This week we jump from the end of Mark’s gospel to the beginning. The idea of “waiting” is still present, but we are introduced to John the Baptist. His message is to repent and prepare. He baptises as a sign of forgiveness. In doing so, he adds a new word to our Advent as we repent and prepare. That word is change. It is a word that most don’t like to hear or do. Mostly, we are all set in our ways and pretty much satisfied with whom we are. In the comfort we feel, sometimes we forget that we can hurt others by what we do or say. It is easy to say repent and get ready for Christ’s coming, but do we really step back and take a close honest look at who we are. Jesus came at a time there was turmoil and disillusionment in the Jewish community. Many had wandered off from the teaching of the prophets, the priest, the temple and yearned for communing with God. John was an intriguing figure and they accepted him as a prophet or even maybe the promised Messiah. He was the attraction of his time drawing people from everywhere. His message was clear, repent, change, and wait for the one to come. I have always wondered why we use John in the desert preparing the people for Jesus’ ministry in preparing for Christmas. Yet, the liturgical year uses his message of repent and change at the beginning every year to prepare ourselves by calling on us in our season of wait to repent and change. Christ is certainly coming, first symbolically at Christmas, but also most assuredly to each of us in the future either near or far.
Today we start the new Liturgical Year, but we start it by going to the end part of Mark’s gospel to the prophecies of persecution and the times of tribulation and the destruction of the Temple. One thing standing out is the word in our liturgy today is the word and idea of “waiting.” Waiting for the Master who has gone away and will return at any time in the near or far future. Waiting for him to come at any time, any hour and to be prepared to open and let him in.
The first reading from Isaiah is from a time Israel had returned home to devastation and the ruins of their Temple. Very definitely there were gaps in their trust and faithfulness to God , gaps that they had to fill in to once again become his faithful people. The situation and state of the world seemed so hopeless for them, that giving trust and hope was difficult. God, however, responded to them giving them a “YET” in the promise of a coming of a savior. The when and where was unknown, but the “YET” was his only son Jesus who came to the world and to the Jewish people during a later time of occupation and subservience to Rome. The gospel today is from Jesus’ last days and after his account of the coming persecution and destruction of Jerusalem. It follows that as he tells them of the Master leaving and returning at an undetermined time. Ironically or unfortunately, almost every century has experienced the signs persecution and disorder and being cut off from God. Christianity has never been perfect, as mankind has never managed to fully and completely to be faithful. Our saving grace is that same “YET” we are reminded will come again to all who await God’s call. His call to wait, to be awake, to weather the times and persecutions to greet him when he comes, is still there. The season of Advent is here to remind us to watch and wait as we celebrate once again Christ’s coming as an infant in Bethlehem.
Christ the King11-26-17
I remember a Sunday school class, long ago. We were learning that God was omniscient, (all-knowing) omnipresent (everywhere), and omnipotent (all-powerful). The teacher hoped to “wow” us with the words. But we were the new generation – taught to ask questions & expecting answers. So someone asked, “Does that mean God is in the garbage can?” The questioner was not being rude or flippant; the question was honestly one for clarification. The poor teacher stuttered and stammered, and finally, hesitantly agreed that, “Yes”, everywhere was, indeed, everywhere, even undesirable places.
Now, I have some questions about “Christ the King”. “King” is a political title, masculine at that. God is not a gendered being. Jesus was not political. In fact, in John’s Gospel, Jesus says to Pilate, “My kingship is not of this world…” Jesus’ authority is not of any geopolitical space. And wasn’t the original purpose of “Christ the King” in 1925 to emphasize that Jesus was entirely different and far superior to those dictators violently grabbing for power across Europe? Wasn’t this the church’s attempt to remind us that military rule is the antithesis of Jesus’ message to love God and neighbor, the only “rule” necessary?
Thomas Friedman, a well- known New York Times columnist, recently published his latest book, “ Thank you for being Late: an optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of accelerations.” It’s a good read. The title refers to a friend being late for a lunch date, and Mr. Friedman having unexpected time when he could sit and think about some of the changes in our culture. The changes all seemed to revolve around technology altering the ways we relate to one another, market consumer goods, communicate, travel, view our world, and so on– and the increasingly rapid technological advances coming at us. Some one (who knows, maybe the kid from my Sunday school class) asked him this sincere question, “Is God in cyberspace?” Technology has expanded the universe beyond stars and galaxies. Like my teacher, Friedman didn’t know how to answer. So he asked his Rabbi.
Rabbi Marx responded from two different perspectives. The 1st is the traditional view from the Jewish Scriptures: God had Moses lead his people out of Egypt and he sent prophets to guide them. The Psalms are full of praise of God for saving people from danger and despair; God is passionately engaged and present; God seeks us out. But Marx says, (If you think) “God makes his presence felt through divine intervention, (well) he sure… isn’t in cyberspace, which is full of pornography, gambling, …all manner of hate speech, etc. ,etc.” He makes cyberspace sounds like a garbage can. But Marx, unlike the Psalmists, seems to deny that God would get his hands dirty when things go bad.
So, Rabbi Marx continues with the 2nd perspective, “The Jewish post-biblical view of God is that we make God present by our own choice and our own decisions; whether it’s a real room or a chat room, you have to bring Him there yourself by how you behave, by the moral choices and mouse clicks you make. In that view, we understand that from the first day of the world…(humankind) was responsible for making God’s presence manifest by what we do. And the reason this issue is most acute in cyberspace is that no one else is in charge there. There is no place in today’s world, where you encounter the freedom to choose that God gave us, more than in cyberspace – where we are all connected and no one is in charge. So the answer is “No” – but God wants to be there.”
I like the emphasis on personal responsibility, but I wonder if this sad view of a God who shyly waits for us to invite him in finds its roots in the racist homicidal evil of the Nazis, who killed more than 6 million Jews, as well as the hope & faith of generations. Pollsters say that among today’s American Jews, twice as many people view God as an “impersonal force”, rather than the God who seeks a relationship with us and is always present.
So, as Catholic Christians, what do we do about “Christ the King”? We turn to Tradition and Scripture. Our belief in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a good place to start. Paul (1 Cor 3:16) says it plainly: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” I dare say, wherever I am, God is there, even in that garbage can of a nursing home in Glen Burnie. I shared the Spirit with people there and sometimes I met the Spirit in the rooms and the hallways. People who “did not speak” said “Hail Mary’s” with me and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. We can participate in the light and power of the Divine Spirit – and that Spirit is all spaces, cyber and otherwise. The church celebrates this indwelling in Baptism, Confirmation, and the Mass.
Jesus came to earth and was met with the slaughter of the Innocents by Herod, he spoke boldly when tempted by Satan, he called out to Simon and Andrew when they were fisherman, he engaged the woman at the well, he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday against the advice of the disciples, he approached the men walking to Emmaus, he appeared to the apostles after his resurrection; he did not wait for them to come to him. The people (Mark 1: 27) recognized he spoke with a new kind of “authority”. He told us, “I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt 28:20) Jesus is not hesitant. Jesus is present.
John 3:16 says,” For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” In Revelations, we find, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come.” It sounds like God has the future technological advances covered already.
So I conclude that not only is God omniscient, omnipresent & omnipotent, and therefore there is no worry about God’s authority in the universe, but we should focus on what we can control. That means we focus on our relationship with God and neighbor, and we share that in word and deed (like in today’s Gospel), keep the “garbage cans” of our lives clean, contribute to our society with integrity, and trust God for the rest.
I think today’s gospel is one of the most familiar to all of us. Again a Pharisee scholar sets out to trap Jesus with what he thinks is a trick question. Jesus is ready for him and answers that Love is the greatest commandment. To love God with our whole heart, soul and mind and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. It means that within our self we give all we are to God and what it means to belong to him. It is the means and purpose for which we live. And in living, we must love others as we love ourselves. This or more properly these commands are no small matter. I think that for the most part whether consciously or not all of us look out for ourselves or love ourselves very much beyond just the point of self-preparation. As children we learn to love from our parents and others as we grow older. However, you expand our circle of love is something we must learn and be willing to do as part of our faith and love of God. To reach out and accept others as God has done for us is not always easy in this world in which we find Good and evil present as we go forth. But loving our neighbor also mean being ready to forgive just as God does. Love is not always easy as I am sure married couples will tell you. No one except God is perfect, and even a loving couple has their moments of disagreements. Yet in any loving relationship, the giving of the whole self makes possible the resolution and coming together after conflicts.
We know that the greatest act of giving of self was Christ’s death on the Cross. In one-act, for all time, he brought God’s mercy and forgiveness to all and made possible for all of humanity to be united to him forever. This is the chief and only reason for giving ourselves body and soul and it will bring us to him forever.