Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
To Test or To Welcome?
What is certain? What is ultimate? What has a claim on us? Those questions, related by their value of utmost importance, can help us to appreciate what to our ears surely seems odd: Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree. St. Paul was quoting Deuteronomy. (For it is written is a speaking-way of saying, “Hear quotation marks around the following!”) Deuteronomy was part of torah. Torah, the prescription for living the covenant with the God of Israel, contained what was certain, ultimate and had a claim on every Jew.
Crucifixion was so terrifying that its horror alone was enough to make it a curse. Even
Cicero referred to it as “that plague” and considered that even the word “cross” should be far removed from the thoughts, eyes and ears of a Roman citizen./1/We do that instinctively, making coming to faith a steeper challenge for us.
For a Jew, then, a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms, yet that is what certain Jews claimed Jesus to be--and a risen, undying Messiah at that! As for non-Jews the claim of the first Christians was a horrific sham.
To accept Jesus as crucified Messiah was to let go of torah as certain, ultimate and that it had a claim on one’s life; and to accept Jesus Messiah welcomed him as certain, ultimate and that he had a claim on one’s life.
This was the challenge Paul faced personally: he was a zealous Jew, zealous for torah. This is our challenge. To accept Jesus as Messiah is to accept Jesus as certain, ultimate and having a claim on each of us. More often we don’t pray do not lead us into testing,/2/ and we test Jesus, like the others in today’s gospel. Our testing prevents Jesus from laying claim to our whole being: we use our possessions, things which distract our attention from what is ultimate, as well as our own abilities. All are gifts from Jesus, who is no longer a curse but our very life.
1. Eliud Wabukala and Grant LeMarquand quoting two ciceronian passages: In Verrem II.5.162 and Pro Rabirio 16. They consider this verse from an African context at http://www.tesm.edu/articles/lemarquand-cursed-be-everyone.html
2. Jesus’ encounter with others who test him dramatically opposes his way to pray in vv. 1-4 of this chapter.