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Pastor's Letter 20200119 - 19 January 2020 - Getting to Know Jesus

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A Message from Father Michael


January 19, 2020: Second Sunday-Ordinary Time

Today's Theme:  "Getting to Know Jesus"

A Lesson from John the Baptist

It is said that we see other people not as they are, but as we are. Consider the following story: 

 Once there was a king who called one of his servants. This servant was known as a cruel, mean man, with few, if any friends. The king said to him, “I want you to travel the length and breadth of my kingdom, and find for me a truly good person.” In the course of the servant’s travels, he met and spoke with many people, however, after a long time her returned to the king, saying, “I have searched the whole kingdom, as you asked, but I couldn’t find even one truly good person.  All of them, without exception, were mean, cruel, deceitful and evil.  The good person you seek is nowhere to be found.”   Then the king called another servant, one who was known for his generosity and kindness and was loved by everyone.  In contrast, he was given the task to find a truly wicked person.   After diligently traversing the entirety of the kingdom, he returned to the king, lamenting, “I have done as you have tasked me to do—I found people who are misguided; people who are misled; people who act in blindness or passion; but nowhere could I find a truly evil person.  All of them are good at heart, despite the bad things they may have done.”   This leads us to conclude: “We tend to see people, not as they are, but as we are.” 

Today’s Gospel provides us with another illustration of this truth. Jesus, only having recently arrived from Nazareth, was completely unknown.  Needing someone to introduce Him to the community, and launch Him on His public mission, He found John the Baptist (John 1:29-34.)  This story tells us a great deal about the identity and mission of Jesus—but these words also tell us much about the character of John the Baptist.  John could have ignored Jesus, or criticized Him. But far from doing this, He pointed Him out to the people; he built Him up before them.  John realized his task was to “draw back the curtain,” introduce the “Main Character” and then withdraw into the shadows.  In doing so John knew he was inviting his disciples to leave him.  Yet he felt no jealousy.  He did not see Jesus as a threat, but as a friend and ally (we know He was Jesus’ Cousin….) In fact, his reaction facilitated the start of Jesus’ mission.  In this we see John’s greatness (--there is no more difficult task than to take second place, especially when one has enjoyed first place--) and shows his goodness and generosity. 

 The important lesson here is this:  If we always find fault with other people—and always put people down—then we should look inward!  We may be saying more about us that about them.  Once our hearts are open to others, we discover good in them, even when it is hidden.

Jesus is our Supreme Example—the Paschal Lamb of the Christian Passover, Who by His death delivered the world from sin, just as the original paschal lamb’s blood delivered the Israelites from the destroying angel.  He is the ultimate Servant of God, described as being led without complaint “…like a lamb before the shearers; a man of sorrows, Whobore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12;) 

 Taking Away Our Sins

When John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world…”(John 1:29,) he uttered a great truth about Jesus’ mission, which was directed at sinners. Christ’s mission was to bring them back to God.   Some historical context might serve to illuminate this quotation:

 In Old Testament times, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, in today’s Jewish calendar,) Jews would choose a goat. The priest made a list of the sins of the people, while at the same time, calling on the people to repent.  Then, placing his hands on the goat’s head, he pressed down, thereby imposing the sins on the goat, as if the animal alone were guilty. Then, laden with the sins of the people, the goat was sent out into the desert to die.  (This is the origin of the epithet “scapegoat,” in today’s vernacular.) 

 We could interpret John the Baptist’s calling Jesus the “lamb of God” similarly—and make the assumption that all we have to do is “dump our sins on Jesus” and then forget them.  In some Christian denominations, the act of being convicted of sin, and then accepting Jesus as one's “personal Lord and Savior,” perhaps might be interpreted as just such an act—in so far as such an idea might promote the “once saved—always saved” proposition we hear now and then. 

Jesus does, indeed, take away our sins in the sense, that through Him, we have forgiveness.  So, we are able to put our sins “behind us.”  In becoming forgiven, a very “real” load—a great burden—is lifted from us, allowing us to “go forward” freely and joyfully.  But we also must accept responsibility for our sins, even though we are forgiven, because everything doesn’t automatically come “right” for us.  We don’t suddenly become “new” people.  We still are subject to our old weaknesses, habits and compulsions.  This means we must still struggle to maintain sinlessness (forgiveness,) once having received it.  Further, there is the matter of “atonement” for sins. Oftentimes, this aspect of sin is overlooked.  

 Sin is not an “object” that can be removed from us.  We are a sinful people—that is the plain truth.  If we believe that sin is "an evil" that also affects others, even when we obtain forgiveness there will be tangible consequences for our sin.  This is the whole rationale for imprisonment of criminals.  As "sinners" they must “learn their lesson,” so to speak, and become "rehabilitated" before returning to society.  This holds true, even if the victim of the sin has deigned to absolve us for our sinful act.  If we sin against another person, we have an obligation to “make amends” for our actions even after we are forgiven. (One of the “twelve steps” of AA requires just that. The tenet is that alcoholism harms not only the abuser, but those who interact, and oftentimes, “love” the alcoholic.) This is true because personal sin and personal redemption do not stand alone; there is social sin and social redemption.  The whole human family is damaged because of sin.  Then, too, there is the doctrine of "temporal punishment due to sin," which has led to the understanding of "Purgatory"--a place where such reparations are exacted from sinners after death.  

 Additionally, we must realize that our sinfulness is not the same as our sins.  The first is the disease, the second the symptoms.  Sin is a condition in which we live, a condition from which we need to be redeemed.  Jesus came to redeem us from that condition, and to enable us to live a new life.  He encouraged sinners to change their lives, not by condemning usand keeping His distance from them, but by “befriending” us.  He puts us "in touch" with the core of goodness, which exists in everyone. Through His own luminous goodness, He induces goodness in us.  That is the only way we can overcome sin.  Getting rid of sins is not an impersonal activity.  Rather, it is a loving encounter with Jesus, our Savior, Who calls us away from sin to goodness of life.  

 Victory over sin can occur only after a lifelong struggle.  We must not become depressed when we see ourselves making what seems very little progress.  It is the struggle for goodness that is important.  The purpose of a good life is not to win the battle, but to wage it unceasingly.  Jesus came to bring us back into the relationship with God--and with one another.   

 Jesus the Chosen One of God

Mark Twain once said: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”  We come to realize, sometimes all too late, that the wisdom of age is a priceless thing.  

 St. Augustine (in His “Confessions,”) said of God,  “Beauty, you were always there with me, so old and yet so new.”

The essence of both these anecdotal references is that the wisdom of ages may be in our midst, even directly in front of us.  For people of Jesus’ time, they had in their midst the greatest human being Who ever graced the planet.  But like they, our own biases may prevent us from benefitting from it.  Nonetheless, as they must have known,  we also have difficulty accepting Jesus for Who He is. 

Through our baptism we have been called to be Jesus’ disciples.  This great honor and privilege is also a "call to service."  To do this, we need the Holy Spirit to touch our hearts and to learn from John the Baptist not to make ourselves the center of the world.  We must put our gifts at the service of others.  In the Kingdom of God there is no room for competition or rivalry.  In the Kingdom each person is precious and unique. 

May God Richly Bless You!

“For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord; and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake.”  (2 Corinthians 4-5)

There is as Longing.docx

There is a Longing.mp3

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