02 April 2007

No Shame! Proclaim the Death of Jesus!

Monday of Holy Week: Isaiah 42.1-7 and John 12.1-11
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX


Honored Lazarus reclines at table with Jesus. Martha serves them. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfumed oil, drying them with her hair. And Judas, the thieving betrayer, counts the cost of her devotion and objects: “Why not sell the oil and give the money to the poor?” Surely, Judas is right. He is a thief and he will ultimately betray our Lord to his executioners, but the good sense of his objection is clear: that oil was worth three hundred days’ wages! That’s a lot of bread and cooking oil for the poor. Jesus, however, being one to promote the excessive over the frugal, the wasteful over the efficient, tells Judas to leave Mary alone. He says, “Let her keep this [oil] for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” His point? It is better to waste expensive oil burying one man than it is to feed three hundred of the poor? No. He’s going to die and soon. His death is the price for our lives.

Look again at who’s gathered in the house with Jesus: Lazarus, Martha, Mary, Judas. Jesus has with him the man whom he raised from the dead. A woman who serves him with her working hands. A woman who serves him extravagantly with her adoration and care. And a disciple who despises Jesus’ excess and hides his contempt for him with pious platitudes about the poor. Here Jesus has with him a living miracle, a selfless good work, an indulgent act of devotion, and a heart hardened by avarice and scorn. A week or so before his death he has with him the Church—the Church in all her supernatural life after death; her hard labor at love in service; her genuine, though sometimes wildly generous, piety; and all her dark practicality, worldly worry, and survivalist self-preservation. Jesus says to this Body assembled for dinner: my death is coming; I die for you. Nothing, then, is to be counted excessive or wasteful when held up against the Cross!

This is a difficult time of year for thinking Christians. What do we make of this gruesome exchange of one life for the lives of us all? An Anglican bishop in the U.K. has said that our traditional understanding of Christ’s death on the cross as a vicarious sacrifice turns God into a psychopathic murderer. Others have said that his death is merely exemplary—an example of how to die for one’s friends—not at all a death “for us” as in “instead of us.” And still others have taken his death to be a defiant act of revolution against imperialism and the fascist state. Judas, were he a theologian today, could invent no better diversionary fantasies! Augustine preaches that “[t]he death of the Lord our God should not be a cause of shame for us; rather, it should be our greatest hope, our greatest glory.” Do not be embarrassed by Christ’s death for us. Do not be worried about ridicule or scorn. Do not be anxious about the laughter of the world. Thinking Christians think with the Church and serve and pray with the Church and live daily the miracle of conversion to holiness.

One last question from Augustine: “Why does our human frailty hesitate to believe that mankind will one day live with God?” And I would add: why do we hesitate to believe that we will live with God b/c of the death of His Son on the cross? An answer in a question: what is more excessive, more extravagant than the death of the Son of God in exchange for our lives? The price is scandalous, the cost beyond counting. This is why the Cross must be greatest hope and our greatest glory!

Without fear, without hesitation or shame: confess that Christ died for us so that we might live!

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