Bottom line: Like Palestine after the arrest of John the Baptist, we live in a situation that has dramatically changed.
Today we hear the opening words of Jesus' public ministry: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Perhaps these words sound familiar. Well, they are exactly the same words John preached. (cf. Mt 3:2) It seems like Jesus is a continuation of John the Baptist. In one sense that is true. Jesus does pick up where John left off. Still, in two important ways, Jesus gives a whole new meaning to John's words. The most significant difference is the person of Jesus. John was the last and the greatest prophet. Jesus, on the other hand, is God. He not only announces the kingdom; he brings it about in his person. With Jesus something new enters human history. This is major.
There is a second way that John's words have new meaning when Jesus speaks them. Even though it is minor in comparison to the person of Jesus, it is nonetheless significant: John had been arrested. It was a whole new ball game. The situation for preachers had suddenly become a lot more dangerous. John's imprisonment looms over Jesus' public ministry.
We live at a moment when we can appreciate this new situation. In a very short time, things for us have changed drastically. I am not saying that you and I face the possibility - at least in the immediate future - of being arrested and imprisoned for our faith. Still, the playing field is different than even a decade ago. For example, people used to take it for granted that marriage means the union between one man and one woman. Today, an aggressive segment of our society wants to re-define marriage. Part of their strategy involves intimidating Christians by accusing us of teaching hate. In one case, they brought a lawsuit against a bishop for stating that homosexual acts are morally wrong - and that they can have a negative affect on society. * Beyond that one bishop, ministers, priests and Christian parents have faced a range of legal actions for defending traditional teachings on human sexuality.** We are in different world.
Last week I mentioned another area of stark change: how we view the value of human life. People used to consider it noble to defend the weak. That idea of chivalry - which has deep roots in the Gospel - is being thrown out. Now, instead of defending the weak, people are saying "they better get out of the way." Christians can get into trouble for standing with the weak. I won't go into more detail, but I think you know what I mean. Our social climate has changed greatly in a very short time.
As followers of Jesus, we do not stand on the sidelines and wring our hands. Jesus did not allow John's arrest to intimidate him. He picked up the prophet's message, "Repent." You and I have that same message. Now, I don't recommend going out on the sidewalk and telling people to repent. The first person we need to address is not the guy with the gay pride sticker. The first person you and I need to address is the one we see in the mirror each morning. You and I have absorbed our society's lax views. In St. Paul's words, we have emptied the cross of its meaning. Let's face it: We admire the strong - the rich, the famous, the powerful - and we find the weak to be a nuisance. That attitude is poison. Repent.
The Kingdom of heaven is at hand. In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict asked, what exactly is the kingdom. The pope's answer is beautiful: Jesus is quite simply "proclaiming God and that he is able to act concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting." Jesus is telling us, "‘God exists’ and ‘God really is God,’ which means that he holds in his hands the threads of the world."
Do you see what Pope Benedict is saying? If God holds the threads of the world in his hand, we have nothing to fear. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Early Christians calmly faced torture and death because they knew that God has the final word. At this very moment, in atheistic and Islamic countries, Christians are facing persecution. Jesus' words sustain them. What about us? Opposition to us is growing, but it is still minor by comparison. The danger we face is not so much to our bodies, but to our souls - and the souls of our children. That danger has increased in recent years. But even though the situation has changed, the solution is the same, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
*Bishop Henry raised the taboo topic of how the disordered behavior of some affects the entire society. He admits that he could have expressed the question better. For a provocative discussion of this same issue I recommend Shattered Tablets (Why we Ignore the Ten Commandments at Our Peril) by David Klinghoffer
**Here is a list of some thirty-five case from the past three years.
From Archives (Third Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies
Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Bulletin (Youth of Pro-Life Movement, A Right to Die?, Catholic Schools Week)
2008 March for Life
Fr. Rob Johansen on Ideologized Liturgy
Times for Lenten Confessions (Holy Family Parish, Seattle)
Parish Picture Album
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru