Saturday, January 28, 2012

Behold, I make all things new!

HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, January 29, 2012:
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A Faith Formation teacher had just finished her lesson about Confession and wanted to make sure she had made her point. She said her students, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain God’s forgiveness?” There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up and said, "Sin."

Let me ask you a question this morning. Who is going to win the Superbowl next week? My hopes and prayers are on our beloved Patriots, but a week early, we don’t know. How about the World Series? Again, I know who I want to win, but Spring training hasn’t even started yet. So, of course, I don’t know. You see, not knowing is a part of our human condition. It is our lot to live, sometimes uneasily, with uncertainty. There are many occasions in life where it would be great to have a chance to “ask the audience” or “phone a friend,” but instead we’re stuck with the lot of not knowing; of living in the moment and experiencing it as it unfolds.

But, what comes across in our Scriptures today is not the uncertainty and unknowing that we’re used to living with. Instead, what comes across today is authority. The authority that Moses speaks of in the first reading would fit Jesus well, “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” And Jesus does command that type of authority in our Gospel reading today. As we heard, “The people were astonished at [Jesus] teaching, for He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”

Jesus was an invited speaker at the Jewish synagogue in Capernaum and there they were, very pious and attentive, wondering what He was going to say, and how He was going to say it. As it turned out, His manner of speaking was very different from either a rabbi, or a scribe or a prophet.

It was the practice of Jewish rabbis to build on the teachings of their predecessors. In discussing issues of law put to them, they would often refer to explanations given by rabbis of the past. Over time, those rabbis who gained renown for their wisdom and teaching would have their explanations added to the body of basic teachings from which the rabbis of the future would draw their authority. But, the people in our Gospel passage today are astounded at Jesus words because He does not speak on the authority of great rabbis of the past, no instead, Jesus speaks with His own authority, an authority which comes from Him alone as the Son of God, and His Word, His authority is effective. Notice its power: when Jesus tells the unclean spirit to come out, it comes out of the man, just like that.

This reminds us of the action of God that we hear of in the Book of Genesis. When God said, “Let there be light,” there was light. When He said, “Let there be dry land,” there was dry land, and so on. God’s word is active and creative and does not rely on any other power or authority. It is a power – it is the power – all its own.

Jesus, the very same Word of God in human form, shares in this same power and authority. He speaks differently than everyone else. If He were simply a rabbi or a scribe, He’d have explained the Law of Moses to them. No more, no less. If He were only another prophet, He would simply have handed on the Word of God to them. He would have said, “Thus says the Lord…” But, Jesus speaks for Himself. He made no distinction between His Word and God’s Word because they are one in the same. He was God’s mouth, God’s voice, God’s authority. Small wonder that Christ’s teaching impressed them. After all it was weighted with eternity. Worded like no other teaching before.

Have you ever stopped to think about the power of the Word of Jesus? His words are not just nice words like yours or mine. His words created the universe. His words forgive sins. His words change bread into Body. His words change our lives.

And, what’s even more incredible, is that Jesus continues to speak with this authority today – in His Church, through His priests, in His Sacraments. Jesus shared this authority to teach, preach, forgive and heal with His Apostles and with us today.

Have you ever been confounded trying to understand how it can be that sins are really forgiven in Confession? That bread really becomes Body and wine really becomes Blood in the Eucharist? It is precisely because of the authority with which Jesus speaks that we know these things to be true.

We pray in the Creed that Jesus was “born of the Father before all ages” and that “through Him all things were made.” We hear at the beginning of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be…And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

My friends, Jesus is this Word and when He says, “Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven,” it isn’t a suggestion. It happens; they are gone – through the power of those words and the ministry of the priesthood – as though they never existed. When He says, “This is my Body; this is my Blood” His word is so powerful that it not only created the Eucharist that night of the Last Supper but through the work of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of the priesthood, it created every Eucharist that would ever exist throughout all of time. Jesus Body and Blood are as truly present on this altar as they were in the upper room on the night of the Last Supper. Psalm 33 tells us that “By the Lord’s words, the heavens were made…He spoke and it came to be. He commanded and it sprang into being.”

And He speaks with that same authority to us and in our lives today. He tells each of us, “Your sins are forgiven”, “This is my Body”, “Behold I make all things new.” And so imagine what Jesus can do in our lives. What He can transform and heal and make whole in our hearts. The relationships He can restore, the sins He can overcome, the hearts He can mend – if only we ask Him to speak His Word – a Word of power and authority unlike any other to have ever been spoken – to speak that Word to our hearts. He will speak and we will be made new.

“The people were astonished at [Jesus] teaching, for He taught them as one having authority.”

May God give you peace.

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