Sunday, June 29, 2008

Look at the man

The statue of Senhor Santo Christo has a long history in the Azorean island of Saint Michael's. As the story is told, two sisters traveled to Rome to seek permission from the Pope to found a new convent in the town of Caloura. The Pope, impressed by their zeal, not only gave his blessing to their initiative but offered them this statue. Over the past 500 years, it has resided in the church of Our Lady of Hope in the city of Ponta Delgada where it has served as the center of the island's devotional life.

The statue depicts Jesus in Pilate's praetorium just after being scourged and crowned with thorns. Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd, perhaps in hopes of sating their cruelty, and says to them: "Behold the man."

It challenges us to come face to face with the man who died to save us.

Looking on the statue calls to mind these verses from the prophet Isaiah:

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our suffering that he endured....
He was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.

Over the centuries, many suffering people have looked on this statue and found comfort and strength. Many sinners have looked on the bloodied face of their Savior and have been moved to repentance.

No one has ever looked on this statue and has failed to be moved by the love which drove Jesus to accept such a cruel fate.

One cannot help but reflect on the scene at the praetorium that day. What different men are Pilate and Jesus. Pilate is a minor official in the Roman hierarchy, while Jesus is the center of all history. What a farce that this man, Pilate, should stand in judgment of Jesus! And yet, how great is the humility of Jesus to endure Pilate's haughty and contemptuous questions!

Jesus, no doubt, may have felt some pity for Pilate. He was a pagan, unversed in Hebrew Scriptures. He held out no hope for a Messiah. The debauched Caesar was the closest thing to a "god made flesh" that he would ever serve. And yet, Pilate knew enough to see that there was no guilt in Jesus. Though he meant it derisively, he also recognized Jesus to be a king.

In some ways, Pilate is like Herod who felt moved by the words of John the Baptist but allowed palace intrigues to result in the prophet's beheading. Pilate knew of Jesus' innocence and even feared the consequences of putting him to death. Nonetheless, he succumbed to the wishes of the crowd, cowardly washing his hands of the matter as if it would lead history to absolve him of his complicity.

How must Pilate have reacted upon his own death to find the roles reversed? What a shock it must have been for him to look upon the one he had scourged and learn that not only was he King of the Jews but Judge of the Nations! How he must have feared that Jesus would wash his hands of him as he washed his hands of Jesus. As he came face to face with the truth he denied, could he have had any hope for mercy? And yet, we can have no doubt that Jesus showed mercy on one who knew not what he did.

We look today at the same man - the man who for our sins was scourged to the point that he no longer appeared human. We look not at a man who comes to condemn us, but to save and heal us. Looking at the man, we can see why the Azorean people are so devoted to the image of their Savior depicted by Senhor Santo Christo.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Call of Saint Matthew

It is a common lament which echoes through parish halls all over the nation: "Why is it always the same people who volunteer to help out?" Whether it is teaching catechism or manning the food pantry, parish leaders find themselves calling upon the same pool of faithful parishioners whenever there's work to do. While we value their eager service, we all would agree that they need help and that the mission of the community would be enriched by the talents and insights of a wider circle of volunteers.

Jesus addressed the problem of too few workers for a vast harvest by expanding the labor pool. Instead of calling those known to be religious, he sought out sinners and those who lacked a reputation for piety. To know how true this is we only have to review the resumes of the apostles which included fishermen (Peter and Andrew), political extremists (Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot) and tax collectors such as Matthew who is the object of Jesus' call in this weekend's gospel (Mt.9:9-13). In fact, the group following Jesus looked more like a police line up than a traditional religious gathering which caused the Pharisees to unwittingly ask one of the most provocative questions in the gospels: "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

As it turned out, not only did Jesus welcome sinners to the table, but he called them to follow his example of mercy by themselves reaching out to sinners. Jesus' mercy expressed itself not only in welcoming sinners but in giving them a share in his mission. Not only would they know the joy of being forgiven, but they would share in Jesus' excitement at witnessing God at work in the world by proclaiming the good news.

In the light of Jesus' example, we must ask ourselves whom we are overlooking when we are calling parishioners to service. Who might welcome a warm invitation or benefit from a gentle challenge? Do our personal prejudices or ignorance make us judge certain groups of people as unable or unwilling to contribute? Do we fear that we are imposing on people when we ask them to give of their time rather than see ourselves inviting them to share in the joy of the harvest?

What would it do to our community's sense of God's mercy if the homeless were teaching catechism? What would happen to our parish's prejudices if former prisoners served as Eucharistic ministers? How much more joyful would our celebrations be if those with special needs participated actively in our liturgies? How would our neighborhoods be transformed if teenagers and young adults caught a fever for social justice?

A community which reflects the wideness of God's mercy would be such a place where there would be no lack of those willing to give of themselves to those who are likewise willing to welcome and embrace them.


Lord of the harvest,
your mercy knows no limits
and makes no exceptions.

Give us an open heart like that of your Son;
open our eyes to the gifts of those around us;
and help us to discern rather than to merely delegate.

May your love and mercy shine forth so strongly
in the life of our community that it challenge our prejudices
and overcome our divisions.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.