09 February 2020

Homily - 9 February 2020 - The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

In our own day, nearly obsessed with comfort, pleasure, and ease, Saint Paul seems very much out of place. He went to the Greek city of Corinth, a place so notorious for the sinful pleasures then easily available in that port city that calling someone a Corinthian was a great insult; he went “proclaiming the mystery of God” (I Corinthians 2:1). As he went about his divine mission, “my message and my proclamation,” he says, “were not with persuasive words of wisdom” (I Corinthians 2:4). Why did he not use persuasive words? Is this not counterproductive? Any advertiser or politician today would tell us that Saint Paul’s approach is foolish, but perhaps that is precisely the point.

Saint Paul went to Corinth to instill the faith of Jesus Christ in the hearts of a people whose lives were caught in the muck and mire of sin. He did not use the philosophical jargon or the language of the mystery cults so common in his day so that the Christian faith would not be said “to depend on the art of words and on human wisdom rather than on the power of God.”[1]

If we are honest, there is no shortage of preachers today who claim to proclaim the Gospel using the language of our day in an attempt to persuade and in doing so they empty the Cross of its meaning. They do not follow the example of Saint Paul who wanted to know nothing other than Christ crucified and who simply preached the power of the Cross and left people to accept his message or to reject it. He did not sugar coat it or water it down; he did not make it sound trendy or modern; he proclaimed the Cross.

He sought to unleash the Gospel, the testimony of the Christ crucified, and to let it speak for itself. He knew that “the Corinthians did not need more rhetorical bells and whistles, and [he] would not entertain them with such” so that his words “pointed to the message rather than the messenger.”[2] His message and his proclamation were not about entertainment and showmanship, but about salvation in Christ Jesus, the true Light who illumines the darkness of sin and death (cf. John 8:12). He knew, with Saint John Chrysostom, that

human wisdom denied the cross, but faith proclaimed the power of God. Wisdom not only failed to reveal the things which people sought after, but also it encouraged them to boast of their own achievements. But faith not only gave them the truth, it also encouraged them to glorify God.[3]

This is a message we need to learn today. When proclaiming the message of the Gospel to others, we cannot pander to them; we should not seek to persuade them as if the Gospel itself were not already attractive and powerfully convincing, but to show them what it means to encounter Christ Jesus. The art of human words will always fail; the power of God – even if it seems as foolishness to men – will not fail.

Today, it is lamentably rare for the average Christian to attempt to the share the power of the Cross with an unbeliever or even with one whose faith is weak. This is a clear indication that many of us have not recognized an encounter with Christ, perhaps because we have not freely recognized his presence in the stranger and in the neighbor. We do not freely follow the command of the Lord to “share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own” (Isaiah 58:7). We want to make sure those we help are worthy of our help, but God makes no mention of ascertaining worthiness. More than that, we often want some other organization to do the works of charity for us, but God does not tell us to form an organizer; rather, he tells us – each one of us – to bring his merciful love to others through acts of charity. We want to avoid the Cross and not be overwhelmed by its power, but God tells us to approach the Cross.

Saint Paul admits that he went to the Corinthians “in weakness and fear and much trembling” (I Corinthians 2:3). He knew what his proclamation of the Gospel would bring him. He knew he would be mocked and rejected by others; he knew he would be beaten and suffer greatly; but still he preached the Gospel because he knew the power of the Cross. He knew the promise of God: “then light shall arise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday” (Isaiah 58:10). Do we know this, as well?

If we keep our distance from the Cross, we cannot have a life-changing encounter with Christ. If we only want to know him Risen from the dead and glorious in majesty, we will not know him; if we are to know him, we must know him crucified.

We have just over two weeks now before the holy season of Lent begins, a time in which Mother Church urges us to renounce the pleasures of this world and to draw near to the Cross. At his Cross, we learn with great clarity that “light shines through the darkness for the upright” (Psalm 112:4). The Lord Jesus will shine his light upon us to illumine the darkness of our sins, not to embarrass us, but to invite us a greater conversion of heart and mind. He will invite us to be like him so that we might truly be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Let us, then, not shy away from his light, but let us step into it – even with fear and trembling – so that the gloom shall become for us like midday. Amen.

[1] Origen, On First Principles, 4.1.7. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament Vol. VIII: 1-2 Corinthians (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1999), 20.
[2] George T. Montague, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: First Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011), 57, 58.
[3] Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 6.3. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament Vol. VIII: 1-2 Corinthians (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1999), 20.

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