3rd Sunday of the Year C (24 Jan 2010)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Word No One Likes
The reading from the Book of Nehemiah reminds us that our worship depends on ancient Jewish synagogue worship. God’s self-revelation in words of scripture brings us together, at least week in and week out. The gospel reminds us that God, who had chosen to make self-disclosure through words of scripture, embraced us more closely through a personal revelation by becoming human for us.
The Spirit joins us to our Messiah Jesus, who fulfilled all scripture, indeed all the divine desires for humans in every time and place. We are united with our Messiah Jesus in fact; as St. Paul wrote, “you are the body of Christ.” Lest we become puffed up by our new status as member of our Messiah’s body, St. Paul reminds us as he reminded the Corinthians of two things: gift and dependence. What do they mean and how do they function for us?
First, gift: we don’t earn our union with Jesus. Our union with Jesus is gift, grace, accomplished by Jesus’ Spirit. We live it, even though partially at present; This Spirit-gift is our hope to be confident we will live it fully one day. This Spirit-gift joins us to Jesus and inspires us to live it with confidence that we will enjoy complete union when Jesus returns in glory.
Second, our gift has a consequence. The consequence of being one body in Christ1 Jesus is our dependence on our Messiah Jesus and his dying and rising. Baptism began our union with and dependence on our risen Messiah. Our lifelong vocation is to enjoy a deeper felt knowledge that each of us is Beloved by God, to recall an image at Jesus’ baptism.2 The eucharist sustains our union with Jesus and nourishes us on our pilgrim way to discover how each of is beloved by God. The other sacraments help promote our union and to restore it when we allow our dependence on Jesus and our interdependence on each other to weaken.
Dependence is a word of which none of us is keen. Feelings dependence causes and evokes in us make us uncomfortable. In part, we dislike dependence because its discomfort threatens our pride. In part, we dislike dependence and its feelings because of our national heritage and the way it shapes us as rugged individuals, a myth blinding us to our vulnerable selves: we are all susceptible to physical and emotional distress, even harm.
St. Paul used the image of the body that practical philosophers of his day had circulated. He used it to teach the Corinthians, who had a puffed up sense of themselves: their knowledge made them more eager to consider themselves before others. What did the body-image offer? We depend on our Messiah’s dying and rising for our lives, and we are interdependent on each other the way hands, feet, eyes, ears and head depend on each other. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary.
Being in awe of who we are and who we grow to be welcomes dependence on our Messiah and both dependence and interdependence on one another. It shapes us as disciples of Jesus and stewards of one another. Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister put well what this means and how it functions in Christian lives.
The God who made us what we are knows what we desire to be and waits with infinite patience while we become what we can. We, on the other hand, know that whatever we need to become all that we can be, this same great and loving God will supply. For all of that, we are thankful. From that gratitude grow love and commitment, faith and trust, wonder and worship.3Love and commitment, faith and trust, wonder and worship help us appreciate that being vulnerable graces us to live as liberated, saved people who help others to discover their liberation and real life are Spirit-gifts Jesus has secured for all of us to enjoy together.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, quiet yourself in the presence of the Trinity. Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus so you may converse with Jesus. Express your fears and your reluctance to place yourself in his hands and heart. Ask for the grace to feel with greater confidence Jesus’ infinitely patient love he has for you. Close by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Each time we pray it we unite ourselves with the faith of Jesus which allowed him to depend totally on his Father and to see it bear fruit.
- Romans 12.5.
- Luke 3.22.
- In her book, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009.