literally one who wears a mask. The mask may be noble but that does not mean that there was real flesh and blood behind it. For all the posturing there might be no there, there,
We may soon see this in our own Church and Parish. If covid restrictions are ever completely lifted, we will be able to see who comes back to church and who does not. Perhaps many will discover that Mass was just a habit which may take many years to develop but may dissolve in a few months.
Finally, blindness. The laws which the pharisees felt called to obey were personal in nature. They sought to make an individual ritually clean as if he were a priest called to the sacrifice. Once more we need to say that this can be very noble and good. But it can become very private and isolating,
Jesus calls them to task by quoting from the prophet Isaiah. As those who will participate in our bible study this Fall will learn there were three prophets who took the name Isaiah. Our quote today is from the first one. He lived in the 8th century before Jesus and he spoke at a crucial time in Jewish history,
A characteristic of Jewish society was the small farmer. He owned his own land and there were many laws established to prevent him from losing it. This was not particularly profitable or efficient, but it formed a stable society. Some landowners wanted greater profits and by various means were able to take the land of these small owners. When we hear that Isaiah was a great prophet of social justice this is primarily what it meant. He saw how gross inequity would change society for the worse. He will often ask, as he does today, where were the religious leaders when their world was overturned?
The covenant, the relationship between God and man was not created and sustained only by animal sacrifice but by charity and justice. Many priests of Isaiah’s time and Pharisees of Jesus’ sacrificed love and justice on the altar of mere ritual.
I lived in South Jamaica during the subprime mortgage crisis and Isaiah’s lines haunted me. This middle-class black bastion was being eviscerated, did my worship make me see it more clearly and connect with the victims more closely, or did my practices make me blind and complacent?
To see a Pharasee we often do not have to open a book just look in the mirror.
The gospels reveal mysteries to show us a deeper way to live the cross of Christ.
The Cross reveals at very least that Jesus’s love for us is complete and limitless. With this kind of love there is no room for cast or distinction. Through the cross we know that we are all sinners seeking to be saints.
The crucifixion shows God’s compete commitment to his relationship with us. Can we call ourselves a follower of Jesus and put on even the most pious mask?
The crucifixion was for all, and we reflect that love when we see and care for the needy. We need to see with the eyes of the Good Samaritan who saw and cared for the man in the gutter not those of the Priest or Levite who passed by.
Let us learn from the mistakes of the Pharisees, old and new, Jewish and Christian and offer ourselves with Jesus, let us put down our masks and take up his cross.
At their last semiannual meeting, the Catholic Bishops of the United States discussed the Eucharist. The topic of “Eucharistic coherence” was raised by some and interpreted by many as whether President Biden and other Catholic politicians who support legal abortion should receive communion. The Vatican informed them that this decision belonged to individual bishops and that it was beyond the competence of the conference. This was not, however, the only concern they had about the Eucharist. They were particularly concerned that most American Catholics did not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. They voted to prepare a statement on this and will discuss it in greater depth at their next meeting. As we see in todays’ gospel reading Jesus’ teaching that “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” has been a stumbling block for many since the beginning of the Church. The difference is that we moderns often reject it because we do not understand it and the ancients, particularly the Jews, rejected it because they understood it all too well.
Good morning, everyone. Always a great joy being able to be with you here at St. Charles Borromeo. I think some of you probably know by now that my Sundays are numbered. I’m going to be heading up to the Trappist monastery of the lady of Getz. I’m sorry, Our Lady of Genesee – hope I know where I’m going – The Abbey of Our Lady of Genesee https://www.geneseeabbey.org, which is in upstate New York, about 45 minutes south of Rochester. And I’ll be planning on entering the Trappist community there. So I do cherish these last remaining Sundays with you here.
So today is the feast of the Assumption, the solemnity of the Assumption, a great Marian feast. And whenever we celebrate a Marian feast, I think maybe two things, as a priest, come to mind.
The Eucharist makes us Catholic Christians, but we can only understand the Eucharist by thinking like Jews. We see this very clearly in today’s Gospel.
The great insight of the Jews was that God loved them. This runs throughout the entire Old Testament. At the very beginning they understood that creation was not an accident or a cruel joke as most ancient peoples believed but the act of an all loving and all-powerful deity. The first humans did not find themselves in a wasteland but rather in Paradise, a place of perfection. They saw as well the meaning of Sin. God forbade Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for then they would die. They are in paradise, what would they know of evil? The sin of Adam and Eve, as ours, is to think we at we can do better than God. Our creation would be better than his. They ate and died.