3rd Sunday -
Revised from aHomily first posted on
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Taken together, all of the Lectionary texts for today present us with a rather stark reminder that GOD's urgent message of ultimate redemption is still pending today.
These texts are also a reminder that GOD has always been at work in the world, and that his love for humanity is still intact, no matter how far we stay. That is, the LORD's eternal love for his creation compels him to chase after us and to continually reveal himself to those who, "have ears to hear."
Case in point: GOD sends Jonah to Nineveh, a monstrously pagan and idolatrous city, calling for its citizens to repent. Likewise, Jesus is sent to his nation and calls everyone to repent, to turn from their rebellious intentions toward Rome -- which would surely only end in disaster -- and to follow the way of sacrificial service and reconciliation.
And to make the point with an edge, St. Paul reminds us that this world as we know it is passing away, so we had better decide -- "now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation" -- to turn our lives toward the voice and calling of the LORD.
Still, this remains a stumbling block. It is difficult for many to believe that GOD will finally act. That is, there has already been 2,000 years of waiting, and when you factor in the truth that the great Apostle himself believed that he would be alive at the return of the LORD, it offers, even we who believe, a distinctly difficult challenge to face.
But, from what we know of today's Marcan pericope, Jesus is offering the fulfillment of a promise, originally made to Abraham! Talk about waiting a long time; talk about a long story arc. You see, (and I am following closely the work of N.T.Wright here) the Hebrews believed that the one, true and living GOD, who had revealed himself to them and had chosen them, would one day literally come to the nation and vindicate his chosen people.
Now, let's be clear. To vindicate, in this context, is to once and for all justify to the world that the Hebrew nation was actually GOD's true and rightful covenant people all along, and that the gentile's false gods -- which inevitably led to idolatry and immorality -- were in point of fact no gods at all. Likewise, to vindicate in this context is to once and for all defeat all pretenders to GOD's place as king of the universe. That is, all empires who would attempt to usurp GOD's position of ruler would be unmasked as the pretenders they really are, and soundly defeated forevermore. (see Psalm 2)
The question is, what would this vindication look like? Strangely enough, they believed it would look like restoration; it would look like resurrection.
Do you remember the Ezekiel passage where the prophet is to preach to the valley of dry bones? Well, to refresh you memory listen to this text anew:
1 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord God, you know." 4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord." 7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11 Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord." (Ez. 37:1-14)
Wow! Could it be any clearer? GOD would restore his people; GOD would bring his people back from the death of exile to new, true life. GOD would resurrect the chosen people. And this promise was at the heart of the Hebrew wait. They were waiting for the deliver — a King like David — to come, to lead the people, to throw off the chains of pagan oppression and to free them forever.
But, now, suddenly, strangely, GOD had begun to work. GOD's word had come afresh to the nation. GOD's messenger was preparing the people. Do you recall how St. Mark's gospel begins?
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' " 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mk.1:1-8)
This is a message that startles and amazes, for what the Hebrews thought "GOD was going to do for the nation at the end of history, in fact GOD was going to do for Jesus in the middle of history!" (N.T.Wright) The Jewish Messiah had arrived, brining with him the good news of a new king, in fact the news of the only real king! And this news must be proclaimed. From now on all idolatry is thwarted; all empires are relativized. And, from now on all will understand the Messiah has come.
Or, said differently, the reality of Jesus is that in the brutality of his suffering and death on the cross he stands against all pretenders and all life-negating power. The cross is the Messiah-King taking upon himself all the hate, ruthlessness, and greed of empire, taking on himself the brutality of a sinful people and taking all the vicious powers of darkness could dish out to him -- crushing and defeating them. That is, what looks like defeat was pregnant with victory! For, in the resurrection, the new life and the new way to live, through the power of the Holy Spirit, explode in the world like cosmic dynamite.
Finally, notice that,
“Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel,"
so reads the text.
But notice, the text does not end there. Included in this repenting and believing is the action of following, and the action of fishing for others who wish to come along and join the growing Jesus new covenant-kingdom.
That is, others, amazingly, will be warmed by the message that the Jewish Messiah, crucified, slain and raised, is enthroned as the King of the world. But, you see, people often blanche away from this truth because they see the suffering still present before them; they see the human condition so raw and inhuman. How could Jesus be King when there is so little evidence?
We still suffer and die, yes? Of course we do, but what must be said is that is not the ultimate truth. Do we have daily trials and heartache come our way? Yes, of course, but that is not the end of the story. Do we suffer through this world of disease and death? Yes, to be sure, but when we face that moment we bear in our hearts the promises of GOD, to be present even then, and the promise that to live is Christ, to die is gain.
Or, think about this. Much of St. Paul’s correspondence was written from prison! This is what empire is about -- stifling the other competing voices that would call into question their authority and reality. Ultimately, all those Apostles paid for their determination to follow the Jesus-way with their lives. So what? When my Dad was so sick he used to say to me, "What's the devil going to threaten me with, death? Ha!"
Said differently, we are not just some small, backwater community of faith, waiting in worry and silence. Far from it. We are a confident and loving community of faith who is being called to step out into the brokenness of this old, selfish world and to proclaim to all who care to hear that there is a new King.
But, remember, we do not do this as the church triumphant. Far from it. No, instead we do this by practicing what the Master did -- practicing reconciliation and sacrificial service. We do this by offering peace and kindness to the poor, by bringing hope to he health-less and the dying, by proclaiming with our lives -- which shout much louder than our voices -- King Jesus is at work! King Jesus is passing by! King Jesus is reclaiming this good, but marred world.
Or, finally, and said still differently, the Gospel is so much more than the truncated and shriveled little message, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for you life," or “Jesus loves you and can do thus and so for you." Of course, the Gospel includes these truths, no doubt, but the reality of the message is so much more. The new message we live-out and proclaim is that new life and a new way to live marks us out as the new humanity that GOD is building, which means we have been included in the koinonia-enterprise that is the Kingdom.