Saturday, February 2, 2013

Homily: The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany/Sexagesima

(Stations of the Cross: St. Francis: Dallas)

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.

The rule in the stock market, gambling, and public speaking, especially preaching is quit when you ahead, when you are winning. We have all had the experience: the preacher at long last is coming in for a landing but then he decides to circle one more time before he lands. A good way to run out of gas and say something which does need to be said, something which you wish you had not said.

That seems to be the problem with Jesus preaching at the synagogue at Nazareth.

“All spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth”. Jesus had them in the palm of his hand. But then he, not the people, raises issues, problems which no one is worried about.

Don’t expect me to do any miracles.

No prophet is acceptable in his own country

Elijah and Elisha did not work miracles for Jews but for Gentiles.

“All in the synagogue were filled with wrath”.

But Jesus did not intend to win at Nazareth and he did not intend to win with a sermon.He was going to win on the cross when men tried to shut him up for good.

All four gospels mention the rejection of Jesus: John most succinctly: “he came to his own and his own received him not”.

But it is only St. Luke who includes the detail of an attempted murder.

St. Luke’s Gospel is always dropping hints about where Jesus is going and what is going to happen to him.

Yesterday the Church celebrated the Presentation of the Lord, which comes to us from St. Luke and we heard the prophecy of Simeon:

“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against”.

And to Our Lady: “a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed."

Luke constantly reminds us that Jesus is always on the road to Jerusalem

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem”..

A Samaritan village does not receive  Jesus, “because his face was set toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51-53).

He goes his way through towns and villages, teaching, and always journeying toward Jerusalem

“On the way to Jerusalem, he is met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance”.

The Gospel today points us toward Palm Sunday and Holy Week:

The fickleness of the crowd:  they all spoke well of him but then they want to throw him off the cliff

First, “Hosanna to the Son of David”  then “crucify him, crucify him”.

“Physician heal thyself” and the m0cking of him on the cross: “Are you not the Messiah?  Save yourself and us!”

At Nazareth they put him out of the city just as at Jerusalem he was crucified outside the city.

The rejection of Jesus is not only part of the story: it is the story but it is the part of the story which we would just as soon do without. It is the part of the story which is always played down, whenever folks try to make the Gospel more appealing, more upbeat, more in tune with what people want: a successful Gospel for successful people. But without rejection there is nothing at all to the Gospel. It is just another not very helpful self-help program.

This next Week we will commemorate another rejection of Jesus, thousands and thousands of miles away from Nazareth, the Japanese Martyrs, Fr. Paul Miki and his companions, 26 Christians including 3 young boys who were crucified in Nagasaki Feb 5 1597.

As it happens I have just finished reading Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence which is set about 50 years after the martyrdom of the 26.

Japan is interesting example of the failure of Christian evangelism. There are more Christians in Iraq than in Japan. After 150 years of pervasive westernization and evangelism the number of Christians in Japan stands at about 1 percent.

Yet most Japanese celebrate Christmas. 70 percent of the weddings are Christian style. Many national education institutions are Christian.

The persecution of the Christians in Japan was ferocious, over 4000 killed and Endo’s novel is not pleasant reading.  By the middle of the 17th century the Japanese authorities had realized that getting the Christians to apostatize, to publicly reject Christianity, especially the priests was much more effective than creating more martyrs.  

They did this by means of having them trample upon the fumi, a board to which was attached a crucifix. Torture was one way to get this result – but the most effective way was to threaten to kill Japanese converts, if the priests did not apostatize.

But what makes this book disturbing and controversial is that it is not about a priest who was martyred but about a priest who trampled the image of Jesus crucified. The title Silence comes from the silence of God the priest experiences, when he prays as he witnesses the endless tortures and deaths of Christians and goes to his own inevitable arrest. When at last it is his turn to trample upon the cross, Jesus finally speaks “trample me, trample me, for I came into the world to be trampled”. 

In the end this priest proves himself to be not Judas  but only Peter.

The failure of Christianity in Japan should make us question its success in the West.  Is it just because in Richard Niebuhr’s famous assessment we have come to believe in  "a God without wrath who brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross."

Or will we follow him  all the way  to Jerusalem.

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.

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