Friday, May 8, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 4th Sunday in Easter

As we continue to explore some of the deep meanings of the Paschal Mystery, today's topic is probably one of the least considered aspects of that Mystery by most ordinary believers. It is this: that the Resurrection was a complete vindication of the life, ministry and death of Jesus. I don't think today we realize how much the public crucifixion of Jesus was such an occasion of shame and scandal for anyone associated with him, especially his family and his disciples. There is no doubt that the first disciples of Jesus were bothered greatly by that crucifixion. It was probably that worry which led to the eventual formation of the Passion accounts in the gospels. We should never lose sight of what a burden that was for those who survived Jesus.

The act of crucifixion was a particularly horrible way to die. In the ancient world it was considered the cruelest and most shameful form of execution. The Romans reserved it for slaves who had committed grave offenses. One who was crucified shamed his entire family and range of acquaintances, a shame they carried for the rest of their lives. There was an inkling of that in the news recently. April 20th was the ten year anniversary of the Columbine school massacre in Colorado. There were a lot of news pieces associated with that tragic event. One that I found particularly moving (and sad) concerned a Lutheran pastor whose ministry was basically destroyed because he tried to offer some consolation and help to the parents and family of one of the teen-age shooters. The parents of the teenager were devastated by what their son had done. Still they were treated cruelly by almost everyone else in the community. The pastor just tried to support them and the people turned on him as well. He finally had to move away from that area. In that episode we might touch a little of what the family and followers of Jesus felt after his crucifixion.

It should give us a new appreciation of the depth of faith that lay behind the words of the first reading that we heard today: "All the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarean whom you crucified, whom God raised..." What's implicit in that affirmation is that the family and disciples of Jesus had to first accept the shame and then turn it into an occasion of grace. The Resurrection vindicates the life, ministry and death of Jesus. But that could happen in the disciples' faith only if they first accepted the shame. Accepting shame is never easy It's said that every family has a black sheep or skeletons in the closet, and some people will go to great lengths to keep that quiet. Some individuals will act the same with their own life. There are some topics they just never want to bring up.

Nevertheless, one of the essential meanings of the Paschal Mystery lies in this: accepting shame can often become an occasion of grace. It seems that the early Christians did just that. It's often said that early Christianity was primarily a faith of the poor and slaves. Today we would probably say that with pride. However we often sugarcoat it in the process. Being a slave in the ancient Roman empire was a hard and humiliating life for many. Slaves, esp. female slaves, had to regularly endure some pretty shameful things. Try to imagine what those slaves must have felt hearing the words, "this Jesus, who was shamed, God raised up." Then you can better appreciate how the Resurrection was not only a vindication of the life, ministry and death of Jesus, but also a powerful healing message for those early Christians.

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