12th Sunday of the Year C (20 Jun 2010)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
In God’s Right Hand
The final verse of Psalm 63, our response to the reading from Zechariah, invites us to renew our confidence in God or to trust God in a new way. The verse is: You are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy. My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me. It invited a member of Israel to trust God through public worship, which instilled joyous confidence.
Like much of worship its environment played its part. The ark of the covenant, which contained the tablets of the ten words Moses received from God on Mt. Sinai, had a cover decorated with two cherubim. The angels at the ends of the cover faced one another with wings outstretched and touching at its center.1
Long after the people settled from their wanderings, and Solomon had built the temple, greatly enlarged cherubim stood in its holy of holies. Each stood upright about 15 feet with wings of 7.5 feet, and as the wings of each touched they spanned nearly 30 feet.2
The point isn’t the numbers—no standard measures existed. The point is the size of the cherubim, which towered over people and surrounded them. Hardly anyone saw those cherubim, but scripture described them. Knowledge of them caused the psalmist to feel embraced; and the hymn book for Israel’s worship was the psalmist’s songs. So people sang in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy. Joy suggests a feeling of intimate embrace, feeling protected, upheld by God’s right hand.
Jesus, too, felt this intimate embrace, savored it and responded freely to it—what obedience of faith3 means in daily, personal living. Jesus confidently felt protected and upheld by God’s right hand as he told his disciples that he must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Of course, the way of the Messiah is the way of his disciples in each age. To shoulder crosses, that is, to endure life’s trials, is how we imitate our Messiah Jesus, who minced no words about suffer[ing] greatly before he would enter his glory.
St. Paul reminded us that baptism causes the faith of Jesus in us. By becoming human for us Jesus gave us access to his faith: by his Spirit Jesus empowers us to respond to God as he did. Jesus’ human response to God modeled each human’s response to God. Jesus’ human response to God gives us access to confidence, which is greater than self-assurance; it is a joyous trust and conviction that we stand always in God’s loving embrace, upheld by God’s right hand.
Baptism begins this joyous trust and conviction. The Eucharist, as well as other sacraments, sustains it and helps it grow more alive. The sacraments allow Jesus’ joyous, trusting conviction to become ours. While we can say that Jesus’ joyous, trusting conviction is ours, it is never private. Baptism, and all the sacraments, are not private; they belong to all who profess our Catholic faith. Baptism produces Christian unity, or to use St. Paul’s phrase, baptism causes us to belong to Christ.
We foster what baptism begins and the eucharist sustains as we notice day by day the ways our triune God intimately embraces us and protects us. Our God works not only in moments of public worship. God works through human longings, desires, feelings. When our longings, desires and feelings have a texture of surprise—such as, “Now I see!” or “Why do I keep gravitating toward this?”—that often indicates we are in God’s right hand. The more we savor those longings, desires and feelings our responses to God will resemble more Jesus’ human response to God.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, compose yourself in the bright shadow of our triune God. Ask St. Peter to present you to Jesus with a strong confidence. Speak in your words to Jesus, asking him to purify your confidence to become more like his. Close, saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. The words of Jesus, thy will be done, on our lips joyfully praise God for being ever-mindful of us and give us Jesus’ confidence to live more faithfully in the face of trials as well as joys.
- Exodus 25.20.
- 2 Chronicles 3.10-13.
- Romans 1.5 and 16.26: obedience of faith as modeled by Jesus, who gives access (5.2) to God to all who practice his faith, bookends St. Paul’s letter.