Sunday, April 18, 2021

Claim the Cure!

3rd Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 3:13-15,17-19; Psalm 4:2,4,7,9; 1 John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48

Picture: cc Nenad Stojkovic

My dear friends, are you familiar with the word autoimmune? It refers, as you know, to a range of medical conditions, like multiple sclerosis and lupus, in which the human body fails to recognise itself. It mistakes friendly cells for the enemy, and attacks them. The exact cause of this mysterious failure of recognition is still unknown. As is the cure for these diseases. As of now, we can only treat the symptoms.

Imagine, my dear friends, that you, or a loved one, were afflicted in this way. And imagine you receive news that a cure has been found! How do you feel? What will you do? …

I ask because our readings today concern the conquering of sin. And the effects of sin are described in a way that resembles an autoimmune disease. In the first reading, while Peter accuses his listeners of having disowned and killed the Lord, he also concedes that they had done so in ignorance. They had failed to recognise Jesus as the servant of the God of our ancestors. Like an autoimmune disease, they had mistaken friend for foe, and ended up killing the prince of life.

And it’s not just the Lord’s enemies who fail to recognise him. Even his friends do too. In the gospel, when Jesus appears to his disciples, they mistake him for a ghost, and are plunged into a state of alarm and fright. Their failure of recognition is truly mysterious, since the Lord had already appeared to them before. Indeed, the reading begins with the disciples, who had been on the road to Emmaus, telling their story of how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread! So why don’t they recognise him now? Mysterious, no?

Thankfully, Jesus provides a cure for their forgetfulness. As at Emmaus, recognition is regained with food, for both body and spirit. Not only does Jesus eat a piece of grilled fish… before their eyes, he again opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. He helps them see that, his eating of fish is not just proof that he’s truly alive, but also a symbol of his merciful partaking in our sinful human nature. His humble submission to the terrible autoimmune effects of sin. All of which, by dying and rising, he has overcome, once and for all!

Here we see the joyful long-awaited cure for what was once incurable. We sinners regain our natural ability to recognise God’s presence within and around us, when we allow the Crucified and Risen One to feed us with Himself. As he does now, at this Mass, in the breaking of the Word and the Bread.

But, as the second reading reminds us, for this cure to work, knowledge of Christ must be accompanied by obedience to his commands. For knowledge without obedience is a lie. Just as obedience without knowledge easily goes astray.

Sisters and brothers, even amid the frightening shadows that still surround us, Easter brings the consoling news that a cure has been found for the autoimmune effects of sin. What must we do to joyfully celebrate and claim this precious healing, for ourselves, for our families, and for our communities today?

Friday, April 02, 2021

Power Struggle

Good Friday

Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 30(31): 2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25; Hebrews 4:14-16,5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42

Picture: cc janwillemsen

My dear friends, some of us may remember the story of the argument between the Wind and the Sun. To find out which of them was more powerful, they each took turns to persuade a passerby to take off his coat. Despite blowing with all its might, the Wind only managed to make the poor guy cling more tightly to his garment. Whereas the gentle yet persistent rays of the Sun eventually convinced him to change his mind.

Although we may not often notice it, in our liturgy for Good Friday, we find a similar contrast between two different forms of power: the power of God, and that of the world. For the first reading poses this question to us: to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed? And, in the gospel, Pontius Pilate says to Jesus: Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?

As fearsome and terrifying as Pilate’s power may be, it is not difficult to discover its limits. For not only is Pilate driven by fear to act against his own better judgment, he is also manipulated by those he is supposed to govern. Nor is it just Pilate who experiences the limits of worldly power. Peter does too. As when he rashly draws his sword to maim a fellow human being, only to cowardly deny Jesus later on. Thankfully, the rooster’s cry brings our first pope to his senses. Awakening him perhaps to the irony in his threefold denial. For it is true that Peter does not yet know the Lord. Since his own ego-driven and prideful path runs counter to the humble Spirit-led way of his Master.

The gospel also makes it very clear that Jesus too is powerful, even as he submits to suffering. Why else do his captors fall to the ground? But the Lord’s power is very different from the world’s. Not only does it look different, it also produces different effects. Worldly power leads to the breaking of bodies and relationships. Godly power builds up both. Isn’t this what we see when, at the foot of the Cross, the beloved disciple makes a place in his home for Mary? Or when, after Jesus’ death, both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus finally manage to overcome their fear, and publicly admit to being followers of the Lord?

My dear friends, in a few moments, we will all be invited to kneel and to adore the Cross of Christ. Why, if not because we recognise in it the sign of godly power, and the source of eternal salvation? Gazing upon the Cross in faith, and recalling the Lord’s sacrifice for us with gratitude, we experience the face of God shining upon us, melting and mending our often cold and tired, lonely and broken hearts. Isn’t this what we all need especially now? After a long year, labouring under the power of a pandemic? Or perhaps after a weary lifetime of being misled by the deceptive promises of the world?

Sisters and brothers, like the gentle yet persistent rays of the Sun, in the Cross of Christ, the merciful love of God smiles down upon us all. How shall we submit more fully and generously to its transforming power today?