Dimanche soir passé, je suis allé voir le nouveau film de Martin Scorsese, qui s’appelle « Silence ». C’est l’histoire de deux jésuites qui étaient missionnaires au Japon au 17e siècle. François Xavier, le fameux compagnon de S. Ignace de Loyola, avait évangélisé le Japon dès l’an 1549, mais un siècle plus tard, le gouvernement japonais avait interdit la pratique du Christianisme. Dans le film, les deux jeunes missionnaires partent à la recherche de leur camarade-jésuite, qui est porté disparu au Japon. Ils sont déposés sur une plage et se cachent dans une grotte en attendant que les convertis de la région viennent les rejoindre pour les emmener auprès de la communauté des croyants qui accueillent les deux prêtres avec beaucoup d’enthousiasme. Les catholiques japonais pratiquent leur foi d’une manière clandestine, et on fait tout pour que la présence des deux prêtres demeure un secret. Les missionnaires passent leurs journées dans les montagnes ou ils vivent dans une hutte, équipée avec un cachot sous-terrain, et la nuit, ils descendent au village pour célébrer la messe et pour entendre les confessions. Les chrétiens vivent dans un état de peur continuel et doivent faire face aux visites de l’ « inquisiteur », le fonctionnaire japonais responsable de l’abolition du christianisme dans la région, qui vient arrêter les gens afin de les torturer et les tuer. Les deux missionnaires se déplacent du lieu en lieu, faisant leur possible d’exercer leur ministère sacerdotal, sachant que si jamais ils se font prendre, ils risquent de partager le sort des martyrs japonais.
Jésus en danger. La situation de Jésus dans l’évangile est un peu semblable à celle des deux missionnaires. Comme on a vu dans l’évangile de hier, Jésus est en danger; les Pharisiens et les hérodiens cherchent à le faire mourir. En fait, Jésus a commencé son ministère suite à l’arrestation de Jean le Baptiste par Hérode Antipas (le fils d’Hérode le Grand, celui qui avait fait tuer les enfants de Bethlehem), qui gouvernait le Galilée pour les Romains. Jésus sait très bien qu’il pourra facilement partager le sort de son cousin. Il y a même un traître parmi ses plus proches amis (3.19). Le danger et la tension se font sentir tout au long du récit de Marc. Marc est le plus bref des quatre évangiles; Marc contient très peu des enseignements de Jésus; dans le récit de Marc, Jésus est un homme d’action! Encore là, tout arrive rapidement; le mot « immédiatement » revient fois après fois. On est pressé, on n’a pas de temps de rester tranquille! Donc, Jésus se déplace souvent; en fait, Jésus se retire souvent des villes pour aller dans les lieux déserts ou bien près de la mer de Galilée. Ceci n’empêche aucunement les foules de le suivre et le repérer. La réputation de Jésus comme guérisseur et exorciste fait en sorte que les gens viennent de partout pour trouver auprès de lui la guérison, à un tel point que Jésus est obligé de se tenir sur une barque alors que la foule se tient sur les bords du lac.
1er secret : Jésus est le Messie. On peut résumer le message de l’évangile selon S. Marc comme étant la révélation de deux secrets, dont le premier est « Jésus de Nazareth est, en fait, le Messie, le Fils de Dieu. » Marc nous révèle déjà le secret dès le premier verset de son évangile : « C’est ainsi qu’a commencé la Bonne Nouvelle de Jésus-Christ, le Fils de Dieu ». Mais il reste que, dans les 7 premiers chapitres, les personnages (humains) au sein du récit (à part Dieu le Père) ignorent qui est Jésus. Les foules sont émerveillées face aux guérisons accomplies par Jésus; après que Jésus ait calmé une tempête sur le lac, même les disciples se demandent « Qui est donc cet homme pour que même le vent et le lac lui obéissent? » (Mc. 4.41). En fait, dans les 7 premiers chapitres de l’évangile, les seuls êtres qui reconnaissent la véritable identité de Jésus sont les démons! Fois après fois, les esprits impurs annoncent haut et fort que Jésus est le Fils de Dieu (1 :24-25, 34; 3 :11-12; 5 :7). Chaque fois, Jésus doit les ordonner de garder le silence. En fait, presque chaque fois que Jésus opère une guérison, il interdit à la personne guérie d’en parler (1 :44-45; 5 :43; 7 :36). Ces tentatives de rester anonyme ont plus ou moins fonctionnées. Suite à la guérison d’un sourd-muet, « Jésus recommanda à ceux qui étaient là de n’en rien dire à personne; mais plus il le leur défendait, plus ils en parlaient » (Mc. 7.36). Voilà le dilemme : chaque fois que Jésus se retire des lieux peuplés, les multitudes viennent le trouver pour être guéries; chaque fois que Jésus opère une guérison, il devient encore plus célèbre. Jésus est chargé d’une mission tellement unique et d’une nature tellement surprenante, que personne, même pas ses amis les plus proches, ne peut la comprendre. Jésus court constamment le risque de se faire dévier de son objectif… Dans l’évangile de Marc, on voit un Jésus qui court vers la croix, ne permettant à personne, qu’elle soit ennemi ou ami, de le distraire de son but.
2e secret : Jésus est un Messie souffrant, un roi-serviteur. Pourquoi ce désir chez Jésus de vouloir rester anonyme? Le deuxième secret de Marc nous fournit la réponse. Finalement, au chapitre 8, Jésus demande à ses disciples « Que disent les gens à mon sujet? Qui suis-je d’après eux?” et on lui répond que les gens pensent qu’il est un prophète, peut-être même Jean le Baptiste revenu à la vie. Ensuite, Jésus leur demande, « Et vous, qui dites-vous que je suis? » à quoi Pierre répond, « Tu es le Messie (le Christ)! » Ensuite, bien sûre, « (Jésus) leur ordonna de ne le dire à personne » (Mc. 8.27-30). Mais toute suite après cette révélation du premier secret, Jésus révèle le deuxième : « (Jésus) commença à leur enseigner que le Fils de l’homme devait beaucoup souffrir, être rejeté par les responsables du peuple, les chefs des prêtres et les spécialistes de la Loi; il devait être mis à mort et ressusciter trois jours après » (8.31). Voici le deuxième secret : Jésus est bel et bien le Messie, mais il est un Messie souffrant; il est le Roi-serviteur qui est venu donner sa vie en rançon d’une multitude (Mc. 10.45). Ceci n’a rien à voir avec les attentes des disciples au sujet du Messie; ils attendaient un Roi-guerrier qui était pour assujettir les ennemis d’Israël et régner en gloire, tout en donnant des postes importants dans son régime à ses amis. Un prétendant « Messie » qui se fait tuer par ses ennemis? Ce ne fait aucun sens. En fait, c’était la preuve que le « Messie » en question avait échoué à sa mission de délivrer le peuple de Dieu.
Dans l’évangile selon Marc, on voit Jésus qui doit « se cacher » à la fois de ses ennemis en Galilée et de ses amis, qui auraient voulu faire de lui le dirigeant d’une révolte armée, d’une révolution sainte. Dans le récit de Marc, on voit beaucoup d’ambiguïté : par fois, les disciples se trouvent parmi les adversaires de Jésus, parmi ceux qui cherchent à l’empêcher d’accomplir sa mission. Par exemple, pensons au moment où, suite à l’annonce de Jésus de sa passion, Pierre prend Jésus à part et commence à lui reprendre : bien non Seigneur; ceci ne t’arrivera pas; tu ne souffriras pas, tu ne mourras pas. Regardons la manière dont Jésus réponds à Pierre : « Arrière, «Satan»! Éloigne-toi de moi! Car tes pensées ne sont pas celles de Dieu; ce sont des pensées tout humaines » (8.33). Voilà de l’ambiguïté! Jésus reconnaît dans la voix de son ami le plus proche, qui pourtant désir son bien, la voix de …Satan! Tel est la singularité de la mission de Jésus qu’il doit être vigilant au point de rejeter les conseils bien-intentionnés de son ami. Jésus n’est pas venu établir un royaume comme les autres; il est venu établir le règne de Dieu, le royaume d’amour, de service, de vérité.
Suivre Jésus aujourd’hui. Pour nous qui suivons Jésus aujourd’hui à Montréal, notre défi n’est pas d’abord le danger, mais plutôt l’indifférence et le relativisme : « oh, tu crois en Jésus, tant mieux pour toi! » Notre défi, c’est de redécouvrir pour nous-mêmes jusqu’à quel point Jésus est indispensable, et ensuite, de trouver des moyens de parler de Jésus aux autres d’une manière qui va démontrer que Jésus est le Sauveur, le Seigneur du monde qui viendra un jour juger les vivants et les morts, non seulement les Chrétiens, mais tous les êtres humains.
Ça prend de courage pour suivre Jésus. Dans le film « Silence », on voit le courage extraordinaire des chrétiens japonais qui ont été martyrisés pour leur foi en Jésus. Sans vouloir révéler tout le scénario du film, je peux vous dire que dans ce film, on voit que suivre Jésus peut nous mettre face à des choix extrêmement difficiles. Le courage qu’exige la foi chrétienne, ce n’est pas le « courage » d’avoir toutes les réponses, d’avoir toujours raison, d’être arrogant ou imposant; non, c’est plutôt le courage de se charger de sa croix, et de suivre Jésus jusqu’au bout. Je ne prétends pas être courageux, mais je prie le Seigneur pour qu’il me donne ce courage-là. Une chose est sûre : Jésus ne doit pas rester un secret pour notre monde, pour nos voisins. Amen.
What are you doing here? For the past 5 summers, I have worked at the military base in Valcartier, north of Quebec City. This is where teenagers who are in the Cadet Movement have their summer camp, and I have worked as their chaplain, albeit as a civilian. An important place for the officers in charge of the cadets is the Mess Hall, a lounge with comfortable chairs, air conditioning, different games like pool and Ping-Pong, and perhaps most importantly, a bar. Access to this privileged place is jealously guarded. Only officers of the Canadian Forces, as well as civilian cadet instructors who have a contract with the military, are allowed to enter this shrine of relaxation. A few years ago, during the first week of camp, I was sitting in a corner of the Mess Hall, in my civilian clothes, with my laptop open, enjoying the free Wi-Fi access. All of a sudden, a uniformed officer approached me and asked me rather abruptly what I was doing there. Not immediately picking up on the meaning of his question, I replied that I was sending e-mails. This answer didn’t seem to satisfy him, and then it dawned on me that he thought I was some random civilian, perhaps a member of the kitchen staff, who, against all protocol, had presumed to surf the web in his Mess Hall. As the officer was getting more and more flustered, I quickly added that I was the Chaplain for the cadet camp. Upon hearing this, the officer immediately did an about-face and left me to continue sending my e-mails.
Who does he think he is? Something similar is happening in today’s gospel. Jesus had said something that seems to be out of place, completely inappropriate, even insulting to God – he had declared that a paralyzed man’s sins were forgiven. What does he think he is doing? Who does he think he is – God? This is of course Mark’s point in recounting this episode from the ministry of Jesus – the point of the story is Jesus’ identity. Who is this man who was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, and is now living in Capernaum, near the Sea of Galilee?
Plot Twist. As often happens in stories – and in real life – there is often a twist near the end of the story that reveals the true identities of the different characters. Sometimes the one who had appeared to be “the good guy” turns out to be the villain, and the one who looked like “the bad guy” turns out to be the hero. And then we are obliged to re-interpret the entire story based on this new “revelation”. Something similar to this went on in the life of Jesus. During his ministry, Jesus was perceived by many to be a blasphemer, a false prophet, a demon-possessed lunatic, a danger to God’s people and someone who must be destroyed. Jesus’ enemies apparently “won” when Jesus was crucified. Everyone could breathe a sigh of relief; there was one less heretic to worry about. But then the twist happens – the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is, among other things, a sign of God’s approval of Jesus, His Son. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John write their gospels fully convinced of the earth-shattering, mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting truth about who Jesus had really been all along. We touched him, we ate with him, we spoke with him, we were his friends… They are like the person at the cinema who walks out after watching a movie with a plot twist only to turn around, go back into the theatre and watch the movie for a second time, this time with the knowledge of “what’s really going on” in the story. How do the gospels make sense of Jesus? They interpret Jesus’ actions in light of Yahweh’s actions in the Scriptures. What God had done in the Old Testament, Jesus did during his ministry.
Authority. Back to our story. The point at which Mark has been hammering away since Jesus began his public ministry is that of Jesus’ authority. Mark portrays Jesus as one who teaches with authority, unlike the scribes. The scribes – the scripture experts – would lend authority to their teaching by quoting recognized masters of biblical interpretation from the past. Unlike them, Jesus speaks on his own authority. Jesus also has authority to heal the sick and cast out evil spirits. The crowds are amazed at what Jesus is doing, and Jesus quickly acquires something of a celebrity status with the people. In today’s gospel, the question of authority is once again at centre stage. Jesus heals the paralyzed man as evidence that the “Son of Man” – referring to himself – has authority to forgive sins.
The Temple (sacrificial system). There was a place in first-century Palestine where Jews were supposed to go to receive healing and forgiveness. That place was the Temple in Jerusalem. The priests in the Temple, following the Mosaic regulations in the Scriptures, were responsible for offering the appropriate sacrifices for the sins of the worshipper as well as sacrifices designed to request healing for someone suffering from illness or disease. Yahweh’s presence was believed to reside in the Temple, and through his priests, God would forgive and heal his people within the context of the sacrificial system. But what does Jesus do when he encounters sick sinners? He forgives and heals them on the spot, on his own authority! Wherever Jesus was, forgiveness and healing were available. At the end of Mark chapter 1, Jesus heals a leper. Once the leper had been cleansed of his disease, Jesus sends him to the Temple to see the priests, just to rub it in.
Forgiveness of Sins. The Son of Man has authority to forgive sins. Mark begins his Gospel by quoting from chapter 40 of the book of Isaiah, who had spoken about a messenger who would prepare a straight road for God in the wilderness (Mk. 1.3 = Is. 40.3). How does Isaiah chapter 40 begin? It begins with the words:
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Is. 40.1-2)
This refers to the judgment of exile that Israel had experienced. Isaiah chapters 40-55 contain the message of Yahweh returning to his people to comfort, forgive and restore Israel following the period of exile and judgment. Mark begins his Gospel by saying that the promises of Isaiah are coming true. John the Baptist “proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. John the Baptist is the one who prepares the way of the LORD, and the LORD turns out to be… This was not what people were expecting, but – the evangelists tell us – this is what in fact had been promised. Isaiah had promised that Yahweh would return to his people in forgiveness and Jesus goes around forgiving sins. The presence of Jesus signals the time of restoration, fulfillment and healing. As someone once said about the way in which Jesus fulfilled the promises of the Old Testament, “In Jesus, God was doing a new thing; just like he always said he would do.”
The determination of faith. Let’s take a quick look at how our story begins. It is a strange story. 4 people believe that Jesus has the power to heal their paralyzed friend. They carry their friend to Jesus’ home, but there’s no way to get inside – a huge crowd has packed the house and surrounded it. However, these 4 people don’t give up; they climb up onto the roof of the house, managing to bring their friend along with them. They then proceed to make a hole in the roof of the house and lower their paralyzed friend through the hole and set him in front of Jesus. This is faith in action! (as they say, “Better to ask forgiveness than permission”) What does this part of the story tell us about Jesus? How does Jesus respond? Jesus has compassion on the paralyzed man. He doesn’t spend any time worrying about how the sick man got into his house. All that Jesus is concerned about is the need of the person in front of him. This encourages us in our life of prayer. Jesus is never inconvenienced by our requests, or by us! There are many episodes like this in the gospels, where people go to extraordinary lengths to get Jesus’ attention: Zacchaeus who climbs a tree, blind Bartimaeus who continues to scream Jesus’ name in spite of everyone around him telling him to be quiet, the people who brought their children to Jesus in spite of the apostles’ trying to prevent them. Jesus always welcomes those who make their way to him in determined faith. If you are struggling with something in prayer, don’t give up. When we come before him in faith, Jesus will never say to us, “What are you doing here?” Amen.
Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” We have recently celebrated the day of Jesus’ birth and today’s gospel tells us, in part, why Jesus was born, the purpose of his life. Today’s gospel tells us who Jesus is and gives us important clues as to what his mission will be. There has been much speculation and debate over the centuries as to how much Jesus knew about his own identity. Did Jesus grow up “knowing” that he was the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity? Or did Jesus have to discover his identity gradually through the study of the Scriptures and through his life of prayer? Was Jesus’ daily experience similar to that of an actor following a script or did he rather have to discern and listen for the Father’s voice in prayer in order to know what to do? However Jesus came to realize who he was and what he was supposed to do, one thing is clear: Jesus’ baptism by John was a turning-point in his life; it marks the beginning of his public ministry. In fact, Jesus’ baptism, when considered within a biblical framework, has all the marks of a solemn ceremony. Just what kind of ceremony is it? Let’s take a closer look.
You are my Son. As Jesus was coming up out of the water, Mark tells us, “the heavens were torn apart.” This is biblical language for a divine revelation. In C.S. Lewis’ language, the children have stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia. The curtain between heaven and earth has been drawn back and Jesus is able to see what is happening on the other side. (By the way, this is a clue as to how to understand the last book of the Bible – the Book of Revelation – but that is another story for another time). After the heavens have been torn apart, a voice is heard: You are my Son. This is not the first time in the Bible that God calls someone his Son. The first time this happens is way back in the book of Exodus. God has sent Moses to rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God told Moses to tell Pharaoh that the nation of Israel is God’s firstborn son (Ex. 4.22). The story of the Exodus is the story of the heavenly Father rescuing his child – the nation of Abraham’s descendants – from the tyranny of Pharaoh. As we look closely at the beginning of Mark’s gospel, we notice that there are many similarities between Israel’s rescue story and the story of Jesus. Not only are both called “God’s Son”, but they both “pass through water” before entering “the wilderness”. The Israelites passed through the Red Sea before beginning their 40-year-long period of wandering through the desert on the way to the Promised Land of Canaan. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River before enduring 40 days of temptation and trials in the desert. What is the meaning of these parallels between the experience of the ancient Israelites and that of Jesus? It means that the history of God’s people will be experienced by Jesus. Jesus’ own life will be a summary of Israel’s experience down through the ages and where Israel had failed again and again to be a faithful Son of Yahweh, Jesus – the true Son – will succeed.
The Royal Son. There is another biblical layer of meaning to this identity of “Son of God”. When David was King of Israel, he had a plan to build a temple for Yahweh. However, God told David that He would be the one to build a “house” (i.e. a dynasty) for David. God promised David an eternal kingdom, that there would always be a descendant of David on the throne of Israel, and that David’s son, Solomon, would be the one to build the temple for Yahweh. As God speaks to David, he refers to Solomon by saying, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (2 Sm. 7.14). God calls Solomon “his Son”. Many of the Psalms also speak of the king of Israel as being Yahweh’s Son. This is our clue to what kind of ceremony is taking place as Jesus is baptized. As Jesus emerges from the water, the Spirit of God descends upon him. In the Old Testament, whenever the Holy Spirit came upon someone, it was to equip that person for a specific mission, usually the task of being a prophet, a priest or a king. When David was anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel as a sign of God having chosen him to be king over Israel, the Holy Spirit came upon David from that day forward (1 Sm. 16). This is actually the meaning of the title “Christ” – “the anointed One” (i.e. King). What we have here in today’s gospel is Jesus’ anointing as King of Israel – it is the moment when Jesus is publicly identified as being Yahweh’s Son. Like David however, Jesus is not enthroned immediately following his anointing; like David, he travels around with his band of faithful followers until the day when he is enthroned and crowned …with thorns. Jesus receives the Holy Spirit to empower him for his royal task, which also includes the roles of prophet and priest. Not only this: John said that the One who would come after him would baptize God’s entire people with the Holy Spirit. This promise was initially fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.
The back story. God had promised Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through his descendants (Gn. 12.1-3). Salvation would come through an Israelite, through a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. More specifically, the Saviour would be a descendant of David and would rule wisely and justly over all the nations. The New Testament understands Jesus to be the One, the descendant of Abraham and David through whom all the promises of the Old Testament came true. That is why our Bible is as thick as it is. Early on in the history of the Church, some people recommended getting rid of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Why bother with all those stories of wars and exile and all those strange prophecies? The Saviour has come! Let’s just keep those texts which talk about him and let’s forget the rest. Fortunately, the Church had the wisdom to realize that it is only within the context of the Old Testament story that we can understand who Jesus is and what his life, death and resurrection actually mean.
Our story. This is also the story that we are caught up in. We have received the Holy Spirit which tells us that we are children of God (Gal. 4.6). As St. Paul says, we are “in Christ”, i.e. what is true of Jesus is also true of us. What the Father said to Jesus at his baptism, he also says to each one of us: “You are my daughter, you are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” We are sent into the world with the message of forgiveness, knowing that we are loved and cherished by God, knowing that we belong to our heavenly Father, knowing who we are. Amen.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), celui qui a libéré son pays sans pour autant user de la violence, a dit le suivant : « Le jour que le pouvoir de l’amour sera plus fort que l’amour du pouvoir, le monde connaîtra la paix ». Face à l’injustice et la violence de notre monde, qu’est-ce que Dieu peut bien faire? Devra-t-on même parler de ces choses-là à l’église? Y-a-t-il un quelconque lien entre les questions d’injustice et de violence, d’un bord, et la fête de Noël, de l’autre?
Deux anciens combattants. La Première Guerre Mondiale était censé être « la guerre qui mettra fin à toute guerre ». Jamais auparavant avait-on vu tellement de morts dans un conflit armé. Jamais auparavant avait-on vu jusqu’à quel point la technologie pouvait être utilisé pour détruire la vie humaine à grande échelle. Encore là, c’était seulement un aperçu des horreurs que le 20e siècle nous réservait…
Deux soldats britanniques qui ont combattu dans les tranchés en France – C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien – deviendront des écrivains après la guerre, ainsi que des grands amis. Lewis est connu pour son séries de livres pour enfants (ou bien, pour tout le monde qui aime les histoires) Les Chroniques de Narnia et Tolkien, pour sa part, est connu pour son fameux séries Le Seigneur des Anneaux ainsi que Le Hobbit. Quand Lewis & Tolkien se sont rencontrés, Lewis était un athée et Tolkien, lui, un bon catholique pratiquant. Lewis, Tolkien et leurs collègues professeurs avaient l’habitude de veiller dans les appartements de Lewis sur le campus de l’université Oxford pour boire, fumer et discuter de leurs projets littéraires. Samedi, le 19 septembre 1931, suite à une de ces soirées « entre gars », Lewis & Tolkien ont pris une marche sur le campus aux petites heures de matin. Ils discutaient ensemble de la foi chrétienne et Lewis, qui était professeur de littérature, s’est exclamé, « Le Nouveau Testament s’agit d’un paquet de mythes! » À quoi, Tolkien a répliqué, « Bien sûre, il s’agit d’un mythe; mais dans ce cas-ci, il s’agit d’un mythe qui s’est vraiment produit dans l’histoire ». Cette conversation-là a permis à Lewis de passer d’une croyance vague en « Dieu » à une croyance dans la foi chrétienne et la personne de Jésus. Les histoires que Lewis a rédigées au sujet du monde imaginaire de Narnia, comme celles de Tolkien au sujet de la « Terre du Milieu », peuvent nous aider à reprendre les récits bibliques, comme pour la première fois. Peut-être nous sommes tellement familiers avec ces textes qu’on ne les entend plus – on ne constate plus le fait que ces récits nous promettent la réalisation de la « prophétie » de Gandhi.
Pour redresser le monde. Selon la Bible, notre monde est sens dessus dessous. On a besoin d’un sauveur qui va redresser les choses, qui va mettre les choses à l’endroit. C’est pourquoi il y a tellement de paradoxes dans la Bible. C’est également la raison pour laquelle, en tant que Chrétiens, il nous faut attacher notre tuque – nous sommes les gens qui sont pris dans ce mouvement de renversement-redressement.
La justice féroce de Dieu. L’évangile d’aujourd’hui est un texte qu’on connaît bien. Regardons brièvement deux thèmes dans ce cantique de Marie : le jugement et le pouvoir. Avec le Magnificat, Luc introduit le thème de renversement dans son évangile : « (Dieu) renverse les puissants de leurs trônes, il élève les humbles. Il comble de biens les affamés, renvoie les riches les mains vides ». Selon ce cantique, l’évangile est une « bonne nouvelle », surtout pour les humbles et les pauvres, et une nouvelle plutôt déconcertante pour les puissants et les riches. Pourquoi ce « côté obscur » de l’évangile? Parce que le Dieu de la Bible est un Dieu de justice. Dieu ne sauve jamais sans juger, et il ne juge jamais sans sauver. Le salut et le jugement sont inséparables. De nos jours, on n’aime pas trop ça, parler de Dieu et de jugement dans la même phrase. C’est tout comme lorsqu’on reçoit un ticket de vitesse; à ce moment-là, on se demande pourquoi il y a des policiers pour nous embêter. Mais lorsqu’on est victime d’un crime, on est content qu’on peut faire le 9-1-1 et qu’il y a quelqu’un à l’autre bout de la ligne qui peut nous envoyer quelqu’un pour nous « sauver » et pour « juger » la personne coupable. Un Dieu qui n’est pas un Dieu de justice est un Dieu inutile. Dans Les Chroniques de Narnia, la personne de Jésus est représentée par un lion qui s’appelle Aslan. Au moment donné, un des quatre enfants qui sont les principaux personnages humains de ces histoires – Lucie de son nom – est un peu effrayée lorsqu’on lui apprend qu’elle va rencontrer Aslan. Elle demande si Aslan est un lion « apprivoisé » (« a tame lion »). On lui répond qu’Aslan n’a certainement jamais été dompté. Aslan est féroce! –mais il est bon. Dieu, lui, est catégoriquement contre le mal. Pourquoi? Parce qu’il aime sa création, et le mal nuit au monde et aux humains que Dieu a créés. La justice de Dieu est motivée par l’amour de Dieu et l’amour de Dieu est le fondement de sa justice. Les deux sont inséparables. Comment faire confiance à un Dieu dont la justice est féroce? Vous vous demandez à quoi ça ressemble lorsque la justice et l’amour de Dieu se rencontrent? Je vous invite à contempler un crucifix. Et ceux qui font le mal, les puissants et les riches qui font souffrir les humbles et les pauvres? Dieu les invite à se convertir, en les avertissant qu’éventuellement « on récolte ce que l’on a semé » (Galates 6,7).
Le pouvoir des petits. Que faire face au mal et face aux méchants de ce monde? Dans le chef d’œuvre de Tolkien, Le Seigneur des Anneaux, les 9 membres de la « Communauté de l’Anneau » sont chargés de la mission de détruire l’ « Anneau de Pouvoir », un anneau qui a été créé comme moyen de dominer sur le monde entier. L’anneau exerce une attirance épouvantable sur tous ceux qui le regardent, et tente les membres de la communauté de s’en servir en vue de procurer ce qu’ils désirent et ainsi, contribuer à la victoire du pouvoir maléfique de « Sauron », le serviteur de « Morgoth », celui qui s’est rebellé contre le Créateur. Les 4 membres de la communauté qui réussissent finalement, à travers des épreuves innombrables, à voyager l’Anneau au seul endroit où on peut le détruire – sans pour autant succomber à la tentation de s’en servir – sont des Hobbits, des demi-hommes, des petites créatures pacifiques et simples, qui vivent dans les demeures souterraines et qui aiment la tranquillité et le manger. Parmi tous les candidats possibles pour la mission de détruire l’Anneau, c’est 4 membres de la race méprisée des Hobbits qui découvrent leur courage et emmènent le salut à la Terre du Milieu.
Marie entonne dans son cantique, « Le Puissant fit pour moi des merveilles… déployant la force de son bras, il disperse les superbes. Il renverse les puissants de leurs trônes… » C’est le moment de la revanche! Les superbes et les puissants ont-ils martyrisés les humbles et les pauvres? Là, c’est leur tour d’y goûter! N’est-ce pas? On entend souvent ce genre de rhétorique lors des révolutions où, au nom de la justice, ceux qui se lèvent contre leurs oppresseurs leur font subir les mêmes atrocités ou bien les choses pires encore. Et comme ça, le cycle de violence se poursuit… Comment vaincre le mal sans se laisser vaincre par le mal (voir Rm. 12.21)? Ici encore, le thème de renversement s’applique. Comment Dieu va-t-il se servir de sa puissance contre les puissants de ce monde? Les armes de Dieu sont-elles simplement plus fortes que les armes des méchants? En effet, oui. Le fils de Dieu arrive au monde dans une situation d’humilité et de pauvreté; il prêche l’amour des ennemis, et il meure sur une croix, condamné comme avoir été un révolutionnaire. Encore un paradoxe : Jésus a bel et bien été un révolutionnaire. La révolution que Jésus a menée a été celle de la puissance de la faiblesse, la richesse de la pauvreté, le pouvoir de l’amour. Voici à quoi ressemble la manifestation de l’amour féroce de Dieu dans notre monde confus. Notre Dieu n’est pas resté au loin de notre réalité. Notre Dieu a pleinement partagé notre humanité et a su vaincre le mal – bien que le prix était cher. À la croix, Jésus a remporté la victoire définitive sur le mal, mais le combat continue. Jésus veut nous recruter pour sa révolution révolutionnaire.
Nous sommes les disciples du Révolutionnaire. Attachons-nous la tuque et que nous fassions de cette prière la nôtre:
Seigneur, fais de moi un instrument de ta paix :
Là où il y a de la haine, que je mette l’amour,
Là où il y a l’offense, que je mette le pardon,
Là où il y a la discorde, que je mette l’union,
Là où il y a l’erreur, que je mette la vérité,
Là où il y a le doute, que je mette la foi,
Là où il y a le désespoir, que je mette l’espérance,
Là où il y a les ténèbres, que je mette ta lumière,
Là où il y a la tristesse, que je mette la joie. Amen.
Change. Blessed John Henry Newman said “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” If perfection is difficult, I sometimes have the impression that change is even harder. We resist change – we are creatures of habit. One Sunday morning, several years ago, I arrived in church and took a seat right up against the side wall. As I was patiently waiting for the service to begin, a man approached me and informed me that I was sitting in his place! Not attaching too much importance to where I sat, I gladly accepted to move and allow this gentleman to take “his” place. I soon realized why that particular seat was so sacred to him. During the homily, I glanced over at the man whose seat I had unknowingly occupied, and lo and behold – this man had inclined his head against the wall and was experiencing what I can only describe as a “profound meditation.” That chair was this man’s place of rest, and he was determined not to allow anyone to deprive him of his habitual “homily nap”.
Jesus & the Sabbath. The idea of rest brings us straight to the heart of today’s gospel, chapter 5 of the Gospel of St. John. Once again, as was his habit, Jesus has performed a healing on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, the day on which – as it says in the book of Genesis – “God rested … from all the work that he had done” (Gn. 2.2). The fourth of the 10 Commandments was the command to “remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy” (cf. Ex. 20.8-11; Dt. 5.15). Abstaining from work on the seventh day was a sign of recognition that the world is the creation of God, and also a sign of trust in the Creator to provide for the needs of his people. Everything is NOT up to us. According to the book of Deuteronomy, the Sabbath was to be observed as a reminder of Israel’s rescue from slavery in Egypt during the Exodus.
The first walk in 38 years. In this case, Jesus had healed a man who had been unable to walk for 38 years (Jn. 5.5). This man had spent all those years waiting by the pool of Bethsaida, a pool renowned for its healing properties. When Jesus asks him if he wants to be made well, the man tells Jesus a rather pathetic story – every time that he had tried to get into the pool at the moment when the water’s healing power was active, someone else would manage to get into the pool before him. Can you imagine the frustration and the despair of this man? Jesus listens patiently to the man’s story and then issues him 3 quick instructions: “Stand up, take your mat and walk” (Jn. 5.8). At once the man was made well. The Jews at the time of Jesus had worked out exactly what it meant not to “work” on the Sabbath – they had even calculated the number of steps that one was permitted to walk during the Sabbath. (Even today, some people count the number of steps they take in a day; but they usually do this for different reasons)
The Sanctity of the Sabbath. As usual, Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath provokes the religious leaders; this time, to the point of wanting to kill Jesus (Jn. 5.18). Why such a violent reaction? Was it that the Jews at the time of Jesus simply had a rather legalistic mentality, perhaps combined with an image of God as a celestial tyrant that seemed to enjoy handing down arbitrary rules for his people to keep? Actually, there is a lot more going on here. A recent event can perhaps help us to understand the situation in Jesus’ day. On Sunday, there was a terrorist attack against the largest Coptic Cathedral in Cairo. 25 people were killed and 49 were wounded, including many women and children who were attending Mass. I have a Coptic friend from Egypt, and he has told me that this kind of thing happens quite frequently. Coptic Christians take their life in their hands when they go to Mass. But what are they supposed to do? They are Christians; going to church to worship is a fundamental part of their identity. Will they stop practicing their faith because of the danger? Imagine the reaction among the Coptic Christians if one of their bishops, in an attempt to appease the Muslim majority of Egypt, proclaimed that the tabernacle and all icons and crucifixes would be removed from all Coptic churches and that worship would take place on Friday instead of Sunday? That bishop would be regarded as a traitor!
Signs of identity. At the time of Jesus, the Jews had been living under the rule of pagan empires for hundreds of years. At different times during these centuries of foreign domination, various rulers had persecuted the Jews and attempted to force them to stop practicing their faith. In the books of Maccabees, we read stories about one such ruler and the Jews who chose to die rather than eat pork, rather than not circumcise their male children or violate the Sabbath. The kosher laws, circumcision and Sabbath observance – these were the customs that set God’s people apart from other nations. Keeping these laws was not simply a way to avoid the wrath of an angry God. On the contrary, it was a brave statement that we are God’s people, our God is the true God, and one day our God will rescue us once again. Indeed, it was believed that Israel must remain loyal to God at all costs if salvation was to come. Any Jew who appeared not to be taking these practices seriously was regarded as a traitor to Israel. Jesus, for his part, was not unsympathetic to the Jewish heroes of the past and their bold defense of the traditions of Israel; in John chapter 10, we see Jesus go to Jerusalem to celebrate the “Festival of the Dedication”, a.k.a. Hanukkah, the feast that celebrated the “cleansing” of the Temple by the Maccabees (cf. Jn. 10.22ff).
A new world. And yet, Jesus seems to go out of his way to heal people on the Sabbath! In today’s gospel, Jesus offers an explanation of his strange habit: “My Father is still working, and I also am working” (Jn. 5.17). On the very day of the week that invites God’s people to trust in the Creator’s goodness, Jesus says “My Father is still working”. The Creator is once again pouring out his generous and life-giving love, once again, through His Word. With the very first words of his gospel, John has given us the clue to what is going on: “In the beginning…” John’s story of Jesus is nothing less than a new creation story – the story of God’s new world that Jesus is bringing to birth. The “Word” through whom all things were made – in the beginning – has become a man and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only-begotten Son (cf. Jn. 1.1-18). John gives us more clues throughout his gospel. 7 times, Jesus says “I AM…” Beginning with the changing of water into wine at the wedding of Cana (Jn. 2.1-12), Jesus performs 7 “signs”, 7 actions that demonstrate who he is and who the Father is. 7 signs, 7 days of new creation. What did God create on the 6th day in Genesis, what was the final item in the original creation? In John’s gospel, on Good Friday – the 6th day of the week – Pilate presents Jesus to the angry crowd and declares, “Behold the man!” (Jn. 19.5). What does Jesus shout from the cross, just before he dies? “It is finished!” (Jn. 19.30; cf. Gn. 2.1-2). On the Sabbath – Holy Saturday – God rested in the tomb and on Easter morning, the tomb was empty and the world was new. Later that same Easter Day, the Risen Jesus tells the apostles, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn. 20.21). There is work to be done. It’s time to be changed by the Spirit of the Creator and to be agents of change all around us. It’s time to wake up, to get up and to walk into God’s new world.
Est-ce qu’on aime ça, aller voir les films au cinéma? Moi, j’adore regarder les films. Pendant une heure ou deux, on est transporté dans un autre monde; pendant quelques instants, on peut habiter une autre histoire – une histoire d’amour, une aventure, une guerre. On peut vivre par procuration à travers la « vie » d’un personnage – une jeune femme qui trouve l’amour de sa vie, un jeune homme qui découvre qu’il est doté de super-pouvoirs, et que, voilà, il doit sauver une jolie jeune femme, ou peut-être un personnage plus âgé, à qui la vie permet une deuxième chance au bonheur… Mais bon, éventuellement, le générique de fin apparaît sur l’écran, les lumières de la salle s’allument, la magie s’évapore, et on quitte le cinéma pour retourner …à la réalité, à notre routine, à nos problèmes, à notre vie à nous.
J’ai l’impression que parfois, notre lecture de la Bible peut ressembler à notre expérience au cinéma. Tous ces récits de femmes et d’hommes qui donnent l’impression d’être fraîchement sorties du studio céleste, armés avec un destin glorieux et une foi qui peut déplacer les montagnes. Mais c’est sûre, ce sont des saints! Moi, je suis juste quelqu’un de bien ordinaire. J’habite une société ou on dirait qu’il n’y a pas grande place (ou grand besoin) pour des héros. On habite un système social ou tout le monde est censé pouvoir s’épanouir pourvu qu’il « suive les règles » et notre bureaucratie est censée s’occuper des besoins de tout le monde. Disons qu’on a rarement l’impression de vivre des événements dont l’issue soit déterminante pour le sort de l’humanité; on a rarement l’impression que nos choix soient importants au point de pouvoir influencer le progrès du plan de salut de Dieu. On dirait que nous faisons nos petites choses, et Dieu, lui, il fait des grandes choses, et qu’on est mieux de ne pas trop se mêler des affaires divines.
Regardons de plus près nos deux héroïnes dans l’évangile d’aujourd’hui. À première vue, elles n’ont rien des vedettes hollywoodiennes. Dans notre monde à nous, on n’a pas de catégories qui peuvent nous aider à comprendre ces deux phénomènes : une conception virginale, d’un bord, et une grossesse « naturelle » à un âge très avancé (Lc. 1.7), de l’autre. Par contre, ceux qui s’y connaissent au sein du monde biblique auront l’impression de vivre le déjà-vu en lisant ce récit de naissances improbables… si on a besoin d’un indice pour nous rafraîchir la mémoire, Luc nous en donne à la fin du Magnificat de Marie, quelques versets plus loin : Marie chante « [Dieu] a pris en main la cause d’Israël … comme il l’avait promis à nos ancêtres, à Abraham et à ses descendants pour tous les temps » (Lc. 1.54-55). Abraham! Oui, celui à qui Dieu a fait de grandes promesses : « Je ferai de toi l’ancêtre d’une grande nation; je te bénirai, je ferai de toi un homme important et … Tous les peuples de la terre seront bénis à travers toi » (Gn. 12.2-3). Suite aux désastres survenus dans le jardin d’Éden, lors du déluge de Noé et la tour de Babel, Dieu décide de créer un nouveau peuple pour lancer son projet de rédemption; donc, Dieu choisit Abraham, un cultivateur de la Mésopotamie, pour être le « père » de cette nouvelle humanité. Dieu lui promet de nombreux descendants, mais il y a juste un petit problème… Sara, l’épouse d’Abraham, est stérile (Gn. 11.30). Ça promet! Une grande nation, à partir d’un couple qui ne peut avoir d’enfants! Éventuellement, à l’âge de 91 ans, et conformément à la promesse de Dieu, Sara mettra au monde Isaac (Gn. 21.1-7). Et ce n’est pas tout! Les trois premières générations du peuple de Dieu, cette « grande nation » qu’avait été promise à Abraham, étaient composées de couples dont les femmes étaient stériles!
Dieu le créateur. Il y a une raison pour cela. Dans la Bible, on retrouve un Dieu qui crée un monde, un monde qu’il aime et un monde au sein duquel il fait demeurer sa présence. Le Dieu biblique crée les êtres humains à son image et fait d’eux des collaborateurs dans ses desseins (Gn. 1.26-31). C’est extrêmement rare dans la Bible qu’on voit Dieu agir « tout seul ». Quand Dieu veut faire quelque chose, il se révèle à une femme ou à un homme, lui invite de participer dans ses projets et lui confie une mission. Quand il fut le moment de lancer son projet de salut, Dieu a appelé Abraham. Quand il fut le moment de sauver les descendants d’Abraham de leur esclavage en Égypte, Dieu a appelé Moïse. Quand il fut le moment pour envoyer le Messie et son « précurseur » envers Israël, Dieu a appelé une veille femme, Élisabeth, pour donner naissance à Jean le Baptiste ainsi qu’une vierge du village de Nazareth pour enfanter le Fils de Dieu, Jésus.
On peut énumérer trois principes bibliques concernant la manière dont Dieu agit en faveur de sa création :
1. Dieu agit à travers des êtres humains.
2. Dieu agit souvent à travers les femmes et les hommes les moins « qualifiés »; Dieu appelle souvent les faibles, les jeunes, les vieux, les pauvres, ceux qui n’ont pas une grande estime d’eux-mêmes, etc.
Comme St. Paul a dit aux Corinthiens, « … qui êtes-vous, vous que Dieu a appelés à lui? On ne trouve parmi vous que peu de sages selon les critères humains, peu de personnalités influentes, peu de membres de la haute société! …Dieu… a choisi ce qui est faible pour couvrir de honte les puissants. Dieu a porté son choix sur ce qui n’a aucune noblesse et que le monde méprise, sur ce qui est considéré comme insignifiant, pour réduire à néant ce que le monde estime important. Ainsi, aucune créature ne pourra se vanter devant Dieu » (1 Co. 1.26-29).
3. Dieu invite ces femmes et ces hommes à accepter des missions qui leur semblent tout à fait impossible. Dieu leur demande de lui faire confiance, d’être obéissant, et d’avancer un pas à la fois.
Nouvelle création. Comme ça, il est évident que c’est bien Dieu, le Dieu créateur, qui est à l’œuvre. Le créateur est celui qui peut faire surgir la vie là où on avait désespéré de la possibilité de la vie. Notez bien le rôle du Saint Esprit dans la conception de Jésus : l’ange dit à Marie « l’Esprit Saint viendra sur toi, et la puissance du Très-Haut te prendra sous son ombre ». Tout comme au commencement, alors que l’Esprit de Dieu planait au-dessus des eaux primales (Gn. 1.2) alors que Dieu se préparait à créer l’univers, c’est l’Esprit Saint qui fera apparaître la vie dans le ventre de Marie.
(En passant, c’est à partir de cette perspective qu’on devra aborder les récits bibliques qui nous parlent de « miracles ». Le Dieu qu’on voit à l’œuvre dans la Bible n’est pas un « magicien » cosmique. Au contraire, c’est le Dieu créateur qu’on voit à l’œuvre. S’il nous semble infiniment improbable qu’une vierge se retrouve enceinte et qu’une vieille dame mette un enfant au monde, je nous propose la question suivante : l’existence de l’univers nous semble-t-il probable?)
On peut énumérer quatre pensées pour nous encourager lors de cette saison de l’Avent :
1. Il y a un rôle pour toi à jouer dans le dessein de Dieu. Sois attentif à ce que Dieu te demande de faire.
2. Tes faiblesses sont une occasion pour Dieu de révéler sa puissance dans ta vie et dans la vie des gens autour de toi. Sois sans crainte, Dieu est avec toi.
3. Si tu te trouves dans une situation qui ne semble avoir aucune issue, prends courage; rien n’est impossible à Dieu. Le Dieu de la Bible est un Dieu qui aime les surprises. Si le Dieu créateur est là, il y a toujours de l’espoir.
4. Une vie vécue en obéissance au Dieu créateur, c’est plus “trippant” que le scénario du meilleur film. Amen.
Our text says “the deaf shall hear…the eyes of the blind shall see.”
Can you imagine being blind? …living in a world of darkness? Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine that this was your reality, day by day and minute by minute. I have a very good friend who is blind. A**** is now 32 years old, and has been blind for almost his entire life. A**** is very independent, and currently lives alone. He travels around the city by bus and metro. He plays the flute, the accordion and the piano. I have known A**** for 2 and a half years now; and yet, he doesn’t know what I look like. Although A**** has been through a lot in his life, he is a source of great joy for so many people. No matter how anxious I am feeling, spending some time with A**** always helps me relax and brings a smile to my face. When A**** is alone, he uses a cane to feel his way around. But when A**** & I are together, he puts his cane away, and he puts his hand on my shoulder and lets me guide him around obstacles. During those moments, A**** trusts me to direct him to where he needs to go. A**** has faith in my ability to see, he trusts my perspective and he follows my lead. When A**** & I agree to meet on a certain street corner, he doesn’t see me as I walk up to him, but he recognizes me instantly when I say his name.
“Blindness” & idolatry in the Bible. As we can see in today’s readings, the notion of blindness is a recurring biblical theme. In the Bible “being blind” often has a symbolic meaning: to be ignorant of the truth. How does one become spiritually blind? Spiritual blindness basically comes from worshipping the wrong god. The Bible assumes that human beings are creatures who worship. People reflect whatever it is that they worship. Actually, we can say that we become what we worship. We are always worshipping something. Either we are worshipping our Creator, and affirming the fact that we are created in His image, or we are worshipping aspects of the creation, forces of nature, impulses that arise from our own hearts, or perhaps simply ourselves. Idols, false gods, demand sacrifices and always promise more than they can deliver. When humans worship anything other than God, they go against their very nature as creatures and reflect the Creator’s image less and less and therefore become less and less human.
But wait a minute, I’m a Catholic. Of course I worship the right God, right? Let’s be clear: what we worship is not determined simply by the books we read. Our day-to-day life demonstrates to the world what we worship. What is truly important to us? What gives meaning to our life? How do we treat others? What gives us a sense of security? Why do we get out of bed in the morning? It is only by worshipping the true God, our Creator, that we can live as fully human beings. This is our spiritual DNA, and that is why idolatry, in all its forms, is extremely dangerous – to ourselves, to those around us, to our world. Worshipping the true God leads to justice; idolatry leads to exploitation, abuse, greed, indifference and many other evils. Yes, even as Catholics – just like ancient Israel – we need to be reminded of the dangers of worshipping other gods and reminded of who our God – the true God – is. Like John the Baptist said to his fellow Jews – members of God’s chosen people – don’t content yourself by saying, Abraham is our Father! John told them, Change your life! The worship of the true God leads to a lifestyle of justice, towards God and your neighbour. Our behaviour shows what/who we trust, what/who we believe in. In the Old Testament, who had the tough job of telling Israel that behaviour was the best indication of a person’s theology?
The prophets! Yahweh inspired prophets to be his messengers, to speak His words to His people. One of these prophets was Isaiah. The prophetic books are rarely easy to understand and they deal with difficult subjects that seem to belong to another world. This is why we’ve been talking about idolatry. But actually, the prophets were very practically-minded people. They knew that the best way to judge a society was to look at how it was treating those who were the most vulnerable – at the time of the prophets, that meant widows and orphans. We’re going to hear a lot from Isaiah during Advent, so we better do our best to understand what he was saying to his contemporaries 2,600 years ago, and how he prepares us to celebrate the coming of our Lord. Let’s take a closer look at our first reading.
Is. 29.17-24. In a nutshell, our passage today is a promise – a promise of the time when Yahweh, the One true God, will demonstrate his reality and will come in person to set Israel free from her idols and the exile that was the consequence of her worship of false gods, in order that she can know Yahweh and create a just society. It is a promise that the living God will come and bring new life to his suffering people. It is a promise that Yahweh will come and show his people the way.
“on that day” = “the Day of the LORD”, the moment of ultimate judgment/ salvation.
“the deaf shall hear…the eyes of the blind shall see.” Today’s passage is not the first time that we find the theme of deafness and blindness in Isaiah. The first time we meet this theme is in chapter 6, the passage where Isaiah has a vision of Yahweh’s glory in the Jerusalem Temple and receives his vocation to be a prophet. As was often the case with a prophetic calling, Isaiah was entrusted with a difficult task: “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand’ (Is. 6.9). Here we see that the spiritual condition of Israel at the time of Isaiah was one of deafness and blindness. Israel – Yahweh’s special people, the nation that had been rescued by Yahweh from slavery in Egypt, the people that was Yahweh’s new humanity, that had been entrusted with the mission of being the agent of Yahweh’s plan to rescue the entire world – Israel had become deaf and blind, had become unable to hear Yahweh’s voice, unable to see who Yahweh was, and therefore, unable to understand who they were supposed to be as His special people. Throughout Isaiah, Yahweh insists that He is the One true God, as opposed to all the pagan idols, who are merely mute, deaf and blind objects (cf. Is. 46.7; 44.18; 2.5-22). Remember: you become what you worship. Israel had worshipped deaf and blind idols, and now Israel herself had become deaf and blind.
“the tyrant [and]…those who…without grounds deny justice to the one in the right.” In the Old Testament, Injustice is almost always the result of idolatry.
“The children of Jacob will sanctify the name of Yahweh and stand in awe of the God of Israel.” Ezekiel, another prophet, spoke words of hope into the desperate situation of Israel’s exile. Ezekiel spoke of Yahweh “sanctifying his name”, meaning that Yahweh will bring Israel back from exile and will cleanse His people from all her idols:
“I will sanctify my great name … and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations … and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you … and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” (Ez. 36.23-25)
Once Yahweh demonstrates His reality by saving Israel from exile, “Jacob” will stand in awe of the true and living God, the God of Israel.
Still waiting. So many promises and so much time went by… Long after Isaiah had died, Yahweh’s people were still waiting for their God to return to them and set them free. This is the season of Advent; it is a time of waiting for us, the Church; we are waiting to celebrate the coming of our Saviour into the world, and we are also waiting for our Lord’s Second Advent, when “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”.
The human face of God. Here is the most revolutionary thing about the gospels. The 4 gospels all make the claim that the coming of Jesus “unto his own”, i.e. Israel, was the fulfillment of the prophetic promises of the Old Testament. Matthew’s gospel begins with the fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah chapter 7 – an angel tells Joseph the meaning of the name that he is to give to the son soon to be born to Mary: “…They shall name him Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” (Mt. 1.23). The coming of Jesus into the world has not made God any less mysterious but now, God has a human face. Is this child, born in a stable, truly our God? Do we recognize our God in the face of this trusting, innocent and helpless baby?
Fear and Pride. From the very beginning of the Bible, we see that there are two things, primarily, that prevent us from worshipping the true God and lead us to worship other things: fear and pride, and these two feed off of each other. I’m afraid, but I’m too proud to admit it; I want other people to think well of me, so I’m afraid to admit any weakness. And ‘round and ‘round we go. What is the antidote to fear and pride? In a word – faith. In the Bible, “faith” is trusting God: trusting that God is good, that He loves us, that He wants what is best for us, that He wants us to be happy, that He will provide for us. It also involves the belief that God is God, and we are not. It is also the conviction that God will always welcome us with open arms and will heal our wounds.
For Matthew, the promises of Isaiah had come true through the ministry of Jesus: Yahweh had returned to his people as king to set Israel free, to open the eyes of the blind, spiritually and physically. In today’s Gospel (Matthew 9.27-31), we see the healing of two blind men. As Jesus heals them, he tells them, “According to your faith let it be done to you.” The blind men trusted Jesus to heal them and were humble enough to ask for healing. In our text from Isaiah, it says, “The children of Jacob will stand in awe of the God of Israel”; in the Gospel, what do the two blind men see when their eyes are opened? Jesus – they see Jesus, and – in spite of his stern orders – proceed to go and tell everyone they can about Jesus. Jesus’ healings are sacramental: they are outward signs of what Yahweh is accomplishing in the hearts and minds of his people – at least, in the hearts and minds of those who know “how to see”, for those who believe. In the Bible, believing is seeing. Even before they are healed, the two blind men in today’s Gospel “see” who Jesus is: the Messiah, the Son of David. This is a strange paradox of the gospel: some of those who are blind “see” Jesus; many of those who are sighted are “blind” to who Jesus is.
Who is this God-who-is-with-us? Is he trustworthy? Does he have a hidden agenda? Is he a tyrant? Or does he care about “the meek” and “the neediest people”? Do I dare admit that I need his help? Maybe I should keep pretending that I’ve got everything under control…? What kind of a God is this, who reveals himself as a …baby? And yet, our world is so confused. Is there someone who can show us the way to true humanity, to justice and peace? One thing is certain: we cannot approach Jesus as if he was a self-help guru, as someone who will simply get us out of trouble when we need a little extra help. No, the only way to approach Jesus is with faith, trusting Him as our Lord and our God, and following him wherever he leads. This Advent, do we have enough humility and faith to put our hand on the shoulder of the One who said:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11.28-30)
This is A****’s hope. May it also be ours.
I remember an incident in dealing with a family for a funeral a few years back. The deceased man in his 90’s had four children in their 60’s, two of whom were not on speaking terms with the other two. At the funeral home the family had asked that we have a small service to mark the closing of the casket, prior to departing for the funeral at the Church. During that service, the crucifix and rosary that were with the deceased were removed and the funeral director gave them to one of the daughters. She placed the crucifix in my hand and asked me to offer it to one of her sisters, saying “she won’t accept it from me.” I turned to offer it to the sibling, who was standing not five feet from me, yet who acted as though she had not heard any of the previous exchange. Her response was “Oh thank you, that is very kind of you.” I was aghast that these siblings, who had adult children of their own, could persist in acting like petulant children and were unable to put aside pettiness, even during the funeral of a parent.
I never did find out what was the origin of that rancour and infantile behaviour, but in my experience over the years, it is usually some small disagreement or perceived slight that gets blown out of all proportions. Open communications and the ability to have a crucial but loving conversation while still fresh would prevent most of these family disputes growing into entrenched bitterness. Communication is essential for healthy relationships, be they among families, friends, colleagues, and even for parish families.
The other day I was listening to a webinar on parish leadership offered by AmazingParish.org, during which Pat Lencioni spoke about the need for clear and deliberate communications to all areas of the parish before undertaking any major change. He also talked about acknowledging that people need to mourn the past before being able to move forward with change. I found this last point to be insightful.
Over the past few months I have been in Halifax, experiencing a vibrant parish culture, slowly realizing that fundamental changes are necessary for parish growth. Learning about new approaches and paradigms that will enable my parish in Montreal to move from maintenance to mission. But I realize that I have also had time to learn to let go of old models. I have been mourning if you will, the old model of parish, and, in fact, of priestly leadership. I have been immersed in this for nearly six months, and as I near the time to return to Montreal my mind and imagination have turned to how to implement what I’ve learnt here.
But I now recognize that I need to slow down a bit. If I were to compare it to learning a new language, it’s as if I moved to another country to immerse myself in the culture and language while my parishioners signed up for a Berlitz class. We won’t be at the same level, and it will be my job to help them learn by always communicating deliberately and clearly in order for everyone to understand and to catch up. Above all I realize that I can’t simply barge ahead or I risk leaving some behind and perhaps even fracturing the community.
I’ve had the past months to adjust and integrate, and indeed mourn some of the past. I have seen what is possible when old paradigms are abandoned and reaching out to the unchurched becomes the core value of parish life. My parishioners have not had that same experience. In fact many probably don’t yet realize the past needs to be left behind in order to move forward. I need to properly communicate why we need to move on, not just where we want to move to, and I need to allow people the time to properly mourn the past.
I can see that nothing I do as the leader in my parish in the next six months to a year is as important as making sure I communicate clearly, lovingly and repeatedly why we need to move the parish from maintenance to mission. Max DePree, a noted author on servant leadership, said that “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” Defining and communicating why we can no longer hold on to old models and ways of being a parish will have to be my first priority. Clearly painting the picture of what is possible when we focus on our mission as a parish will be the second. All of this must be done in a loving way so that, as St. Paul writes “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Eph 4:15)
But I need to allow people the opportunity to mourn as well, otherwise it can tear the community apart. If not done well our parish risks becoming like that divided family I described above: A parish family where everyone behaves like a two year old throwing a tantrum, where motives are suspect, where resentment and bitterness become so toxic that no one is able to listen to one another, let alone accept a token peace offering, even at a time of crisis. The difference between succeeding in moving a parish from maintenance to mission initially depends on how well it is communicated. It’s the difference between surviving and thriving as a family, or irreparably splitting a family apart, it is that important.
God Bless us all.
Fr. Michael Leclerc
N.B. This is posted as the Divine Renovation Conference is about to get underway here at St. Benedict, in which five of my parishioners from St. Ignatius are joining 600 delegates from 11 countries to discover something about parish renewal. Please pray for us during the Conference.
Father’s Day is a time for us to take stock and reflect on our relationship with our own father and to give thanks for all that they have done for us. As in many family relationships that we have, our relationships with our fathers may not have reached the ideal that we would have desired. Some of us have been deeply hurt by our fathers.
Nevertheless, the role of the father in the growth of the child remains an important aspect in their psycho-social development. Pope Francis in his exhortation, On Love in the Family, says,
“God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be “close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow,hope and hardship. And to be close to his children as they grow – when they play and when they work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they stray and when they get back on the right path. To be a father who is always present. When I say ‘present’,I do not mean ‘controlling’. Fathers who are too controlling overshadow their children, they don’t let them develop” Some fathers feel they are useless or unnecessary, but the fact is that “children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to show it, but they need it.” Amoris Laetitia, no. 177
Children need their fathers and I believe that fathers need their children. Men become better persons through fatherhood. For those men who for various reasons do not have children, they can be father figures for children who do not have a father. To accept fatherhood is to have the courage to engage in a relationship of love and protection.
So this Father’s Day, may we pray for all fathers and father figures, that they be the best that they can be and instruments of God’s unconditional love.
The following is an excerpt from the CBC radio program ‘Under the Influence’ that looks at topics in marketing. (“Brand Envy 2016”, originally aired April 21 2016)
“One night back in 1898, two travelling salesmen checked into the very crowded Central Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin. But there was only one double room left. Although they didn’t know each other, John Nicholson and Samuel Hill decided to share the room. The two got to talking, and discovered they also shared a common faith, and both had toyed with the idea of creating an association for Christian businessmen. So they decided to try it together. One year later, they held an open meeting for any men who were interested in joining a Christian association for travelling salesmen. Only one person showed up. His name was William Knights…[who] had an inspiration. “We shall be called Gideons,” he exclaimed. The reference was to an Old Testament judge named Gideon who led a small group of men to defeat a much larger army. So Gideons it was.
In its first four decades of existence, only traveling sales and marketing men could join. One of the things they all shared in common – beyond their faith – was the fact they spent many nights in hotel rooms. That led them to the idea of providing bibles to hotels across the land. Not only would the books be of use to fellow travelling Gideons, but also to any other guests who needed them. They called it “The Bible Project,” and the first Gideon bibles were put into the 25 rooms of the Superior Hotel in Superior Montana in 1908. It would be the start of a journey that continues today.
Because the Gideons were originally sales and marketing men, they have a strong operational foundation, and they’ve done their research. For example, they know that the bibles have a six-year life span. When they wear out, they get refurbished, and sent to prisons for distribution. They know 25% of the people who check into a hotel room will read that bible – therefore each bible will potentially reach 2,300 people.
The Gideons aren’t upset if you break the Thou Shalt Not Steal rule, either. If you need the bible, take it, they will happily replace it.
The Gideons’ have a rolling counter on their website that keeps track of the number of bibles distributed. That number is over 2 billion… and counting. For nearly 110 years, the Gideons have survived and thrived. They offer a unique service, and virtually everyone knows what a Gideon bible is. And maybe more importantly, where it is. That is amazing branding.” Under the Influence – Brand Envy 2016
When I heard that I thought it amazing that all this occurred because two strangers were unafraid to talk about their faith. I can only imagine the conversation between two men meeting in a hotel for the first time, probably exchanging pleasantries, asking about each other’s work, about their families, perhaps about the difficulties of life on the road. However it must have quickly deepened to the point where they were willing to open up about how their respective faiths have impacted their work, their families, and their life on the road.
Because two people shared their faith and listened to each other, billions of people over the last century have read and found comfort in the bibles they distributed. Who knows how many have actually found their faith through this non-denominational Christian group (the Gideons are not a religious denomination; they do not hold any religious services). That is what evangelization is, and it can have an enormous impact on our world.
I think that evangelization is intimidating to Catholics, because either we think it requires us to have all the answers in case somebody asks us a question about our faith. Or, perhaps we feel it is simply rude or impertinent to ask someone about their faith and share something of our own faith experience. If it is the former, well then I agree, and I don’t have all the answers either. But luckily we aren’t required to have all the answers. If it is the latter, then we need to create a culture where it is normal to share our faith.
At St. Benedict they make great efforts to address both these issues. To the first concern about finding the answers to questions, St. Benedict has two ways of equipping people; Discipleship Groups which allow people to grow in their understanding of the faith through Bible Studies and faith sharing programs, and the Alpha program which is designed to help people understand the answers to life’s big questions. The key however is not to get evangelizers to take Alpha so that they have the answers themselves, but rather to offer Alpha as the place where the evangelizer can invite someone to join them to find the answers together.
To the second concern, St. Benedict tries to make witnessing and sharing our faith and our story a normal part of the parish culture. In Connect Groups people are encouraged to share with others how they came to know Jesus, or how their faith has impacted their lives. At mass there are occasionally short witness talks given by ordinary parishioners tied into the theme of the homily. Any appeal or announcement at the end of mass done by a parishioner is expected to be presented as a witness to how a particular program or activity has positively impacted them. At different gatherings or workshops, sessions usually start off with short ice-breakers as a way to get to know some of the people there, but also because it makes sharing something of our lives normative.
Sharing our faith is not something that comes easily to a typical Catholic parishioner, and St. Benedict is no different than any other parish. But they do know that it is essential if a parish is to fulfill its mission of making disciples of all nations, so it deliberately and intentionally tries to equip people to live out that mission. St. Benedict gives people the tools to learn more about their faith (Discipleship Groups), provides a place for people to invite others to discover more about how faith can make a difference (Alpha), and most importantly intentionally creates a culture where sharing our faith is normal.
Because two men shared their faith in a hotel room in Boscobel, Wisconsin, the Gideons were formed and more than a 110 years later over 2 billion bibles have touched people and brought them comfort. What then can one parish do when it equips and encourages every parishioner to share their faith? The mind boggles.
Lord Jesus, you commissioned all of us to make disciples of all nations, send your Holy Spirit once more to give us the courage and clarity of purpose to be able to share the Good News with unabashed joy.