Saturday, June 19, 2010

They Shall Look on Him Whom They Have Pierced

Homily for Sunday, June 20 - Father's Day:

“And they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn.”

When we look at a crucifix we often think one of two things. Either “I nailed you there” or “What great love you have for me”. These are really two different ways of responding to our own sinfulness. The first of these responses “I nailed you there” is a response of remorse that focuses more on us than on God; if we stay there, we focus only on what we have done wrong and move no closer to God. The second response, that of “What great love you have for me,” is one of sorrow and repentance that turns into faith and love. We recognize our wrongdoing and regret having sinned, but this is overshadowed by our realization of the greatness of God’s love and the incredible gift that Christ makes of Himself. We are stunned at the love God has for us and all else fades away.

In our first reading we find a people in need of this love. The Israelites had been exiled from their homeland and sent to Babylon. They returned after nearly fifty years to find their Temple destroyed and their land in absolute ruins. Many gave up hope of returning to any sense of normalcy and questioned whether the Lord was on their side. They needed something to hope in. It is in light of this that we begin to see many prophecies of the Christ and the kingdom to come, prophecies of prosperity and joy for all of their people. In this the people of Israel began to hope, and in the prophecy we hear today from the book of Zechariah they see a faint shadow of the love that their descendants would one day know. They received the promise of forgiveness through the one who would be pierced.

Five hundred years later, we hear the fulfillment of that prophecy spoken on the lips of Jesus as he says “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” He is the one about whom Zechariah wrote, the one the Lord had promised so many years ago. He is the one that is to be pierced and gazed upon, the one for whom the people shall mourn as for an only son, the one for whom they shall grieve as for a firstborn.

The question is: Why do they mourn when He is lifted up? If they were to weep only out of remorse, it would not be as for an only son or a firstborn but only out of self-condemnation and self-pity. But if they were to weep because they were looking upon him whom they had pierced and finally see clearly the love that He has for each of them, the would be weeping not only because of their sins, but because of His love, because in that moment he reaches to the depths of their souls and shows them His love and mercy. They weep because they know that He is the Christ of God.

Seeing this, we note that Saint Peter’s confession of faith doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It comes out of a prolonged interaction and connection with the person of Jesus Christ. Saint Peter was able to boldly assert that Jesus was the Christ of God because Jesus had been with him and the others and had shown this to them.

Following after Saint Peter’s example, I want to make an assertion about Jesus myself, though it is not nearly as bold as that of Saint Peter. If we look at this gospel passage closely, we are able to see something which many of us don’t often think about: the fact that Jesus is a model of fatherhood.

Thinking of Jesus as a ‘father’ is admittedly difficult for us. To say the word ‘father’ will likely bring to mind the image of your own father. For me, it brings to mind my dad and step-dad; I instantly recall many things, including summer vacations, lots of time working on our vehicles, and working alongside each of them at their jobs. I’m sure all of you probably now have similar memories in mind of your own fathers. And so to use the word ‘father’ in to refer to Jesus, then, seems weird to us. After years of hearing Him referred to as the Son of the Father or the Son of God, and even in this passage referring to Himself as the Son of Man, we are caught off guard. And yet, there is indeed a certain ‘fatherhood’ present in his life and ministry. After all, we call our priests ‘father’ and they are by their consecration said to be an ‘alter Christus,’ another Christ.

So let us look at our gospel to see this aspect of the fatherhood of Christ. The passage begins with Jesus praying in solitude. This small detail is quickly passed, but it must be pointed out that any man who claims to be a father is so only by virtue of his connection to God our Heavenly Father. We know Jesus is the Son of the Father, but he also remains connected to the Father in prayer. But Jesus is not just in prayer alone, He is in prayer with His ‘children,’ his disciples. He interacts with them and spends time among them. We can only imagine the amount of time that they spent in conversation or in listening to Jesus speak about the kingdom. In his simple questions of “Who do they say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” He opens up to them and begins to show them His most intimate self. And by telling them all that will come to pass – namely the suffering, death, and resurrection – He tells them how much He loves them. All of these point to something more than just friendship or brotherhood. He loves them as a father loves his children.

As we celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, we recognize that to be a father in the fullest sense is to be connected with God the Father and to follow after Jesus Christ, the greatest of all men and a model of fatherhood. To go after Christ, requires us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross daily and follow him. Picking up our cross daily often evokes the images of our major trials – physical or spiritual sufferings, the loss of a job, problems in the family or some other significant issue. But we must not forget that picking up our cross daily does not have to be a time of crisis but can be found in the smallest things. In the life of a father the daily denial of self and bearing of the cross can come in the form of taking care of a sick child in the middle of the night, in spending time playing or talking after a long day of work, helping with math homework, or any number of things in which the gift of love is expressed through self-denial and focus on the other.

Jesus lived among the disciples and no doubt took care of many mundane tasks with a fatherly heart. Above all of these things though, He showed them His love above all in fulfilling what He had been sent to do. In being rejected, suffering death and being raised again, Jesus showed the fatherly love that He had for each of His children, including us. As we look at the crucifix we mourn and grieve not only because of our own sinfulness but out of recognition of His love for us. He has touched our hearts just as He has touched those of many before us and so we weep not only as for an only son, but as for a loving and merciful father.