HOMILY WEEK 23 04 – Year I
God’s Chosen Ones – Mandate and Methodology:
Optional Memorial of St. Peter Claver
(Col 3:12-17; Ps 150; Lk 6:27-38)
Do you belong to an organization, business or club? If you do, chances are your organization has a mission statement articulating its “raison-d’être”, its purpose, along with a series of strategies or ways of successfully achieving that purpose.
The readings today offer us an identity, a mandate, and a methodology. As God’s chosen ones, we are called to be holy and beloved, and then sent out to live that mandate through a variety of ways of loving.
First of all, we are not an organization, business or club. We are much more than that, something much more ineffable and profound – we are God’s chosen ones, according to St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians.
To be God’s chosen ones harks back to the Israelites in the wilderness, transformed into a holy nation by the foundational experience of their liberation from Egypt through the Red Sea and the theophany on Mt. Sinai, where they were given their methodology – the ten words (Dabar) of God or the Ten Commandments. They were now God’s chosen people, mandated to be icons of God on earth, tasked by their holy lives and faithful integrity to attract all nations back to the one true God of heaven and earth.
Of course, we know all too well how they failed miserably at that divine mission, always falling for the false gods of the other nations (possessions and pleasure, prestige and fame, power and control) and notorious in their infidelity to the covenant with God, prostituting themselves to idols and allowing their temple cult to become self-serving and corrupt. This culminated in Jesus feeling compelled to cleanse the temple which he claimed had become a market place instead of the house of God, a defiant act that was the last straw leading to his crucifixion at the hands of the religious establishment in collusion with the state, or Roman Empire.
Fast forward to St. Paul and his letter to the Colossians, reminding them they are now the new chosen ones, the new Israel, the new people of God. Their mandate is to be holy and beloved. To be holy is to be Christ-like, to be forgiven and healed by Jesus Christ, to be single-minded in following him, in being his disciples who strive to be carbon copies of him.
That holiness is grounded in the knowledge and experience of God’s love for them, poured into them by the Holy Spirit as mercy, humility, forgiveness, compassion, unconditional love and total non-violence, displayed for all the world to see by Jesus on the cross. Secure in God’s love for them, as Jesus was secure in God’s love for him, they could now resist and reject those temptations of money, fame and power that seduced their ancestors in the wilderness and throughout their history, and follow the new path given to them by Jesus.
St. Paul’s words to the Colossians, and Jesus’ words to his disciples, are now addressed to us as well, in terms of both our identity as the chosen one’s of God, and our mandate as this new Israel. For St. Paul, we are to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient. We are to be forgiving and forbearing. We are to love as Jesus has loved us, and work for peace and unity as one body. The word of God should dwell in us, through studying God’s word and pondering it in our hearts through contemplative prayer. Our hearts are to be filled with gratitude for this calling and all this love given to us by the Holy Spirit. And in the end, we are to do all that we do in the name of Jesus.
To do all in the name of Jesus is to strive to do his will. Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus taught what the Israelites were supposed to have been like, summarized beautifully by Luke in today’s gospel passage. They were to love their enemies, do good to those who offend them, be merciful as God is merciful, avoid judging others in any way, and above all, to forgive from the heart anyone who hurt them.
These instructions were given to Jesus’ followers who would become his body, the church, after his resurrection from the dead and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon them at Pentecost. They are now directed to us, describing what we are to be like as the new chosen ones of the Father.
Unfortunately, as news of one sexual abuse scandal after another in the church surfaces in the news these days, and now also the dark reality of many unrecorded deaths at former Indian Residential schools, we are discovering, to our shame and even to our horror, that we have not been any better than the Israelites of old, after all. Those words of Jesus about not judging take on a keener edge, as we humbly admit our own painful failure to be the chosen ones of God, icons of God here on earth, children of the light.
Perhaps this is a time of much needed humility and purification for us as a church, and an urgent call for us to finally take to heart these teachings of St. Paul and Jesus about who we are, who we are called to be, and how we are to live out our God-given identity as holy and beloved.
We have a great example of this message being lived in Saint Peter Claver. He joined the Jesuits in 1600 and was sent to Cartegena in South America, then the centre of the slave trade. There, Peter tended to newly arrived African slaves with food, water and medicine.
Fr. Gerry LeStrat OMI has been to Cartegena where he saw the huge cement platform where the African slaves landed. They were taken to row upon row of concrete pens, just like cattle. What is especially tragic is that for the most part, the slave traders were Christians, probably Catholic, who found it, like the Pharisees, not that difficult to justify themselves in their dark activity.
Peter Claver would go to this area, force his way through this teeming, suffering humanity to find the sick and minister to them. He would find them on mats of broken pottery and bricks, and clothe those who were naked. For nearly 40 years, he ministered tirelessly to the slaves, lobbied on their behalf and pleaded for more humane treatment for them. In 1654, ill and neglected by his religious brothers, Peter Claver died. He was canonized in 1888. He is a patron of Colombia and of all missions to black people.
The Eucharist is a celebration of who we are, the Body of Christ; a source of forgiveness and healing, helping us become who we are, and a mandate to live out our identity as did Mary and St. Paul, true disciples of Jesus Christ. May our celebration help us truly become the chosen ones of God, holy and beloved, and live out that calling through the many ways love offers us.