Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wednesday word, 20 Feb 2008

Wednesday, Second Week of Lent (20 Feb 2008) Jer 18. 18-20; Ps 31; Mt 20. 17-28
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Deeply Embedded

In the culture of the Near East one person representing others was typical. Other prophets before Jeremiah and after him could remind God like Jeremiah: Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf. Those who refused to listen to Jeremiah decided to get rid of him, as if silencing him would silence God.

The parallel with Jesus is clear. For us God became human in Jesus in order to atone once for all for our wanderings from God. We heard the third and most detailed of the predictions Jesus made to his disciples that he would be rejected, “mocked and scourged and crucified... and raised on the third day.”

They did not understand. “You do not know what you are asking.” Jesus did not speak those words to the mother of James and John Zebedee but to her sons. She represented them. If one person representing others were common in the culture of the Near East, why did they not understand? Because they were swayed by exaltation rather than by selflessness.

God accepted the death of one just man to forgive the sins of many. This was deeply embedded in Jewish tradition. Any death had power to atone if bound up with repentance-- even a criminal’s. The death of any Israelite had more atoning power if he made his declaration on his death bed. The death of a righteous man was even more powerful because it was to the advantage of others.

Just or righteous means far more than innocent. Three times Pilate declared Jesus innocent: twice, I find this man not guilty/1/; once, no capital crime has been committed by him (crucifixion was capital punishment), and Herod concurred./2/ So how was Jesus the just man? Jesus forgave his executioners from his cross; and from his deathbed cross Jesus entrusted his life and mission to God: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit./3/ Jesus’ dying declaration fulfilled and demonstrated total devotion to God. This is not easy to do, especially because we are often tempted to seek our exaltation. Entrusting ourselves to God is how we participate in Jesus’ dying and rising, how Jesus raises us with him.
/1/ Luke 23.4, 14; and John 19.4, 6.
/2/ Luke 23.15.
/3/ Luke 23.46

J. Jeremias surveyed the atoning power of death in Israel in his New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus, trans. John Bowden (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971), pp. 286-299.
Wiki-image of Repin's Jeremiah is in the public domain.

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