APRIL 17, 2006: [Monday of Holy Week] HOMILY ON JOHN 12:1-11[
HERE IS MY CHOSEN ONE, MY SERVANT IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED. Even while he was honored at a banquet among friends and disciples, Jesus remained aware that as the chosen Servant of the Father he was soon to undergo the humiliation and suffering of his Passion. He makes this clear in his response to Judas after Mary of Bethany had anointed his feet with the precious perfume as a dramatic gesture of gratitude for the kindnesses he had shown her. Judas saw this prodigality as a wasteful use of a costly luxury; measured by the materialistic standard of the world his view is sound. But Jesus will have none of such ways of thinking. There are other values of an altogether higher and personal order that he values. And so, rebuking Judas for his narrow-minded criticism and cold greediness, he defends Maryís action as a service of love. He does so in terms that reveal how conscious he was of his role as the Suffering Servant of God. He sees in her anointing with the precious perfume a prophetic sign of his imminent death and burial.
Surely the most counter-intuitive prophecies of the Hebrew Bible are the four Servant Songs of the Prophet known to modern scholars as Second Isaiah. The first reading today is the first of this series that describe in a rather mysterious fashion an emissary of God who will bring blessings to his people by his dedication and outstanding gifts of virtue. St. Matthew was to cite this passage in his Gospel precisely after telling us that "the Pharisees went out and began to plot against him (Jesus), discussing how to destroy him". (Mt 12:14) He goes on to observe that "This was to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah." In this way, then, he identifies Jesus as the Servant of God in whom the Father is well pleased and whose sacrifice he accepts as the propitiation of our sins. When Jesus spoke, earlier in his ministry, of himself as the light of the world he was identifying himself, in effect, with this figure foretold by the prophet of whom, he tells us in this text, God declares: "I formed you and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations to ope the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon those who live in darkness."
Early in the history of the Church, Tertullian, the first theologian writing in Latin, spoke of this world as a prison the doors of which are opened by faith in Christ. This is hardly a popular view of our world today. Yet, every human person at some period of life, longer for some, shorter for others, experiences the world, even the mortal body, as a prison in which he or she is held captive. If you doubt the truth of this assertion, visit any one of the many hospitals and nursing homes in your own city. Talk to the long term inmates who feel abandoned, forgotten, unwanted and are depressed, or to the acutely ill who have just learned they have a serious disease that cannot be cured. Consider the millions of young people who feel the world has no place for them. Some years ago when in Israel I stopped in a small Palestinian village. In a few minutes a group of about 15 teenagers noticing I was a foreigner come up to my parked car and asked where I was from. I told them I lived in New York. "Take us back with you", they began saying, we have no future here. There is nothing for us." Walk along the streets of Lagos, Nigeria, and you will see numbers of unemployed young men without hope of finding useful employment, idly passing away the heaviness of time. Some countries in Africa have 40% to 50% unemployment There is a more hidden darkness that surrounds the lives of others more fortunate in their economic situation but without hope in any ultimate meaning to their lives beyond the passing satisfactions of a time that quickly passes. This is the prison from which Godís Servant comes to free us, the moral, hopeless darkness in which he shines as a light that brings the promise and hope of freedom. This darkness is the state of alienation from the source of light and life that is the fruit of sin.
This Holy Week we re-enact with the Church the coming of Christ to shine the light of hope into the obscurity of this world and of our own hearts. He invites us by our faith and our hope in him as our Savior to witness to the reality of his resurrection and so to be ministers of the hope that he alone fulfills. This is the task assigned to each of us in Godís Providence during these days. By our active and dedicated participation in these mysteries, made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice each day, for the salvation of the world may we show our gratitude to the Lord who gave himself for our sins and r0se to bestow on us eternal life in the presence of the Father.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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