31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 5th, 2017

Our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, recently, was a tremendous experience and great blessing; beyond my expectations. To behold that rocky, arid, sacred ‘geography of grace’ brought us close to one another on this shared journey of faith, and to Christ whose presence still is felt and just beneath the surface.

I had not been back since 1979 and noticed how much had changed. For instance, new archeological discoveries have been made which left me, and all of us, amazed. One excavation we saw lies beneath Caiaphas’ house in Jerusalem. He is mentioned during the trial of Jesus; the High Priest at the time. Beneath, they discovered a first century dungeon at bedrock level. Biblical scholars believe this may well be the place where Jesus spent his last night on earth: horribly alone and in the dark. We crowded together in that tight, claustrophobic space and as I prayed Psalm 88; words that cut to the marrow of Jesus’ experience, and for anyone on death row. As an observant Jew, Jesus must have known these words by heart. Elsewhere in the Passion account, Jesus calls upon the psalmist’s words, helping him give voice to what he’s enduring, and as a prayer.

You have plunged me into the bottom of the pit, into the dark abyss…Why, O Lord, do you reject me; why hide from me your face? Companion and neighbor you have taken away…my only friend is darkness. (Psalm 88)

Together, we sensed how the darkness Jesus faced is not all that foreign to the varied faces of darkness we have known. Because of Christ, no human suffering is ever foreign to God. This is why I’ve never agreed with the theology that Christ died to appease an angry God. That’s sadistic. Christ died out of love. In the garden, Jesus begged not to die. I believe he carried that cross-beam to Golgotha, shrouded in existential darkness. Yet, his loving nature and trust in God prevailed. There’s a lesson there for us all.

Why this death? The gospel for this 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mtt. 23:1-12) has Jesus exposing the inflated egos of the religious leaders; with their widened phylacteries and longer tassels. They are more at the center than God; observance more a pose than anything else. They want to silence him since he has the ear of the people. He threatens a religious system that works for them, and as it caters to the Roman authorities. A similar scenario was played out in San Salvador when Archbishop Romero was martyred by the authorities in 1980. There are those— even, sadly, within the church—who abhor the piercing light of truth and will do anything to kill it; intent on keeping traditions—the way it’s always been done—in place; their delusions and insecurities untouched. It’s been happening ever since Cain killed his brother Abel. It’s why Jesus wept over Jerusalem before he entered the Holy City at one point in his journey. Their off-kilter approach to God and towards Torah grieved him.

What about us? Does not our faith, sometimes, suffer from this perennial malaise; where I’m more at the center rather than God? I may not wear phylacteries and tassels, (well, sometimes). Yet, the ego plays its part in ways that keep me in the dark and God more dead than alive when it comes to His presence within those around me. At times, we are no better than those pathetically blind Pharisees in today’s gospel who refuse to lift a finger to help those burdened around them.

May the living God be more at the center, and the bedrock of our lives.

Father Tim Clark, Pastor 

 
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