Sunday, October 22, 2006
Attainment or Atonement?
Here is the cyber-version of my homily for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
They didn’t get it. James and John thought that it was all about status. They asked Jesus that when He came in His glory that they could sit one on the right, one on the left. They sought utlitmate places of status, position, of power. They sought to attain what they believed to be their entitlement. They sought to get what they felt they had coming.
We live in a culture of Entitlement. People want it all, NOW. And many would have it to be understood they deserve the best. Tolerance of suffering may well exist....for others, in other seemingly inferior places or peoples. Sacrifice may well be called for, for earlier generations, or others of different place or time. The cross..well.. yes a pious decoration perhaps, tastefully done of course, but it is not to be too excessive or, (shudder), fanatical.
No the early disciples, initially didn’t get. Sadly nor do we. Unless we are willing to accept Christ, the Suffering Servant, the Great High Priest. We won’t get it unless we are willing to let go of our attainments and seek His atonement.
The peril of attainment has been a hazard of humanity ever since the time of the Garden when our first parents sought to have knowledge that would elevate their place, their status like unto God. Now, so many years hence, the attainment of knowledge, power and control is considered vital proof of success. Seeking of Possession, Place, assumed Power and control have spanned a whole new generation of caste and class. Pears may lie and rot in the orchards, grapes may shrivel on the vine for lack of people either willing to work the fields or to allow those who are willing to come to an area to provide the service of farm work. The commoness of transit for “the masses” makes the struggle to develop alternatives to privately owned and operated cars an uphill battle. Men and women, and whole countries may well sacrifice their lives in a conflict to fuel...perceived entitlements to control and oil. Like James, John and the other disciples..we don’t understand it is NOT about what we have, where we think we deserve to be...it is not about attainment and entitlement. It is about atonement.
The reality of suffering was sadly present when Jesus walked the earth. The politics of the Roman empire, the pride of diverse idolatries had spanned a culture of brutal and tragic ambition. This was compounded by the religious blindness of legalism and pride amongst many of the Jews. Amidst this culture of self Jesus came, lived, suffered and died. The prophet Isaiah foresaw the Messiah who was to come. But the Suffering Servant that the prophet foretold was not whom the Jews were looking for. The Suffering Servant, Christ our Lord, is, to our sorrow, not the One we may want to see either. So we hide behind false walls of self-control and effort.
But suffering happens. Health may decline, relationships may struggle and fail, the sun may not always shine. And it is in those times when we can finally start to understand. It is when we allow the nail-scarred hands of The Servant, Jesus, to pick us up, tend our wounds, to embrace us in our sorrows that we will realize it isn’t about what I have attained. It is about being “at-one” with God.
The place of atonement was well understood by the writer of the book of Hebrews. To be atoned for...to be made “at-one-with” God was the place that God longs for all to find. In the provision of Heaven we are given The Great High Priest, Jesus the Suffering Servant. It is to Him who knows well the temptations, the tests of being human that we are to come. It is to this Great High Priest who understands you and I, understands our weaknesses, tempted in all ways like us, yet..without sin. It is to Him we are to come. And it is in Christ, His holy Blood, His broken Body, that we are made at-one with God, we are made whole.
It is then, as we grow on in His atoning Presence and in the sharing of His sufferings we are made free. We experience freedom from things, possesions, the pressure to succeed and attain. We are set free from self. It is then, in that freedom we can know the simple but real joys of sharing in all that life may bring, whether it be joys or sorrows, triumphs or disappointments.
With Christ's atoning mercy we can know and say with the Psalmist: “ of the kindness of the Lord, the earth is full”