Why do the scriptures so often speak to us of the end times when God obviously doesn’t plan to tell us his plan for that day of judgment? In fact, it does not even seem a part of Jesus’ divine mission to know the day or the hour of that coming. In speaking of it, just he seeking to instill fear in his listeners? Or is he giving them hope for eternal life? Yes on both accounts.
Evil is framed according to a narrative that suggests it’s somehow all outside of us, it’s too powerful to be grappled with, and it might be on your doorstep soon. This is not, however, what our gospel today suggests. In fact, Jesus paints a very different picture than the news, and today’s gospel contains a truth which we both need to hear and don’t want to hear.
So each year the Israelites sent a goat into the wilderness on Yom Kippur with their sins, for a moment being free of the burden of sin, and shortly thereafter they would sin again, being broken humans like ourselves, and await the following year when Yom Kippur would come. More urgently, they awaited the messiah who would set things straight, he who “will arise, the sun of justice with his healing rays... To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”
Jesus is the messiah, he is the one who takes all the sins of Israel- indeed the whole world- upon himself and dies for us. This sacrifice of Christ is the most fitting, the most perfect sacrifice. It need be only once, for Jesus is God and the great exchange which happens in this sacrifice sits outside of history- above history- we could say. It is Jesus let us lay hands on him, who take upon himself all the hatred, the venom, the sin of the world, and died with it. Thus it is swallowed up in Christ’s death.
To a man who has had success in all life’s endeavors, who excels in virtue and is without match in business savvy, Jesus declares, “It is you I want for myself, I do not care for your accomplishments. Empty yourself of all those things that I may fill you up!”
Jesus looks upon this man and loves him, calls him to discipleship- and he walks away!!
How could this happen, how does such a powerful scene end this way?
Jesus answers our question with something even more difficult: “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” Brothers and sisters, do we love Christ above everything? Would we leave everything to follow him? We must be brutally honest with ourselves on this, for we see in our gospel today that we can be good, even excellent people who earnestly seek God, yet in the moment of truth we can reject Christ’s loving gaze.
This is the 2nd part of a four part series I am giving to the CYC Board in our diocese, discussing the theology of the cross, what it tells us about God and about ourselves.
Unfortunately, I didn't record the first part of the series, but I will hopefully get around to typing up my notes soon enough, or perhaps will give the talk in a different context soon, and will record it.
Just a Note- this is 28 minutes long!
Who is saved? What is it necessary for salvation? We ask questions in this arena often, and rarely do the answers not make us uncomfortable. That’s because an easy answer to that question either errors on the side of universalism- basically everyone is saved so don’t worry about it. Or it begins to sound rigid, brutal, and nearly arbitrary when someone claims there is no salvation outside the Church, period.
Why are we often so wrapped up in these sorts of questions? This is because deep down, we all want a religion that is a matter of ortho-praxis. What is a religion of ortho-praxis? It presents us with a list of obligations, procedures, formulas and works, and we do them. If we do them, we go to heaven, and if we don’t, we do not go to heaven, it's that simple. How we feel while we do these things is irrelevant, what we believe in the midst of all that work is also irrelevant, because it only matters that we do the work demanded of us.
A few of the fastest growing religions in our world are that way, which is part of their compelling force for many people. If I do this, I go to heaven- it’s that easy. Christianity is not a religion of orthopraxy
What is the appropriate response finding to such a terrific evil planted in the institution founded by Christ to stand against this exact evil? How do we respond when looking upon these wicked men who go about in the light as though they will guide us in the ways of holiness while in the dark they go about their awful, pernicious deeds?
Where can we go from here? Many are furious and disgusted with the whole affair, as well as ashamed and disappointed with the Church. If those are your feelings, I am right there with you. I feel all those same things but most of all, I’m angry.
In all of this, we look to God for guidence in our anger and power in healing.
I am not sounding some apocalyptic horn announcing this the worst age. Every age, every generation has its struggles. We can just look to Paul’s letter today, “Brothers and Sisters, watch carefully how you live, not as foolish but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.”
The evil we face today is subtle, confusing, and hard to pin down. That Struggle is the struggle with meaninglessness, and our young people are losing. 54% of young people considered themselves lonely, and suicide is now the third leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 10 and 24… about 4,600 kids in the U.S. each year.
What are we to do?
If we didn’t enjoy, at least in some shallow way, the iPhone’s ability to distract us for hours on end from the real world, from facing ourselves, we wouldn’t buy them and invest our whole identity in that platform. If we didn’t believe sports were the root of happiness, we wouldn’t sacrifice every second of our life running our kids from school sports to travel sports to dance to whatever.
I will tell you this for sure, none of those things will bring you joy- ever, no matter much time you put in or how successful you are, no matter the popularity and attention it brings you. In fact, in a horrible twist, the more we pour our identity into these things, no matter what they are, the emptier we become- because they have no power to give life!
Today, we bustle about like sheep without a shepherd. We must let the true shepherd, Jesus Christ, lead us into the wilderness daily to be refreshed, that he can give focus, energy and direction to everything we do.
The Blackfeet are predominately Catholic, and overwhelmingly Christian besides- in other words they are a faithful people. Yet they face dire poverty with 70% unemployment. Alcohol and drugs have wreaked havoc upon their people with a disproportionate amount of young deaths, as well as ½ the children in Browning being born addicted.
Where is God’s grace in this place? Where is he when his people so badly need him? Why does he not come to their aid? These were some of the questions on our young people’s hearts as the trip began- and on my own heart. Yet as we came to know the Blackfeet people and saw their faith, suddenly Jesus seemed to be everywhere, and different questions arose in our hearts.