23 March 2011

Ransom for the many

2nd Week of Lent (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

We've all heard it a million times before: Jesus upsets the conventions of polite society. He revolutionizes religious expectations by pointing us beyond traditional models of power. Jesus spends his public ministry redistributing spiritual capital from a greedy priesthood to the “workers in the field,” rewarding those who sacrifice for the poor and the marginalized. Yes, we've heard it all before. . .largely b/c it's true. Put in more theological and less political terms, Jesus teaches his disciples (and us) that each of us is a priest, a prophet, and a king. Each of us—in virtue of our baptism in Christ—has a duty to sacrifice, to prophesy, and to rule. Along behind the Christ—the High Priest, the Final Prophet, and the Only King—we follow as servants, serving to the limits of our gifts, exhausting our time, talent, and treasure in the service of the Kingdom of Heaven. Each of us alone and all of us together pitch in to get the work of God done. And along the way, we suffer; we rejoice; we fail; we get back up; and we soldier on b/c “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” How does serving others as a priest, a prophet, and a king lead us to ransom our lives for many? 

Priests offer sacrifice to God and mediate between God and His creatures through prayer. The service we render to the world as priests is mediation—by example and by intercession. By example, we sacrifice; that is, through surrender to God we make our lives and the work we do holy. We are not called to do “good deeds.” We are called to do good deeds for Christ's sake, in his name and for his greater glory. By example, by doing what he himself did, we stand between the world and Christ, inviting the world to see and hear the mercy that Christ proclaimed to all. By intercession, we do the work of prayer on behalf of the world; in some cases; we do the work of prayer in the stead of the world. Our lives as priests ransom the many—pay for the many—when we pick up their debts and pay them from our own spiritual treasure.

Prophets see the fulfilled promises of God and measure our successes and failures in living up to our end of the covenant. With the death and resurrection of Christ, God's covenant promises are complete. However, we are still working toward meeting our obligations. The service we render to the world as prophets is judgment. Not through condemnation but through assessment and correction. If we see our godly end clearly, then we can see our how work is succeeding or failing. Measured against our obligations under the new covenant, are we on the Way or have we strayed? Alone and together, are we at our best, doing our best for the coming Kingdom? Our lives as prophets are ransomed for the many when we sacrifice popularity in the pursuit of Christ's perfection for ourselves and for the world.

Kings rule in order to guard righteousness, to preserve right relationships and protect the helpless. The service we render to the world as kings is justice. Not the worldly justice of vengeance or retribution but the justice due to the image and likeness of God in all. Guarding human dignity, the imago Dei, in all God's sons and daughters guards His sacred will that all come to Him freely in love. As servant-kings we are charged with ensuring that no one is prevented from answering his or her call to holiness, that no one is prevented from perfecting the image and likeness of God that gives them life. We ransom our lives for the many when we fight against the injustices that subjugate and destroy life.

When we serve Christ as his priests, prophets, and kings we sacrifice our lives to the service of his gospel—all are invited to the one table; all are called upon to repent; and all are forgiven. The greatest work that the least can do is serve the many by showing them the Christ.

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