Deacon Cornellís Homily


Passion according to John


April 9, 2004, Good Friday, Cycle C

Last Sunday, at the First Eucharist parents meeting, we reflected on our understanding of how the Paschal mystery of Jesus, his suffering, dying, and rising from the dead, brings salvation to the world. Now this is a mystery and there is no one definitive way of understanding how it works. Like any mystery, the more metaphors we have to shed light on it, the deep we are able to enter into it.

Does anyone read the comic strip A Rose is a Rose? It is about Rose, her husband Jimbo, and their little boy Pasquale. A frequent character in the story is Pasqualeís guardian angel. In one strip a while back, Pasquale is in the midst of doing homework, books and papers sprawled over the table, while his guardian angel is hovering over him. Pasquale turns to the angel and says, ďI could use some help with this homework, you know.Ē The guardian angel answers him, ďOh Iím way ahead of you. I checked out your brain and made sure all the synapses are firing with peak efficiency, your memory is crystal clear, and your powers of deduction and induction are humming.Ē In the next frame, Pasquale has a long, long face on, and his guardian angel says, ďOh, were you expecting some other kind of help?Ē

One of the things that I find happens when we start reflecting on the how of the Paschal Mystery is that we move away from the way Pasquale was thinking and towards how his guardian angel was thinking. Instead of looking at Christís suffering, death, and resurrection as something that magically happens TO us, we start seeing it as something that happens FOR us, that enables, or allows, or challenges us to respond to Godís plan for salvation. Godís plan for salvation involves human participation. We have a part to play.

One very common way of explaining how the paschal mystery brings salvation is that Christís suffering and death is a sacrifice of atonement that rescues us from the effects of our sins.† This metaphor is very firmly rooted in our Jewish heritage. It is where the sometimes-conflicting notions of Godís justice and God's mercy meet.

The idea is that when we sin, we incur a debt before God for the hurt we bring to God, to others, and to ourselves through sin. We also deserve punishment because of this hurt. Because God is just, he cannot just cancel this debt or punishment. But because God loves us, he sent his only Son to suffer and die for us, his suffering and death paying the price for our debt. Even if we can stay away from inferring from this that God the Father is a stern judge who demands blood sacrifice in order to be satisfied, it does not really explain how this saves us. After all, we still experience the consequences of our sins here and in the next world, donít we?

Here is one way we talked about on Sunday. A very common human experience after we have done something wrong is to avoid any contact with the person we have hurt, or who might be disappointed in our action. When the other person is God, we cut ourselves off from Godís love. So for all of us who might think that we are so bad or we have done something so terrible that our debt to God can never be paid, all we need to do is to look at the crucifix and realize that it has already been paid. Encouraged by that sacrifice we are able to approach God, whose love will transform us to be more like God.

Another way to understand this Paschal Mystery is that by dying and rising as fully human, Christ gives us hope based on experience that we too will have eternal life. This hope draws us closer to God so that Godís love will transform us to be more like God.

A last way to look at this, I would suggest, is through the metaphor of the scapegoat. From the beginning of time, human beings have tended to look for someone else to blame when we do wrong. If we can find a suitable scapegoat, we deflect all blame, and guilt, and punishment onto it. We heard this expressed in todayís passion reading when the author of Johnís Gospel reminds us that Caiaphas was the one who had counseled the leaders that it is ďbetter that one man should die rather than the people.Ē The problem with scapegoating is that we fail to look our sins squarely in the face, and resolve to turn away from them. Often we do even worse by inflicting violence on the chosen scapegoat as a way of avoiding an examination of our own failings. The crucifixion is the ultimate scapegoating. When we look at the crucifix, we see in no uncertain terms that whenever we scapegoat, we are killing God. Hopefully this lesson will teach us to focus on our own need for conversion and repentance.

So let us reflect on how we understand that the paschal mystery brings salvation to the world. But let us go deeper than our initial inclination to see it as a play or a movie to which we are spectators who benefit from Godís actions. Let us see it as a wonderful gift from God that empowers, or encourages, or inspires, or beckons us to be effective instruments in Godís plan for salvation. So when we come forward to receive communion, we will wholeheartedly answer AMEN to becoming the body and blood of the Christ who brings salvation to the world by being the incarnation of Godís living love, suffering love, dying love, and eternal triumphant love.

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