What does Salvation mean, anyway ?

Holy Family, 12-31-17

Genesis 15: 1-6; 21: 1-3; Psalm 105: 1-9, Hebrews 11: 8, 11,12,17-19; Luke 2: 22-40

We read today from the 2nd chapter of Luke’s Gospel. Luke makes Jesus the focal point to explain the loving and generous ways of God. Luke frequently uses the title “Lord” for Jesus. “Lord” is the same name used for God in the Greek Old Testament. Jesus, Luke tells us, is God come to earth. Jesus came to all people. Luke takes great effort to relate how Jesus brought salvation to the poor, women, children, “sinners”, and outcasts (like the Samaritans).

In fact, two of Luke’s favorite expressions are “preach the gospel” and “salvation.” “Preaching the Gospel” includes the entire ministry of Jesus- his teaching, healing, and compassion were all part of the good news that God has come to His people. “Salvation” is defined in Luke 19:10 this way: “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Too often Christians use this word but aren’t so sure what it means. The words salvation and “Savior” both come from the same Latin word (salvare), which means to save. The basic idea of being saved or salvation is that God will “find and free” us from any kind of evil, just as God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God frees us to fully participate in all the goodness of life and in all the blessings of God. It makes sense then that God wishes to save us from sin as well as the evils that are the consequences of sin. Jesus acts as the “middle man” or mediator who suffers and dies to bring us this salvation both now and in eternal life.

So, with that long introduction, we begin with the Jewish ritual purification of Mary, when a sacrifice of turtledoves or pigeons was offered 40 days after the birth of a child, as required by the Law of Moses in Leviticus 12. The mother is welcomed back into the community after the birth.

A second ritual was also completed, that being the “redeeming” of a first born child. All first born children – and animals, for that matter – were presumed to belong to God. Children were “bought back” with a small offering of money. You can find that Law in Exodus 13:13. God-fearing parents of every century feel the need to thank God for the miracle of a child. It’s a tradition that makes great sense. The parents publically proclaim the child is theirs, as a gift from God, and they will support, nurture, teach, and raise the child in the faith. These traditions introduce the infant to the worship of God in the community of believers, not unlike Christian infant baptism.

This scene with the infant Jesus also underlines the larger idea of redemption. For Christians, redemption is closely tied to salvation. Marie Monville wrote this: “To redeem means to exchange one thing for another, to buy back, to recover the value of something by exchanging it for another. God replaces…weakness with his strength, the ugliness of sin with the beauty of forgiveness, the blackest darkness with his brilliant light.”  It is sort of like redeeming something in a pawn shop!  In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, St. Paul wrote, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price”. That is the Catholic view of the crucifixion – that the price Jesus paid for us to be redeemed and freed from sin was his own life.

Two significant messages are then delivered by Simeon and Anna. Simeon, a “righteous and devout man” was looking for the “consolation of Israel” – meaning the salvation which the Messiah was to bring. Messiah is an Aramaic word meaning “liberator”, which means the same as “Savior”. Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah, and now he proclaims that he has seen the Messiah who will bring salvation to all people, not only the Jews. Simeon says, “…my eyes have seen your salvation…a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” God has kept his promise to Simeon, to the prophets (Isaiah 49:6), and to King David.

Simeon offers a blessing of thanksgiving to God and a blessing of prophecy to Mary and Joseph. Out of Simeon’s mouth comes a very precise statement of the miracle of Jesus: the child brings peace and the promise of a Messiah has been fulfilled. In addition, Jesus is the entrance of God into the world for all people; he is a revelation and light (new understanding). Jesus will bring salvation and judgment; he will bring lasting changes to the world, and the changes will result in a strong push-back from the darkness in the world.

One of the unique traits of Luke’s Gospel is that he often introduces a strong man counterbalanced by a woman. Luke names this woman, which is highly unusual in writings of the day; we actually have more information about Anna than Simeon. We know her age, her father’s name and her tribe. Luke tells us that Anna, like Simeon, was very devout, “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.” She too said a prayer of thanksgiving for the child Jesus and, like the shepherds, immediately “spoke of (Jesus) to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Anna’s waiting is over, her patience has been rewarded, and then she participates in the preaching of the Gospel.

As always, God chooses us (all) and provides what we need to be in a personal relationship with our Creator. We are offered freedom from slavery to sin and darkness, the price has been paid, and we must act on our choice. That is one reason we have all those Bible characters who are flawed and foolish; we read about them stumble and fall, then ask for forgiveness and return to right relationship (what Christians call righteousness) with God. And people who experience this freedom want to share it with others. Amazing – all this from just a portion of the 2nd chapter of Luke!


Homily January 29, 2017 – the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

4sun3Today, we hear the beatitudes, the beginning of the Sermon on the mount. We must be careful of how we consider the beatitudes. Sometimes people look at them almost as rules or a set of commandments Jesus is giving. Some how they say Jesus is condemning wealth, etc. However, Jesus is expressing how we are blessed to be seeking out God. Just look at the first one, Blessed are the poor in Spirit. Those would be those who know and reach out to fill up their lives by coming to know God and what is the real fulfillment in life. Jesus Preaching the Sermon on the Mount
Gustave DoreBlessedness comes not from worldly fulfillment, but from our inner self, our soul reaching out and being filled up by the love of God. More typically, those seeking God and his love are often times the real poor, the people on the fringes of life and society, the neglected, the humble, the persecuted, the outsider. Those who have found comfort in life and action, have either found God or replaced him with “things”. Those blessed to live a life challenged by love and seeking God in all stages will in one way or another be comforted or find the kingdom of heaven. Living in poverty, seeking meekness, mourning, and the other blessings of the beatitudes are not
rules for living but blessings bestowed to prepare us to hear the good news Jesus will give in his preaching to come. His message is for all, but first a person must be ready in one way or another to be disposed to hear and live the word Jesus speaks. In Jesus time, society was divided in so many ways, it is hard to realize what all those divisions meant in learning the Good 4sun2News. Jesus spoke mostly to Jews, but there were priests, pharisees, elders, and all kind of people plus Romans, slaves or other visitors from the Roman world. Ultimately, Jesus knew that not all were ready and he would die. He knew that some would hear and believe and his good news would carry on. But the beatitudes remain to remind us of the disposition we need to hear and follow the Word of Jesus.

Homily January 15, 2017 the 2nd Sunday Ordinary Time

2-sunToday’s readings are very much a continuation of the Feasts of Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus. In the early centuries, those two feasts were seen in the gentile world as the beginning or manifestation of Christ becoming human and taking on redemption. Isaiah talks of the servant as the light to the nations for salvation to reach to the ends of the world. John’s gospel has no account of Jesus’ baptism, but as we heard it has his testimony as to who Jesus is. “Lamb of God” is a familiar term to us as we say it every Sunday. To the Jews, it was an animal sacrificed to God in the temple. Yet, if we look at the Aramaic word(spoken by Jesus and his 4x5 originalpeers), ‘tayla’, The word is rendered lamb, but also is rendered as slave or also as servant. Most likely John probably was alluding to both meanings, Jesus as a sacrificial lamb, but also as the servant of God. Certainly, Jesus’ suffering and death were a central part of salvation, the whole of salvation was his acceptance of servant hood to become human and be obedient to God the Father in carrying out all that entailed. In doing this he extended God’s love to creation in a way that salvation became open to those who can find and accept God’s love. Christ’s life, death and resurrection overcame the sin of the world, but now humanity must learn to accept their weakness and reach out and share God’s love and receive His mercy and forgiveness as they individually journey to the Father. All those we touch with love, are in some way enriched with God’s love. That is one reason that as Christians we should always be on guard to look out and care about and for our brothers and sisters wherever we encounter them. It is always the little things that people remember and see and are drawn to when they meet Christ’s love. His spirit and love are given to us in the first Sacraments we get, and in the Eucharist we receive each week. Let us joyfully share that love.

Homily January 8, 2017 Epiphany of the Lord

jan-8-2Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. In early time in the eastern church it was linked with Jesus Baptism as the manifestation of Jesus and beginning of his mission. It has now become the end of the Christmas season. Three wise men from the east come searching for the child Jesus, the light of the world. As Christians, we know Christ and his message and mission well. We know him as the God-man who has made his love a real and special way for salvation. As chosen followers of his we have a special mission to love, reach out and share that message. Yet if we look around, Christianity has in ways failed. Even among Christians, we separation, jealousy, claims of ownership of “the way” or being the one true religion. Yet our God is God of all, of Christians, Jews, Muslims and all the rest of the world. God is a God of love and he love all of is creatures. Do we not become like children of a family asking a parent who do you love more? Does God love the non Christians of the world any less than us? Or is that we are more like a dysfunctional family failing in the most basic thing a family does in loving.jan-8
Throughout time, our “fallen” nature has led us to many faults and flaws in our nature which has resulted in eons of dysfunction. The child Jesus was a light to the world when he came, yet only in suffering and the cross did he achieve what he came for. Certainly his followers have achieved a lot, but have we gone and changed the whole world? Do we look out and care for the countless millions throughout the world in need of hearing and experiencing God’s love? This day of epiphany as we recall the revelation of Jesus to the gentile, non-Jewish world, have we followed Jesus’ command”Love one another as I have loved You?”

Homily January 1, 2017 Mary, Mother of God

jan-1-2Today in all our lives is new years day. In the calendar of the church since Vatican II, January 1 has come to be celebrated under a few different names. In the history of the church, it was the feast of the Motherhood of Mary, only later being changed to the feast of the Circumcision, or of the Circumcision and name of Jesus. January 1st was even called the world day of peace for a few years. Cradled between Christmas and Epiphany, New Years day gets kind of lost in all of the Christmas celebration. jan-1-1The gospel is after all a repeat from the Christmas Midnight Mass without the first verse and with the addition of the circumcision and naming of Jesus. It is significant that the parents of Jesus followed the covenant, and that Jesus as a human shed his first blood in the course of his life. Even in infancy he is obedient to his Father’s will.
At the same time, celebrating the Motherhood of Mary is not foreign to Christmas since it was by her acquiescence that Jesus came into the world. The readings are rich and hopeful, with Paul reminding us of Christ’s mission, His birth, life, death and resurrection. The first reading from Numbers contains the Aaronic blessing adapted and used from that time even to today:

The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly
and give you peace!

Homily December 18, 2016 the 4th Sunday of Advent

4-adventIf we look back in history, Through the last 2000 years and beyond into the times of the biblical old testament, we see a constant thread of violence and war and very few times of stability and peace. In the first reading today, we see King Ahaz of the Kingdom of Israel at war with the Northern Kingdom which was in league with Syria trying to take over the Southern Kingdom or Israel. The prophet to Ahaz was Isaiah who pleaded with him to place his trust in God and not in men and fleeting alliances. Ahaz was a King of Israel in the line of David and as such should have been one to trust in God. Isaiah told him to ask for a sign but Ahaz refused. Instead Isaiah gave him a sign that “a young woman”(almah) would conceive and give birth to a son Immanuel. 4-advent-2In that time it was a sign to Ahaz that he would have a son and the Davidic line would be carried on in his son Hezekiah. In calling on that text, and using the Greek translation of that translates to “parthenos” which means “virgin” and most aptly applies to Jesus and his birth and his name, placing him distinctly in the line of David.

Now let us turn to the account about Joseph and his fear and his concern for Mary and wanting to do the right thing. Joseph was a man of his time and culture. Finding Mary pregnant meant that she was having another man’s child and for him it was not honorable or right to claim Mary. The culture of his time and place are much different that what we know as our own, and so perhaps we misunderstand 4-advent-4his concern mixed probably with his compassion and love for Mary. I think few of us would think that we would make a decision based on a dream or experience during our sleep. Yet, Joseph experienced a dream or vision that convinced him that taking Mary was the right thing to do. He would accept Jesus and name as the Angel said. Yet, the message to Joseph was different from all the messages given by God before. In announcing Jesus to Joseph as “God come to save us” is from our sins and not some physical thing as through times before. It is an announcement of a messiah far different from what many expected.

Today, we are about to celebrate once again the sign of Mary giving birth to Jesus. As Christians we prepare and reach out and try to give in a small way to follow what Jesus called us to do in repenting and looking out for each other, especially the poor. Yet, if we look at the world around us, here in our home State, or Country or around the World, Jesus’ work is not done. War, violence, evil, poverty, hunger, disease are present wherever we look. Within our communities, we find Christ and his love, but truly we are called to reach out to share, to spread that love. 4-advent-5I don’t think anyone here is called to some far off place to a gigantic mission. But, each of us is called everyday, and seriously do we answer each opportunity to share and spread that love that has been so freely given to us. The birth of a child is the most love fulfilling sign to any woman or man. A newborn embodies all that is good in all of humanity. That it what makes Christmas so special and calls us to celebrate life and family and looking out for others. As next Sunday approaches, remember Jesus came to save us from sin and evil and bring us to His Father.