Not enough evidence. Bertrand Russell was a famous British philosopher who died in 1970. Russell was an outspoken atheist. Once, someone asked Russell what he would do if he was to come face to face with God after dying and if God were to ask him for an explanation for his failure to believe. Russell replied, “I would tell him, ‘Not enough evidence’”. Personally, I would have liked to ask Dr. Russell what kind of evidence would have convinced him that God exists? Everyone – I think – whether they believe in God or not, has an idea of what God would have to do to prove to the world that he is real. Why God doesn’t do it is another question…
A sign refused. But what about Jesus? What do we do with him? In Monday’s gospel, the Pharisees ask Jesus for a “sign”, for proof that he is a genuine spokesman for God. They have their idea of what a legitimate sign would be, and they wait for Jesus to perform one. But Jesus refuses to play their game. No matter what Jesus does – he had just fed 4,000 people with 7 loaves of bread and a few fish – the Pharisees won’t believe that Jesus has been sent by God. Their lack of belief, their lack of faith in Jesus prevents them from understanding what is happening right under their noses. Hence Jesus’ repeated frustration and his warnings about having ears and not hearing and about having eyes and not seeing. People see what they want to see, and they don’t see what they don’t want to see.
Seek first the kingdom. This is also one of the reasons that Jesus is reluctant to perform healings and so often insists on secrecy. His compassion compels him to heal people, but Jesus never performs a healing in order to “prove” that he has been sent from God. Even in Mark chapter 2, where Jesus heals a paralyzed man after having told him that his sins are forgiven, Jesus tells the man to get up and walk in order to demonstrate how relatively easy it is to heal him compared to forgiving him his sins. It is only at the end of the Gospel that we will realize just how “difficult” the forgiveness of sins is for Jesus. Jesus doesn’t want to draw attention to his healings, though sometimes he is angered into healing someone, like the man in the synagogue with a withered hand. Jesus is angered by the fact that the Pharisees put more stock in rigorous Sabbath observance than the good of the sick man. Jesus proceeds to heal the man’s hand; however, Jesus doesn’t base his authority on his miracles. Also, Jesus wants to draw people into relationship with himself, he invites people to trust him, to follow him, not because he is a healer, but because he is the agent of the Kingdom of God, he is the agent of God’s forgiveness, the One who sets people free from guilt and fear. The Jesus we discover in Mark’s gospel doesn’t fit a pre-made profile, he doesn’t fit into any categories that people had at the time. As we will see tomorrow, Jesus doesn’t even fit into the “Messiah” category that the disciples had. Jesus is who he is, and he invites people to follow him – to the cross. The important thing is the kingdom of God, and when the kingdom arrives, it doesn’t look like a “miracle”, it doesn’t seem to be a manifestation of “power”. As far as Mark is concerned, if miracles happen, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t be the focus.
So what? Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury in the Church of England, tells the story of a priest who had the task of hearing confessions in a certain convent. Once, as the priest was praying with a sister in the chapel, the sister poked him and said, “Father, there is an angel over there by the altar!” The priest replied, “Nonsense sister. Get on with your prayers.” The sister obeyed. Afterwards, she insisted: “Father, I really did see an angel by the altar.” The priest said to her, “I know you did. I saw it too. So what?” This is Mark’s attitude to miracles.
Eyes opened wide. In today’s gospel, Jesus cures a blind man. It is a deeply personal story with several interesting details. In order to get the blind man away from the crowd, Jesus takes him by the hand and leads him out of the village. After putting saliva on his eyes and laying hands on him, Jesus asks him if he can see. He replies that he can see people, but they look like trees, walking. Mark doesn’t tell us if the man was born blind, but if he was, the exchange between the man and Jesus leads to some interesting questions. How did the man know what trees – or people – were supposed to look like? Anyway, Jesus lays hands on him a second time, and this time, the man can see clearly. If the man had indeed been born blind, the first thing he ever saw was …Jesus. As usual, Jesus doesn’t want people to know what has happened, and he sends the man on his way, instructing him to avoid the village.
Blind disciples. Mark has deliberately placed the episode of the healing of the bling man right before tomorrow’s gospel reading, which is the story of Peter’s confession of faith. The disciples have not grasped who Jesus actually is, but then again, how could they have? There are several similarities between the two episodes. Jesus leads the disciples to Caesarea Philippi, north of Galilee, away from the crowds. He asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples give him people’s incorrect answers. Then Jesus asks them a second question, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter then gives a correct answer – even though, as soon becomes clear, he doesn’t have a clue what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah. Jesus then orders the disciples not to tell anyone about him. What good would it do for the disciples to try and tell others about Jesus? They don’t even understand who he is. Attracting attention to Jesus would just lead to more confusion and misunderstanding.
Mark is a dark gospel. However, Mark has let us, the readers, in on the secret from the very first verse: The beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. But as we read the story, we have to let go of what we thought those terms mean. Finally, we get to the climax of the story, and Jesus is crucified. This is the moment where everything will be revealed. We read in chapter 15: “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (15.37-39). The Roman soldier who had supervised Jesus’ execution finds himself, as it were, standing on the doorstep of the Holy of Holies, and the curtain has been torn open… and he sees, and he believes. This pagan soldier, who had just nailed God to a cross, is the first human being in Mark’s gospel to recognize Jesus as God’s Son! We might be tempted to say that this is a strange conclusion to draw from some very strange evidence. To recognize God in the face of the crucified Jesus and to follow the man from Nazareth requires that the veil be torn, that our eyes be opened, that we be converted. To believe, to trust this man with your life is to see …God. But is this the God we want? Amen.
Things aren’t always what they seem. How many of us have ever admired a beautiful sunrise or sunset? I don’t know about you, but I always seem to take more notice of the sunset when I’m in a different country. Now, when we’re contemplating the beauty of the setting sun, we’re probably not thinking about what’s going on at the level of the solar system. We speak of the Sun “rising” in the east and “setting” in the west, but we know that this is not what’s actually happening. In spite of the way things look, we know that the Sun isn’t orbiting the Earth; rather, the Earth is orbiting the Sun, all the while spinning on its axis. Every day, the Earth spins around, giving us the impression that the Sun is moving. We might take all of this for granted now, but it was disturbing news when the Italian astronomer Galileo broke the story in the 17th century. Once Galileo had looked through his telescope, our planet could no longer be considered the unmovable center of the universe. This radical idea, that the Earth was orbiting the Sun, seemed pretty unlikely to many people.
Paul’s world. In today’s second reading, we have a few lines from a letter written by an unlikely preacher to an unlikely community about an unlikely message. Why so unlikely? Let’s back up a bit from the frame. The world of Jesus, Paul and the first Christians was the world of Rome. The Roman Empire stretched from Britannia to Judea, from Germany to North Africa. The Romans had adopted the philosophical wisdom of Greece and combined it with their political and military might to create the greatest civilization the world had ever known. As far as the Caesars were concerned, with the rise of Roman civilization, humanity had arrived. The philosophers knew what the world was and what it could be, and the emperors had the power to make it happen. The philosophers had debunked the old gods, though the temples remained and sacrifices continued to be offered, but “intelligent” people knew that it was all nonsense. This doesn’t mean that there was no longer an interest in spirituality. Au contraire, there were more religious movements in the first-century Roman world than you could shake a stick at: a variety of so-called “mystery-religions” involving secret initiation ceremonies promised life-giving knowledge to those who underwent them, and representatives of different philosophical schools were scurrying around the empire seeking to satisfy spiritual seekers. Never had the world seen such advances in technology and knowledge; never before had the world been so interconnected; never had communication and travel been easier; never before had the world seen such an effective political system; the Caesars held the titles of “Saviour” and “Lord”; they had brought “peace” to the world (they had to kill a lot of people first, but…); never before had so much power been concentrated in one person; but of course, it was for everyone’s good; Roman justice assured stability and if there was trouble anywhere, all that was necessary was to send in the troops and deal with the problem. Sound familiar?
Unlikely community. This was the state of affairs when the God who created the world decided to reclaim it, decided to establish his kingdom on earth. This was when the creator decided to finally unveil his wisdom and his power. What would that look like? Even though Paul had tried to explain this to the Corinthians when he founded their community, they quickly forgot what was unique about the “good news” that Paul had proclaimed to them as well as the difference that the gospel was supposed to make in their life together. After Paul had founded the community, other Christian leaders had spent time in Corinth and had encouraged the Corinthians in their faith. Then, disaster struck: the community divided into four different groups, with each group taking on the shape of a philosophical school; each group claimed to belong to a different leader! Each group was proud of the fact that “their” leader was the wisest and the best teacher of the faith, and the different groups were embroiled in jealous quarreling and competition. So, in today’s reading, Paul has to remind the Corinthians of the message that they had responded to at the beginning, and also of the way in which he had proclaimed it.
Unlikely message. The message that Paul had proclaimed to the Corinthians was so unlike anything that the world had heard that no one could take credit for coming up with it. Being a Christian wasn’t a matter of outsmarting other philosophical movements or schools of thought, as if the gospel was simply one more religious option whose success depended on the cleverness of its representatives. No, the message that had given birth to the Christian community in Corinth was about something that had happened, something that the creator God had done to reveal his wisdom and power and thus save the world.
What exactly had God done? When Paul had come to Corinth, he had started talking about someone named Jesus who had been crucified – publicly executed in the cruellest, most degrading way imaginable at the time. That was strange enough. I mean, who goes around talking about the execution of a criminal in some far-off corner of the empire? Why is that “good news”? Paul insisted that the crucifixion of Jesus was the turning point in world history, that this is how the creator God had revealed his wisdom and power, that this Jesus is now “Lord” of the world and is calling all people to be loyal to him. If you wanted to get a new religion off the ground in the first-century Roman Empire, this was not the most advisable way to go about it. As they say, “You can’t make this stuff up”. Paul’s message had a sharp edge to it: he was not simply adding one more choice to the spiritual smorgasbord of the Empire. Oh no; Paul was announcing something much more radical – there is a new Lord of the world, and his name is Jesus. This Jesus has now been enthroned in the position of supreme authority and power and everyone on earth is summoned to be loyal to him, to join those who follow and worship him, and thus become members of the new humanity that God is creating. If all this strikes us as being a bit crazy, don’t worry; it sounded crazy in the first century as well.
Not only did it sound crazy, but it sounded dangerous. As one bishop once said, “Everywhere St. Paul went, there was a riot; everywhere I go, they serve tea”. At one point in his travels, Paul and his accomplices came to the Greek city of Thessalonica. As usual, civil unrest soon broke out and the complaint put before the local authorities was that Paul and his friends had “turned the world upside down”, saying that there was another Lord besides Caesar, named Jesus. In Paul’s world, there was always room for one more religious option; however, there was only room for one Lord. Caesar didn’t care which gods you worshipped, or which religious movement you belonged to, as long as you recognized his ultimate authority, not only as a politician, but also as a divinity.
What Paul was doing was to offer a deliberate challenge to Caesar’s claims, not only by announcing Jesus as Lord, but also by founding communities of people who would give ultimate allegiance and obedience to Jesus. Paul’s Christianity was a counter-cultural, world-upsetting movement – it was a blueprint for a new humanity, a fresh vision of the world, of God, of oneself, of everything. Those who believed Paul’s message found themselves to be members of a new community. They were, as Paul says to the Corinthians, “called to be saints” – called to be upside-down people, or rather, right-side-up people in an upside-down world. This was what it looked like for the power and wisdom of the creator God to reclaim his world, the first-century world and our world too, the world of technological wisdom and the power of brute force.
Unlikely messenger. As we’ve seen, you don’t go around the Roman Empire proclaiming that kind of message and come away unscathed. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they hadn’t accepted his gospel because of his impressive rhetorical skills or commanding physical presence. He had come to them “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling”. And yet, the power of God had accompanied his preaching and the community had come into existence. Paul is determined to get the Corinthians’ focus off of him and the other leaders and to get their focus onto God, the God who had decided, in his wisdom, to save them through the foolishness of Paul’s preaching (1 Co. 1.21).
In orbit around God. The gospel is no more plausible today than it was 2,000 years ago. To a world that had everything figured out, Paul proclaimed the radical message that its true Lord was a “nobody” who had been crucified in an obscure corner of the empire. The message of the cross, the message of the God whose wisdom and power are revealed through foolishness and weakness, still cuts across all our pride and opens us up to the possibility of receiving the salvation that only God can give us. As we gaze upon the horror of Jesus dying on the cross, let’s remember that this is where the true God revealed his power, the power of love. Is all this likely? No. Then again, God does not orbit around us; we are in orbit around God. The gospel is not likely; it is our faith.
A handy bookworm. Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I love to read. In my room in the rectory, books are to be found from the floor to the ceiling. If I could do nothing but read all day, every day, I would. Reading, learning and speaking seem to be among my natural abilities. However, yesterday, I surprised someone. This person saw me in the process of changing a toilet seat. The person said to me, “I didn’t know you were so handy.” I don’t pretend to be a handyman by any means, but changing a toilet seat is among the few “handy” things that I manage to do.
A wise carpenter. In today’s gospel, we see the same phenomenon happen in reverse. Everyone in Nazareth knows who Jesus is – he’s the local carpenter, the neighbourhood handyman, the son of Mary. But where did he get this wisdom to teach with such authority? Who does he think he is? As we might have said at one time, he’s getting a bit big for his britches. Last week, we saw the building tension between Jesus and the members of his family. At one point, when Jesus’ ministry of healing was keeping him so busy that he didn’t have time to take meals, his family thought Jesus had lost his mind. Then they decided that they would compel Jesus to come home and start behaving like a normal person. However, as his family was lying in wait for him on the edge of the crowd, Jesus looked at those sitting around him and said, “You are the members of my family; whoever does the will of God is my mother, my sister, my brother.”
Homecoming. In today’s gospel however, Jesus has decided to pay a visit to the village of Nazareth, the town where he had grown up and where he had lived and worked until going off to request baptism from John. Then as now, there are no secrets in a small town; and there is a lot of gossip, some of it true, some of it truish. Ever since the day that Jesus had left town, strange reports had been making their way back to Nazareth. We can imagine the talk at the local pub (or wherever people gathered in Nazareth to shoot the breeze): “Remember Jesus the carpenter? He’s wandering all over Galilee casting out demons and healing people – he cured a leper, I heard he even raised a young girl from the dead! Huge crowds are following him everywhere. What do you make of that?” Others might have chimed in, “I knew it was a bad idea, him going off into the wilderness with that crazy cousin of his. I knew no good would come of it.” Imagine the atmosphere in the synagogue that Saturday morning. “He’s back! But who are these 12 people with him? Let’s hear what he has to say for himself.” After listening to Jesus teach, however, the townspeople are offended. They cannot accept that God would have anything unique in mind for Jesus. “Jesus – he used to repair my plough, he redid the roof of my house that one time. For the past several months, he’s been off, God knows where, embarrassing his family; now he comes back, and he thinks he’s going to tell us something about our faith? What nerve! Don’t worry, we’ll bring him down a peg or two.”
More than a carpenter. Then Jesus makes a revealing statement: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house”. This is indeed what most people outside of Nazareth thought Jesus was; this was the category that came to mind as they watched Jesus go around teaching and healing. In chapter 8, when Jesus asks the disciples who people think he is, they reply that folks think he’s “John the Baptist… Elijah… one of the prophets” (8.28). Now, it’s important to emphasize that the people weren’t completely wrong; they had the right category. Jesus was more than a prophet, but he wasn’t less than a prophet. Think of the prophets of the Old Testament: their primary task was to speak the “word of the Lord”, to communicate Yahweh’s message to his people. This message was often one that the people did not want to hear; it was often a call to repent, to change their ways, to turn away from idols and renew their trust in Yahweh, to reform their worship practices, to stop acting like the pagan nations all around and to live as the people of God. Sometimes prophets would perform miraculous signs and healings. So, as people observed Jesus, they assumed that this was what he was – a messenger from God endowed with the power to heal.
Profession: prophet. Now, the thing about prophets is that they didn’t have what we would call “accreditation”. “Prophet” wasn’t on the list of career options for Israelite boys and girls. There was no “seminary” for prophets. Before being called by God, prophets had a wide variety of professions – some, like Ezekiel and Jeremiah, had been priests; others, like Amos, had been shepherds. They had respected, or at least, recognizable occupations, until the day that God called them to be his prophets, his messengers. We have many stories in the Bible of people being called to be prophets, and all these stories have one thing in common: the person chosen to be a prophet is never happy about it. Most prophets, like Moses at the burning bush, tried to make excuses and worm their way out of their new vocation. However, it’s not easy to say No to God – just ask Jonah. The job of a prophet was one of confrontation – confronting evil and sin and confronting those in power. Think of Nathan confronting King David about his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband or Elijah confronting King Ahab about his murder of Naboth so that he could take his land or John the Baptist confronting King Herod about his affair with his sister-in-law. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy being a prophet.
As a prophet, one was outside of the usual structures of society. If you didn’t like what a prophet was doing, there was no “customer service department” that you could call to make a complaint. It was hard to control a prophet. During the period of the Israelite monarchy, there were some prophets, like Isaiah, who enjoyed official status and belonged to the king’s court. However, the official prophets were often corrupted and manipulated into telling the king what he wanted to hear. Most of the time, prophets operated independently of social and political systems and insisted on proclaiming an uncompromising message of judgment on sin and the hope of salvation for those who would repent. As a result, prophets were often on the receiving end of violence and most were martyred.
Back to Nazareth. With his reply to the folks in the synagogue, Jesus ironically confirms the people of Nazareth in their rejection of him. You are offended, you dishonour me? Of course you do, because I’m a prophet. The people of Nazareth had pigeon-holed Jesus – he’s the carpenter, end of story. There’s something unnerving about discovering that the guy you’ve been going to for years to fix things around the house is actually a messenger of God. I mean, we know how to handle a carpenter, but a prophet? What do you do when you have a prophet for a neighbour? You might close your curtains more often, for one thing. What about us? Have we domesticated Jesus? Do we think of Jesus in such a way that he is simply useful to us? Do we read the whole gospel, including Jesus’ many warnings and exhortations to repent, to change our ways, our attitudes? What do we think of Jesus the prophet? If there is one thing we know about prophets, they are always full of surprises. Amen.
Codes during WW II. By the summer of 1940, most of Europe had been overrun by the Nazis. The BBC in London transmitted a daily series of coded messages to allow the Allies based in England to communicate with the Resistance in France, to ask them to plot various sabotages and, most importantly, to prepare for the upcoming landing in Normandy, which eventually occurred on June 6, 1944. A few days before D-Day, the commanding officers of the Resistance were expecting a very significant message. When said twice, the first line of the poem by Verlaine, Chanson d’Automne, “Les sanglots longs des violons de l’automne” meant that the “day” was imminent, and when the second line “blesse mon Coeur d’une langueur monotone” was also repeated, the Resistance knew that the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe would take place within the next 48 hours. Messages such as: “Il fait chaud à Suez” (It’s hot in Suez), “Jean aime Marie” (John loves Marie), or “La Flèche ne passera pas” (the Arrow will not get through), all told the members of the Resistance it was time to go about their respective missions, which included destroying water towers or entire communication networks, or dynamiting selected roadways.
Locating the kingdom. Something similar is going on in Mark chapter 4. Jesus is telling a series of parables about the kingdom of God. In the 15th verse of his Gospel, Mark gives us a summary of Jesus’ preaching – Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming that “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Similar to the correspondence between the BBC and the members of the French resistance, Jesus was telling his fellow Galileans that the moment they had been waiting for had arrived, and it was time to take appropriate action. But what kind of action? What exactly was the kingdom that Jesus was talking about? The kingdom of God was a tricky subject at the time of Jesus, and it still is for us today. We often speak of the “kingdom of God” as if it was a synonym for “heaven”, the place where we hope to eventually arrive at after death. This understanding is probably due in part to the often recurring phrase “kingdom of heaven” that we find in St. Matthew’s gospel. We assume that we know what “heaven” means, so “the kingdom of heaven” must refer to that place of eternal bliss. However, already in Matthew’s gospel, we have clues that this isn’t quite what Jesus had in mind. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “may your kingdom come…on earth as in heaven” (Mt. 6.10). So, the kingdom of God is something that is for our world. Another clue is found in St. Luke’s gospel, in the parable of the prodigal son. After having squandered his inheritance in a foreign land, the son comes home and says to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you” (Lk. 15.21). Here we see that “heaven” is code for “God”. So, as far as Jesus was concerned, “the kingdom of heaven/God” did NOT refer to a place one would go after death. So, what did the kingdom of God mean for Jesus? We find a clue in chapter 52 of the book of Isaiah. As Isaiah is describing Israel’s return from exile in Babylon, as well as Yahweh’s return to his people, he says:
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger … who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Listen! Your sentinels … sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion” (52.7-8).
For Isaiah, the result of Yahweh establishing his reign, i.e. his kingdom, would be the restoration of Israel, the forgiveness of sins, the fulfillment of the promises.
Establishing the kingdom. If most people at the time of Jesus were waiting for the moment when God would begin to reign over his people and the world, or perhaps over the world through his people, not everyone was agreed as to what this would look like, and how they should be preparing for it. Different groups had different kingdom-programs, including that of violent revolt against the Romans. As it turns out, Jesus had his own understanding of the kingdom of God, an understanding that was so radical that he had to speak about it in code-language, i.e. in parables.
The Kingdom Code. It is sometimes said that parables are basically straightforward stories that are pretty easy to understand. Didn’t Jesus deliberately tell stories about the realities of his listeners’ daily lives – planting seed, tending sheep, hidden treasure, unpayable debt, fishing, etc. – so that they would easily grasp what he was trying to say? To be sure, phrases like “Jean aime Marie” are very easy to understand, at one level. But what if there is a hidden level of meaning? Actually, Jesus himself said that he used parables in order that people would NOT understand what he was saying! After telling the parable of the Sower at the beginning of Mark chapter 4, Jesus ends by saying, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (4.9). That’s a clue that there’s more going on in the story than “meets the ear”. Mark goes on to say:
“When (Jesus) was alone…the (disciples) asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand…’” (4.10-12; cf. Is. 6.9-10).
Cracking the code. So, how do we crack the kingdom-code? First of all, we need to always keep in mind that, in the Gospels, Jesus was speaking to the people who were right in front of him – first-century Jews who were waiting for the arrival of the kingdom of God. Jesus’ contemporaries were waiting for the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promises in their Scriptures. Actually, the image of a farmer planting seed is a frequent image in the Old Testament prophets for the moment when Yahweh would “re-plant” Israel in the Promised Land after her exile. The prophet Amos had said, “I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them, says the Lord your God” (9.15). Through his parables about seed being sown, Jesus was saying: God is restoring his people, he is fulfilling his promises, through what I am doing. The kingdom is being established, not through an obvious, violent demonstration of military power, blowing Israel’s enemies to smithereens; no, God is rather establishing his reign through a subtle, quiet process of people being healed one at a time, of people following Jesus and finding themselves gradually transformed by his love and mercy. The disciples, those who have faith in Jesus, who trust him, are enabled to understand the mystery of the kingdom. What is the kingdom of God? It is God’s reign, it is God’s power of love to bring healing to a broken world, to broken lives. We are called to be beneficiaries of this kingdom and also to be agents of this kingdom. We are members of God’s resistance against the evil forces of this world. Let anyone with ears to hear listen! Amen.
Une vocation non-souhaitée. Au mois de septembre passé, on a vu l’apparition d’un film qu’on a fait sur la vie du Pape François. Dans une des premières scènes, on voit un jeune Jorge Bergoglio assis à table avec sa grand-mère alors que sa maman lui crie après, tout en jetant des bouquins sur la table. La mère de Jorge venait de découvrir plusieurs livres de théologie et de spiritualité parmi ses bouquins d’école. Elle capote (comme on dit) en lui criant : « Qu’est-ce qui se passe? Tu veux devenir prêtre? Veux-tu être seul toute ta vie? » Le sacerdoce ne figurait pas parmi les rêves que la mère de Jorge avait pour l’avenir de son fils. L’idée que son fils devient prêtre lui remplissait d’une profonde anxiété.
Au Québec, au moment donné, il avait une tradition ou le fils aîné d’une famille devenait prêtre et la fille aînée, religieuse; on pourra dire presque automatiquement. Mais il reste que les choses ne se passent plus comme ça. La mère de Jorge Bergoglio est loin d’être la seule mère qui ne souhaite aucunement qu’un de ses fils consacre sa vie au service de Dieu et de l’Église. Il y a un genre de proverbe qui existe dans plusieurs communautés culturelles : « Nous savons très bien que l’Église a besoin des jeunes hommes qui vont répondre à l’appel du Seigneur, mais mon fils ne sera pas parmi eux! »
La folie & la honte. Dans l’évangile d’aujourd’hui, on voit qu’il y avait de la tension entre Jésus et les membres de sa famille. La réputation de Jésus comme guérisseur se répand de plus en plus, et les gens viennent de tout part pour être guéris de leurs maladies et libérés des emprises démoniaques. Finalement, la nouvelle fraie son chemin jusqu’à la maison familiale. Dès le verset 20 du chapitre 3 de Marc, comme d’habitude, une foule de gens avait entouré la maison de Jésus, pour trouver auprès de lui la guérison. Tel sont les besoins des gens que Jésus et ses disciples n’arrivent même pas à trouver le temps pour manger. Quand la famille de Jésus est mise au parfum, on vient ramener Jésus de force à la maison. En effet, les membres de sa famille pensaient qu’il était devenu fou. Non seulement ça, mais les scribes venant de Jérusalem disaient que Jésus était possédé d’un démon, et qu’il chassait des esprits impurs avec la puissance de Satan. Quelle honte!
Les foules. Dans l’évangile de S. Marc, les foules jouent un rôle important. Bien que leur présence constante est parois une inconvenance pour Jésus, elles font office de « garde de corps » pour Jésus. Ceci est évident surtout vers la fin de l’évangile, dès que Jésus mette le pied à Jérusalem. Les autorités cherchent immédiatement à faire mourir Jésus, mais ils ne peuvent rien contre lui à cause de la présence des foules. Voilà pourquoi ils ont eu recours à Judas afin de s’emparer de Jésus d’une manière clandestine. Dans l’évangile d’aujourd’hui, la foule « protège » Jésus de sa famille qui, croyant savoir ce qui est bon pour lui, veut mettre fin à son ministère et lui ramener à la maison.
La famille. Il faut comprendre que chez les Juifs à l’époque de Jésus (comme pour beaucoup de cultures encore aujourd’hui), la famille était sacrée. Être loyal envers sa famille était la manière personnelle d’exprimer sa loyauté envers Israël comme le peuple de Dieu. Accomplir ses obligations envers sa famille était même un signe de fidélité à Dieu. Le 5e des 10 Commandements dit le suivant : « Honore ton père et ta mère afin de jouir d’une longue vie dans le pays que l’Éternel ton Dieu te donne » (Ex. 20.12). Sûrement, c’était bien ça, la volonté de Dieu pour les enfants! Dans le cas de la famille de Jésus, on peut présumer que, à ce moment-ci, Joseph était mort, et qu’on s’attendait à ce que Jésus, le fils aîné de la famille, était pour assurer le bien-être des siens. Mais là, il avait quitté la maison pour entreprendre un ministère itinérant comme guérisseur, exorciste et prophète. C’était de la folie!
Une nouvelle famille. Alors qu’on informe Jésus que sa famille lui attend à l’extérieur de la maison, Jésus prononce des paroles radicales : « Qui sont ma mère et mes frères? … celui qui fait la volonté de Dieu, celui-là est pour moi un frère, une sœur, ou une mère. » Jésus est en train de redéfinir sa famille, et aussi le peuple de Dieu. Ce qui fait de quelqu’un un parent de Jésus, ou bien un membre du peuple de Dieu, c’est le fait d’accompagner Jésus. Pour Jésus, la volonté de Dieu est que les gens le suivent et portent attention à ses enseignements. Ce qui compte maintenant, c’est la loyauté envers Jésus! Ceux qui se trouvent avec Jésus se trouvent également à être sa famille!
L’étrange famille. Il y a beaucoup de choses qui rassemblent les gens : l’affiliation politique, la race, l’âge, les intérêts communs, le statut social ou économique, etc. Mais pensons à l’Église. Au sein de l’Église, et même de notre paroisse, se trouvent les gens ayants différentes opinions politiques, différents arrière-plans ethniques, des gens de tout âge, ayants différents statuts sociaux et économiques. Qu’est-ce qui nous unit en tant qu’Église? Pourquoi on se rassemble? Au-delà de toutes nos différences, il y a une chose qui nous unit : notre foi, notre loyauté envers Jésus. Quel intérêt avons-nous à nous tenir ensemble? L’apôtre Paul prend l’image d’un corps pour illustrer la nature de l’Église. L’Église est le corps du Christ, et nous, en tant qu’individus, sommes les membres du corps. Les membres d’un corps ont intérêt à rester ensemble… pour survivre! Les membres d’un corps n’existent pas pour rester seul, isolé. Les membres ont besoin les uns des autres pour rester en vie et pour s’épanouir. À travers l’œuvre de Jésus et de l’Esprit, Dieu est en train de créer une nouvelle humanité, ou l’objectif n’est pas de dominer sur les autres, mais plutôt de servir les autres avec les dons que l’Esprit saint donne à chacun d’entre nous.
Le défi pour nous est de voir quelle est notre première priorité. Jésus avait l’habitude de se retirer de ses disciples et des foules pour passer de temps à prier son Père, parfois en pleine nuit. Jésus avait un tel lien avec le Père qu’il pouvait discerner quelle était sa mission, bien que sa famille ne la comprenne pas. Jésus puisait dans sa vie de prière la force qu’il lui fallait de rester fidèle à son appel malgré l’opposition et la moquerie. Nous sommes entourés de tellement de pressions; tellement de voix; il y a tellement de gens et de choses qui réclament notre loyauté, notre temps, notre énergie. Prenons-nous le temps pour se mettre à l’écoute de Dieu? C’est la seule manière d’avoir la force nécessaire pour résister aux pressions quotidiennes, de voir clairement quel est notre identité, quelle est notre raison d’être. Notre vie de prière va nous permettre de faire des choix courageux, même si ça veut dire qu’on va passer pour des fous. Amen.
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.