Sunday, June 01, 2014

Take Courage

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.  Acts 19:5-6

“Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone.  But I am not alone, because the Father is with me.  I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.  In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”  John 16:32-33

Jesus never wavered in knowing that God would not abandon him yet we waver.  Help us to remember that you will never forget your people because you have carved us on the palm of Your hand.  With Jesus as our forever sibling, we will never be left orphaned or forgotten. 

Today’s “good” news foretells the fulfilment of the prophetic words from the Hebrew Bible:  “Strike the shepherd that the sheep may be scattered.”  (Zechariah 13:7)  Jesus knows that the events to unfold will shake the faith that the disciples have in Jesus.  However, he also knows that the Holy Spirit will return to repair and strengthen that faith experience in these disciples, in us and in people to come after us.

When the civil and religious leaders who turned on Jesus failed to fulfill their part of the social contract, they lost the right to govern.  It was their duty to protect the anaweim:  the “little” powerless ones of society such as widows, orphans and the weak.  As the prophet Ezekiel predicted, “You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the stray or seek the lost but ruled them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts. They were scattered.”  (Ezekiel 34:4-5).  So initially, the “sheep” scattered from following false shepherds when they re-turned to the Good Shepherd Jesus.

Even though most of his closest friends will scatter once again, Jesus overcomes the loneliness of his human nature and knows that the Father will never abandon him.   God is the embodiment of the spirit of Immanuel.  God is with us and with Jesus.  “The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.”  (John 8:29)

Still, there is something sweetly ironic about declaring that he has conquered the world when in a few short hours, the world will see Jesus hanging on a tree with three nails and a sword piercing his scarred, whipped and thorn-crowned body.  The world will think that is the life of this annoying-to-some itinerant preacher is finally over and his word is silenced when they roll a boulder in front of his tomb.  The world will be wrong.

The cultural tug-of-war that is part and parcel to being a Catholic these days continues.  We have a Pope in Rome who eschews the showy trappings of power yet stories persist of expensive residences being built for bishops in North America and Europe.  The Pope softens his tone on some of the culture wars that have marked the last 20 years yet institutions still pick fights that are not on the side of the poor scattering the sheep into traditional and modern camps.   
Sometimes, I feel like those scattered disciples who must be wondering, “If this is what conquering the world looks and feels like, then I want no part of it.”  Jesus is the “anti-general” who conquers the world by not conquering the world.  He refuses to participate in the show.

The writings of the late Fr. Richard Martin really resonate at times when the divide between Christians and Catholics get magnified.  The May 25 bulletin at Nativity quoted an old column of his reflecting on (now) Saint Pope John XXIII.

One of [Pope John XXIII’s] favorite sayings that has become [Fr. Martin’s] as well is: “Let us look at what unites us rather than what divides us.” For me that was never difficult to do having been raised in an interfaith family with aunts, uncles and cousins of different religious backgrounds. Walls were never allowed to go up, and our many diversities never stopped all of us from loving one another and sitting down to break bread together. As Blessed Pope John XXIII said: “Whenever I see a wall between Christians, I try to pull out a brick.” In my ministry I have always tried to see the Good Shepherd who cared for all!

What brick will you remove?

PS:  Before canonization, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was referred to as “Good Pope John XXIII.”  So, is he now Good Saint Pope John XXIII or Saint Good Pope John XXIII?

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