11 February 2006

Wizards? Professors? Witnesses!

6th Sunday OT: Lev 13.1-2, 44-46; 1 Cor 10.31-11.1; Mark 1.40-45
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul’s Hospital, Dallas, TX and Church of the Incarnation
Hear it!

What sort of witness is Jesus teaching us to be?

Jesus is spending a great deal of time healing the sick, preaching to the crowds, teaching his favored disciples, driving out demons. And he is spending a great deal of time telling people to be quiet about what he is doing and who he is. Remarkably so, among the first to witness to Jesus’ divine Sonship are the demons, the unclean spirits who bellow out his identity: “We know who you are: the Holy One of God!” Jesus silences them with a word. The men and women Jesus makes new with his healing touch also bear witness to who he is. And he sternly orders them to silence as well. For all the good it does! What sort of witness does Jesus want us to be?

Jesus seems driven by the need to show us who he really is and at the same time restrained by a need for secrecy, for silence. Let me suggest that the reason for this terrible tension is prophetic, that is, the tension is there so that it might be played out in our witness now, in the charge we have been given to be the prophetic bearers of the Word, voices for the Good News.

Think about it: if Jesus had come to us like a Dungeons and Dragons Wizard, throwing fireballs, casting spells, riding giant eagles to fight the demons, we would have had a fantastic show, a brilliant demonstration of raw, unearthly power. Now that would be an event to witness to! But don’t you think that this sort of theatre would have to be repeated again and again? Repeated to the point that it became nothing but a show? What Jesus is trying to teach—the Good News of our salvation—would be so easily overshadowed by the sparkle, the smoke, the glittering mirrors. What would we see? The God-man dying for our eternal life? Or some sort of weird version of David Copperfield, dying horribly on the cross, and then snapping back to life and inviting us to the ten o’clock show?

Or, if he had come to us as a staid philosopher. With tweed jacket, pipe, bad graying comb-over, Jesus gathers a crowd of over-educated, middle-class egghead wanna-bes and spends one afternoon a week expounding on the Christological taxonomies of the Hebrew prophetic witness and deconstructing the meta-narrative prejudices of a bourgeois modernist cultural hegemony that insists taxonomies adequately sign “reality.” But don’t you think that this sort of theatre would have to be repeated again and again? What Jesus is trying to teach—the Good News of our salvation—would be so easily smothered by pretentious academic jargon, superficial ideological fantasy, and the always tempting intellectual moves: make it all just about symbol or just about history or just about myth.

I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.

Jesus’ public ministry in Mark’s gospel looks confused because Jesus doesn’t want us to see him as a magician, a wizard out to build a fan base. He doesn’t want us to see him as a philosopher in the classical Greek tradition, a man of High Reason, logic, and impeccable pagan virtue. Jesus wants us to see him. Him, as is. Fully God, fully man. Capable of claiming his Father’s power to re-create the perfection of human health, to make right the wrong of sin, to bring back from the edge of total, soulless darkness the soul that reaches out, that needs saving. Jesus wants us to see him as he is: as a man with limits—a need for rest, food, companionship, love, solitude AND as God—He Who rests in our hearts as the engine of our covenant; Who feeds us the food and drink of heaven; Who is with us always as friend and Father; Who loves us without limit, without prejudice, loves us to repentance; and the One Who is here even in our solitude, the One Who fills our longing and loneliness with immaculate mercy, perfectly refined joy.

I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.

Jesus Christ is a man we can witness for. Jesus Christ is God whose Word we can bear, whose promises we can shout about. We can be witnesses who tell stories of healing, stories of radical mercy and forgiveness, stories of unexpected grace and enlightenment. You can see and hear the gospel. You can train your mind to think with the Church, your heart to beat with the saints, and your voice to proclaim the always re-creating Word.

Paul asks the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitates Christ. We cannot all live in the circus, being showman for Jesus. Nor can we all live in the university, being bookish geeks for the Lord. But we can know and love and talk about the Jesus of this gospel. The God-Man who touches diseases and heals, who touches a disposable outcast and makes him family again. The God-man who seeks out a little solitude to recharge, to recover from the hard work of being a preacher of the Good News to Word-starved crowds.

You can be a witness for Christ by imitating Christ: speak a word of healing, of peace, of charity wherever you find yourself. Shine out joy! Tell the truth about our redemption in Christ: he died for us so that when we confess our sins, repent of them and do penance, we are able to receive God’s forgiveness as freed men and women, and then put that forgiveness to use as healthy food for our growth in holiness. You can be a witness for Christ by doing everything you do for the greater glory of God, by not seeking first your own benefit but the benefit of others, and always, always telling the truth of the faith.

Jesus seems restrained by a need for secrecy and silence. Are we restrained in our witness as well by secrecy and the need for silence? Do we contain our witness as a private matter, a personal religious thing that we practice alone? Maybe there is a spirit of shame or embarrassment gagging your witness? Or maybe a spirit of intellectual pride or fear of ridicule? Maybe you have been bitten by the All-Religions-Are-Basically-the-Same bug and think that witnessing to Christ is somehow intolerant of religious diversity or unnecessarily provocative. Or perhaps your witness has been silenced by the anger and spite of dissenters within the Church. Regardless—literally, without regard to any these or for any these—you approach this altar today/tonight to take into your body the Body and Blood of Christ, the One Who died for you, the One who reached out across creation as the breath of life over the void and touched you; touches you, heals you.

Go. Show yourself to the World, to the Church, and offer as your witness the cleansing that Jesus Christ has accomplished in you. Spread it abroad. And keep coming back and keep going out.

I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.


  1. Father Mark Daniel, O.Cist.2:49 PM

    Magnificent, Father! We had the Mass of Our Lady of Lourdes with proper readings for the Anointing of the Sick. Forty-three people anointed. You said it! "Jesus is spending a great deal of time healing the sick. . . ."
    Our preaching was addressed primarily to the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified, nuns who, by vocation, offer their weakness with the sufferings of Christ to the Father.

  2. The anger and spite of dissenters?

    I see holy and orthodox priests like Brown, Curran, Schillebeeckx, McBrien freely libeled by the heresy-hunters, with the clear purpose of silencing or intimidating them. Even when Card. Ratzinger praised Brown as the kind of exegete the Church needs more of, their frenzy only increased in volume. Recall that in the New Testament the spite and venom came from the self-designated orthodox, Caiphas and the Pharisees. They saw Jesus as a dissenter, a heretic, a liberal. Like the above mentioned priests, Jesus replied with discretion, silence, calm, patience and infinite educative compassion, though sometimes also with prophetic rage, as in Matthew 23.

  3. SoVT writes: "They saw Jesus as a dissenter, a heretic, a liberal."

    I have no idea what we're supposed to do with this sentiment. Jesus was a dissenter, a heretic, and, for his day perhaps, a liberal. So what? His dissension, heresy, and liberality gave us the Truth of the Gospel. He was dissenting from the "traditions of men" that had grown up around the Law. His "heresy" was the proclamation of the coming of his Father's kingdom. And his "liberality" was the offer of salvation to all through his sacrifice on the cross. He gave us truthful content not purposeless process.

    Are you wanting us to believe that simply b/c you can retroactively label Jesus with your favorite adjectives that those adjectives slapped on anyone now somehow lends them the credibility of Jesus? If so, then you need to be writing columns supporting the sedevacantists, et. al. b/c they are most definitely dissenters, heretics, and liberals given your understanding of the terms. They are standing against the established Church as it is described in the documents of Vatican Two, fighting against Church authority, resisting the hegemony of the hierarchy! Are they heroes for you b/c they dissent? Or is only some kind of dissent permissible for you?

    Fr. Philip, OP

  4. Anonymous2:52 PM

    I am very happy that I found your blog. Thanks for publishing your homilies. I will gladly visit again.


  5. Thank you, Fr, Mark and Anon. I am always pleased to hear that folks have benefited from my homilies. I'm hoping to figure out a way to record them as I preach them. My current method of recording them in my office is a bit dull.

    Fr. Philip

  6. Anonymous4:17 PM

    father, that was a very good homily. it was one of the best that i have ever read. (I still like Spirit of Vatican 2's view more though :))
    Ryan McKanna