12 May 2013
“‘I pray not only for [my disciples], but also for those who will believe in me through their word …’” (John 17:20-21a) In the name …
Today is the Sunday after the Ascension. Jesus has returned to the heavens. His earthly tenure completed. Now it has become our moral responsibility and spiritual privilege to act in His place. On the day of His Ascension, the disciples watched as Jesus disappeared into the clouds, but then after He had already disappeared, they did not move. They just stood there. Transfixed. Maybe hoping that Jesus would appear again. They didn’t know how to let go. They didn’t know what to do without Him. So they stayed. Just standing there. An angel looks down from the clouds and says, “Jesus this is all you’ve got to work with?” Jesus says, “That’s it, but they can be enough,” and He sends the angel to prod them to move on, to lead their lives, to do what they needed to do for God’s kingdom. It’s not easy being Jesus’ ambassadors in the world, but we can’t not do it. We can’t hang around waiting for Jesus to come back and take care of everything for us anymore than the apostles could. A better world is our responsibility as Jesus’ co-workers.
I think this is one of the most important reasons for the life of Jesus. He brings God into our world as one of us. He lives an ordinary life for most all of His years, then He teaches an extraordinary message about a selfless God whom we can call Father and who is Himself honoured when we treat each other with compassion and respect. For this He is crucified, and I think He is stunned by its reality, baffled actually. I can never seem to get over His cry from the cross, “‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” He’s physically abused by those below Him. He’s being mocked by those beside Him on the other crosses. And Jesus can’t even feel the presence of God anymore above Him. Does He face doubt and confusion at this moment? I think that is the intended message. Yet He endures. At the Ascension, Jesus brings this complete human condition with Him to His throne of glory in heaven. He knows what it is to be us, good and bad, and He will never forget. And because Jesus has lived our lives He can expect us and help us to live lives like His.
And with that said let me segway into Mother’s Day because mothers are the first and possibly best chance we have to get this message across of living like Him. Mothers really are a child’s first church. Their influence is huge. Someone sent me a cute email about children’s answers to the question: Why did God give you your mother and not some other mom? One smart-aleck’s answer was brief and right to the point. He said, “Because we’re related.” The one I like the best though was: God knew that my mom likes me a lot more than other people’s moms like me. And there’s a point there. Even a child can tell that mothers love their children in a special way. [Lynnette’ story] It’s just about a perfect example of love and how Jesus needs us to learn how to love. And it’s still our best chance to create a better tomorrow.
A couple of weeks after the Boston Marathon bombings, the Boston Globe did a phone interview with James Dawes who is the director of the program in human rights and humanitarianism at Macalester College in Minnesota. He’s also the author of Evil Men, which wrestles with the problem of why people commit atrocities. He came to the same conclusion that Hannah Arendt did while witnessing the Nuremburg trials of the Nazis after World War II. The phrase she made famous was the “banality of evil,” by which she meant that atrocities are not usually committed by fanatics and sociopaths, but by ordinary people whose “normal” becomes perverted. The Nazi soldiers she interviewed, the Japanese soldiers that Dawes interviewed, the reports after the My Lai Massacre or those after the Abu Ghraib Prison incidents, all point to a perversion of the normal. The two Tsarnaev brothers are not some strange inhuman monsters either. And that’s what makes what they did so chilling. It’s the banality of their evil that is so disturbing when you see pictures of them as children, when you hear stories about them from their friends, when you can look into their eyes. Where did the evil come from?
But if evil and atrocity can emerge from people so apparently normal and ordinary, then so can love. Take today’s Lesson as an example. We hear the tail-end of a story of vigilante justice this morning. Remember that the religious leaders did not have the authority to execute Jesus. Well, nothing has changed by the time of Stephen’s murder. So this isn’t a trial; this is a lynching. And we’re told that the ones who actually do the killing place their cloaks at the feet of a man named Saul. Saul had been rounding up these Christians for just such a purpose. His was an example of the “banality of evil.” And yet he becomes the greatest missionary of the earliest church. If evil can become a person’s normal, then so can love.
This is why a mother’s love is so important. It’s the first love a child knows. It begins to establish the child’s normal. It’s what hopefully sets a child in the right direction for a lifetime. When we talk about us being the kind of person that Jesus needs us to be in this world, that begins with a mother’s example. A mother’s love may be ordinary, but that makes it no less extraordinary. And this is one of the reasons why our church honours Mary more often than not as Jesus’ mother. We speak of her as mother rather than virgin. Virgin is what was done to Mary. Mother is what was done by Mary for Jesus. Virgin is about the power of God. Mother is about the love of Mary. When we place the floral crown on her statue, it is to honour her, but it is also to honour motherhood in general. Motherhood is one of God’s best chances to teach us all how to be His coworkers in making this world a better place. It establishes normal where it should be.
Jesus’ Ascension has entrusted us with His ministry. Motherhood gives us a great first step in that direction. And because of that we today join the nation and celebrate Mother’s Day. May God bless mothers for all that they do and teach, and may He strengthen them in all the good they do, and for these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo