HOMILY WEEK 30 04 – Year I
A Tale of Two Kingdoms
(Rm 3:21-30; Ps 130; Lk 11:47-54)
The Dominus Flevit Church overlooking Jerusalem commemorates the incident in today’s gospel when Jesus wept over the rejection of his message by especially the religious leaders of his day, in collusion with the political rules symbolized by King Herod. In a sense, it is a tale of two kingdoms.
Today’s readings invite us to put our complete faith in the kingdom of Jesus, in humble faith and genuine love, not the kingdom of money, fame and power.
St. Paul, in that first reading, writes passionately and eloquently on the kingdom of Jesus – on the depth of God’s unconditional love for us revealed by Jesus on the cross, through his passion, death and resurrection. For Paul, nothing in this world can separate us from that love of Christ. On the cross, we can now see into the heart of God, and what we see is humility, mercy, compassion, unconditional love, forgiveness and total non-violence.
The tearing of the heavy curtain in the temple keeping people out of the Holy of Holies when Jesus died on the cross symbolizes now there is no separation from God and us. On the cross, blood and water flowed from Jesus’ side. That symbolized not only baptism and the Eucharist, but also the new eternal life Jesus wants to share with us. And because blood and water are involved when a mother gives birth to a child, they also symbolize the new creation Jesus was birthing into existence by his selfless death and resurrection.
As the Messiah, Jesus came to redeem and to sanctify, to forgive and to heal, and we can freely come to him for both. Psalm 109 echoes that beautiful reality with different words – his steadfast love delivers us and saves us, and we can lead lives of praise and gratitude as we enjoy life in his kingdom.
The Kingdom of Herod is all too familiar, then and now, as worldly leaders pour all their efforts into accumulating for themselves as much money, fame and power as they can, and at all costs, including at times the deaths of thousands by violence. Those false gods of possessions, prestige and power still rule much of the world. It is from enmeshment with this world, this kingdom, that Jesus came to free us.
Bishop Robert Barron relies on theologian N.T. Wright to explain Jesus’ desire to gather people under his care as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings. For Wright, this is much more than a sentimental image. It refers to the gesture of a hen when fire is sweeping through the barn. In order to protect her chicks, she will sacrifice herself, gathering them under her wing and using her own body as a shield.
On the cross, Jesus used, as it were, his own sacrificed body as a shield, taking the full force of the world’s hatred and violence. He entered into close quarters with sin (because that’s where we sinners are found) and allowed the heat and fury of sin to destroy him, even as he protected us.
With this metaphor in mind, we can see, with special clarity, why the first Christians associated the crucified Jesus with the suffering servant of Isaiah. By enduring the pain of the cross, Jesus did indeed bear our sins; by his stripes we were indeed healed.
A young man was really upset and disturbed by all the violence in the world, the corruption in businesses, scandals in the church, and bullying and betrayal by some of his supposed friends. Feeling somewhat guilty by the way he had responded angrily and vengefully, he asked his grandmother what he should do. She replied gently, “Can you still love?” That is a kingdom of Christ question.
The Eucharist is an experience of Jesus gathering us under his wing, forgiving us, healing us, delivering us, saving us, and transforming us into his body, called to live in his kingdom of peace, love and joy, and to share that kingdom with all we meet.