Homily - Padre John - Bringing the world to the Gospel: Witness the generous response to refugees; Queen Elizabeth and longest reign of all English monarchs, and the origin of "royalty" as sacrificial victim to appease the gods; the 9/11/01 tragedy and wars of revenge.
The Most Important Three Letter Word in the Bible It is a word represented by three Greek letters: delta, epsilon, iota= dei. Dei means "it is necessary" or as our translation puts it, "must."
Two days ago we remembered once again the tragic day, September 11, 2001. So many people lost their lives on that day and we will never forget them: the people working in the Twin Towers and all the responders who tried to save them. We also have lived through 14 years of response to that day and the Sacred Violence it represented.
Sacred violence is the worst type of violence because when it is committed, it is always done in the name of one's god, with that god's full approval. The force behind sacred violence is carried out with the greatest vengeance and hatred for the enemy who is deemed "god-less" and evil. The irony of course is that the enemy thinks the exact same thing about the other side. Sacred violence, carrying a divine righteousness with it, is a very difficult cycle to break because it tied into each person's spiritual or religious pysche.
As Jesus is traveling through Caesarea Philippi with his disciples, he decides to ask them who people say that he is. They share all the opinions they've heard: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. After hearing all the opinions, Jesus asks his disciples, who they say he is. Peter speaks up for them all and declares "You are the Messiah." (Of course, their understanding of Messiah at that time is different from our own. They thought the Messiah who be a great national leader who would gather up a force and restore Israel to it proper place in the world free from Roman domination.)
Jesus shatters their view/hope for a Messiah when he goes on to tell them that the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13) must undergo suffering, be rejected by the Elders, Chief Priests, and scribes, and be killed, and to rise after three days. This news is a lot for the disciples to swallow! Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes the whole idea of a suffering Messiah (Isaiah and the suffering Servant songs). Jesus rebukes Peter and all the disciples saying "Get behind me Satan!"
The disciples are not getting God's plan, but are looking at Jesus' enterprise from a completely human point of view.
But I don't want to get ahead of myself and miss something very important: if fact, the most important three letter word in the Gospel. It is a word represented by three Greek letters: delta, epsilon, iota= dei. Is means "it is necessary" or as our translation puts it, "must." Jesus shocks his disciples by saying that he, the Son of Man, as he liked to refer to himself, "must" suffer rejection by the leaders and people and be put to death.
Why is this the most important three letter word in the Gospel? We need to ask ourselves: Why did Jesus have to suffer and be killed?
From the beginning of human culture the answer to this question has always been that the leader or the king needed to die in order to appease the gods, to satisfy them, to pay for the sins of the people. What usually happened, of course, was that the king-leader could put off his death by providing other people for the sacrificial offering. As long as they were successful in procuring others for sacrifice they could keep their power and live. This became the norm, and the sacrificial origin of kingship is mostly forgotten.
Following this deep-seated cultural reasoning, Jesus, the Son of Man, must die to appease his Father, for our sins. To make God love us. That makes our God just like all the other gods of the nations who require human sacrifice in order to hold back their anger towards their wayward servants.
But Jesus didn't come among us to reveal a God that was like all the other gods, but rather, one completely different. The people of Israel had much of the qualities of God correct (Almighty, Creator, etc.), but vengeance was not one of these qualities. That's why Jesus came, to make this absolutely clear: the true and living God, who Jesus called "Abba," is a God of total love and mercy. As St. Paul states in the Letter to the Romans: God died for us while we were still sinners.
The importance of this three letter word "dei," or "must," is for us, for the world. The weight of the word "must" has to do with what is necessary for us to learn: forgiveness, the kind of forgiveness Jesus showed on the Cross when he prayed, "Father, forgive them." The "must" has to do with God desiring to break the cycle of sacred violence- violence done in the name of, and with the approval of, God. This is why the Son of Man had to suffer and die and why Jesus told the disciples and all of us that we must take up this same Cross of forgiveness if we want to follow him.
The "must" of Jesus' suffering is not to be made out as something God (the Father) demanded, but rather the result of our own human fallen-ness, scandal, and need for scapegoats. The "must" has to do with the lesson of forgiveness: radical non-retaliation and refusal to revenge others for the harm they have done to us. This kind of forgiveness has nothing to do with warm feelings, but takes every bit of courage we can muster as individuals, communities, and nations. The Cross and Resurrection are at the center of all this. This is how the cycle of sacred violence (9-11) can be broken, is being broken, will be broken, once and for all.
The one thing that is necessary is to embrace the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. Not the "sweet syrupy Jesus," or the bible thumping "Jesus is going to send you to hell" that turns us off completely, or especially, the Jesus co-opted by so many to support violence so that "evil" can be erradicated. The one thing necessary that we and world needs is for Jesus' followers to take up their Cross and show daily that Jesus' mercy and forgiveness are alive and well in our time.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.