Homily for October 2nd, 2005.
Caution: Putting a Sunday homily on the Website is tricky business. All the viewer has is a written text. A homily, on the other hand, is "an oral event". It may not have been said or heard the way it was written. In addition, a roughly ten-minute homily is part of a roughly one-hour worship event in which God and God's people communicate with each other by means of ritual, symbol, song, proclamation, prayer. Not everything in these homilies is original. As a homilist, I rely on and at times borrow from other homilists and writers who are not properly mentioned in this format. I am often indebted to them.
Father William Marrevee, s.c.j.
27th Sunday Ordinary Time Year A
We have to be careful with this sort of Gospel passage. In the course of the Church’s history it is one of the elements that have fostered much anti-Semitism, hostility towards the Jews. A simplistic reading of it made Christians conclude that God has rejected Israel , and the Church now takes the place of Israel . All this, so the reasoning went, because the Jews rejected Jesus and we as Christians have accepted Jesus. The result of this sort of reading has caused much tragedy. We still need much reconciliation and healing to correct the wrongs of the past.
One small step towards reconciliation consists in the recognition that as Christians we have much in common with the Jews. Look at our Bible. It is the authority for our life of faith. 4/5 of it we have in common with the Jews. We call it usually the Old Testament; Hebrew Scriptures may be more appropriate. We cannot dispense with it or quietly pass it over. It serves as the source of faith, even today. Our Church recognizes that by having us, every Sunday, read a passage from the part we have in common: the first reading. That first reading is in turn responded to by some verses from one of the psalms, also taken from the Hebrew Scriptures. I cannot think of any prayer form that can match the depth of faith that the psalms express.
It is unfortunate that we know so little of the Hebrew Scriptures. And the little we do know is often the wrong sort of thing or the least important thing. It is true that the way some books of the Hebrew Scriptures are written can be a real handicap. But if we make an honest attempt to cut through some of that stuff, the Hebrew Scriptures can teach us a lot about what a faith-stance is, what it is to go through life with a faith-attitude.
The beauty of the Hebrew Scriptures is that, beginning with Abraham, they speak to us of little people very much like ourselves who every so often stumble upon God in their lives, who try to make sense of God, who wrestle with God. The Hebrew Scriptures show themselves to be a logbook of people who, despite experiences of God’s absence and silence, and despite moments of unfaithfulness and sinfulness on their part, tried to live from the faith certainty that a gracious God accompanied and sustained them in their journey through life.
The Bible, in its entirety, is a logbook of people who had to slug it out; who, as true sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah, may have had the experience of not knowing where they were going, but who nevertheless carried on, convinced that a faithful God walked with them every step of their way. The Bible is not simply a book of people of the past; of course, it is that too, but, if we take the trouble to dig a little, then we can find ourselves in these stories.
If there is one thing that the Hebrew Scriptures can teach us, it is that God can be found in the history of daily routine. The Hebrew Scriptures tell us of people who discover God’s presence in ordinary bits of history, in the love and joy, in the pain and hurts of human living. There is where they discover God as a God-for-us and with-us. There is where they hear God say: “I am with you. I am your God; you are my people. I’ll be there for you.”
As an authentic Jew, Jesus himself lived from that Jewish experience of God, as shaped in the Hebrew Scriptures. And he clung to it. That is what enabled him to hang in there and to remain faithful to his task. But if Jesus himself could not live or breathe without the Hebrew Scriptures, would it not be strange on our part, if we as disciples of Jesus pretended to be able to get by without the Hebrew Scriptures? Yes, it asks from us that we not be satisfied with a surface knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures. Instead, it asks from us that we try to get in touch with the real faith genius of the Jews as expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures. That may take a bit of effort, but it is worth it, and our own faith life may be the healthier for it.
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