HOMILY EASTER WEEK 03 03
Profound Faith, Joyful Experience, Courageous Proclamation
(Acts 7:51-8:1; Ps 31; Jn 6:30-35)
Canon Andrew White shared with a church full of people recently in Edmonton a painful reality he experienced during his ministry in Iraq. A group of ISIS fighters stormed into a school and demanded the children follow Mohamed or they would be killed. The children spontaneously began singing “Jesus loves me” to the fighters, who subsequently beheaded all the children.
Today’s liturgy invites us into a more profound faith in Jesus, to experience the joy of his salvation, and then to courageously proclaim the good news of salvation in all and any circumstances.
The readings invite us first of all to have the same kind of faith in Jesus as did the early followers of Jesus. It is interesting that the very force that tried to stamp out the fledgling church, did just the opposite – all the believers were scattered except the apostles, and spread the faith wherever they went.
Philip went to Samaria, and “proclaimed the Messiah” to them. The Messiah had come to redeem and to sanctify the world, to forgive our sins and to heal us of our sinfulness. So, we are to believe in Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. At the same event, Canon White was asked if Jews and Muslims were converting. He replied yes, not because of his efforts, but mainly because the “man in white” kept appearing to individuals in both groups, beckoning them to “follow him.” Carl Gallups, author of the book The Rabbi, the Secret Message and the Identity of Messiah, mentions the same thing, adding that those who do believe in Jesus as the Messiah become Messianic Jews and face persecution themselves.
In the Gospel, Jesus refers to himself as the Son who was sent into the world by the Father, and as the Bread of Life. So, we are to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, as God, and that he alone, as the Bread of Life, can satisfy the deepest yearnings of the human heart, as well as all our human needs, especially the need to be loved, to belong and to be valued. Both he and the gospel acclamation promise that those who believe in him will have eternal life – in the present tense, not just a future reality.
Canon White also mentioned meeting people whose families were killed by ISIS, yet they were vibrant and happy. When he asked how they could be so joyful after experiencing all that trauma and loss, they told him that when everything is taken away from them, they still had Jesus. No one could take Jesus away from them, and that was the source of their joy. From the poorest of the poorest, those who have nothing, he learned once again our only true possession was faith in Jesus Christ and the new life he had come to bring – a life of peace and joy that comes from being able to forgive and love one’s enemies through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the eternal life Jesus promises to those who believe in him and follow him.
A lesson White learned, and taught us when questioned how we can possibly forgive those who are killing our loved ones, is to ask the question, “Who is my enemy?” The answer he gave was “the one whose story I do not yet know.” That is how he approaches anyone who is “other” – try to get to know that person and find common ground. He even invited some members of ISIS to come for dinner once, and was told if they came, they would kill him. He didn’t follow up on that, but he did invite.
With faith in Jesus, and having experienced his forgiveness and healing, our sharing in eternal life here and now, we are invited to be just like the early persecuted followers of Jesus, and proclaim the Word to the world, to be courageous proclaimers of the Word like those children, like all those who continue to believe, to love, to care and to forgive through the power of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.
The Eucharist is an act of deep and profound faith in the sacramental yet Real Presence of Jesus. It is also an experience of eternal life, as we receive his forgiveness and healing even as we celebrate.
May our celebration empower us to courageously proclaim the Word, the Good News of Jesus Christ, to all we meet, regardless of the consequences.