5 Feb 2012
“[Jesus] approached [Peter’s mother-in-law], grasped her hand, and helped her up.” (Mark 1:31a) In the name …
Today is a festive day. It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and not only that, but the Patriots are in the Big Game. I brought Communion to a lady a few days ago. The people across the street from her must be big Patriots fans. They had the Patriots flag flying, there was a big sign in their front window, and their truck had a Patriots sticker on it. The guy was getting into his truck and as I drove by. I yelled out to the stranger, “Giants fans, huh?” If I wasn’t in collar, he may not have been as polite. But even if you’re not a big fan, we’re all exposed to the hype and excitement of today’s game. With that said, however, try and imagine having to come-up with a relevant sermon based on today’s Mass and readings. Our first shared prayers today were: “It is I who bring both death and life, I who inflict wounds and heal them…” Your response was: “Have pity on me, Lord, for I am weak. Heal me, Lord, for my bones are trembling. In utter terror is my soul.”
Then we read the pitiful words of Job, the epitome of biblical suffering: “My flesh is clothed with worms and scabs; my skin cracks and festers.” (7:5) Can’t you just hear the party starting? Job’s agony is allowed by God so your response in today’s Mass was taken from the Book of Psalms when you then said in reply: “Turn your gaze from me that I may find peace ...” (39:14) If this is what happens when God comes to test His people, the logical prayer is to remain hidden. It’s like the kid in school who doesn’t know the answer and tries to hide from the teacher. There’s a definite disconnect between today’s Super Bowl festivities and today’s Mass theme. So what would you preach about?
Well, let me throw out the facts that 100 million people will gather around television sets all over the world today to watch the Super Bowl. It doesn’t even really matter outside of New England and New York that the Patriots are playing the Giants. The teams come and go, but the Super Bowl has taken on a life of its own. The Super Bowl party has become a tradition, and it revolves around two things: the game and the food. We’re barely out of January, but by the time of all the Super Bowl parties, concern for New Year’s resolutions has gone right out the door. Between the Sunday of the AFC Championship and today, it is estimated that in this two week period, 111 million gallons of beer will have been sold. In the two days of Super Bowl Sunday weekend, 125 billion chicken wings will be consumed. And today alone, just over 11 million pounds of potato chips will be eaten. When you put that together with all of the salty cold cuts, the sugary sodas and the high cholesterol cheeses in dips and pizzas that will be served (although the Youth Group’s pizzas are for a good cause so there’s no cholesterol in them), we’ve created a perfect contrast between the amazingly fit and healthy players on the field and the junk food addicted fans watching them from well-worn sofas. So the contradictions begun here at Mass will continue throughout the day, it seems.
Maybe that very idea of contradictions can serve us as our sermon theme today. If you remember from last Sunday, we spoke about Jesus’ new teaching and with authority when He stood up to speak at the Capernaum synagogue, how before Jesus the people of God were afraid of God’s holiness, that it was actually the psychologically disturbed man who still spoke the ancient message of the presence of the Holy One of God as a fearful occasion, and that to this old teaching Jesus instead commands: Be silent! Now this Sunday we are confronted with the reality of another Old Testament theology, that God is responsible for the good and also for the bad in our lives. The ancient Jews did not speak of a devil as an antagonist to the Almighty. By their very definition of God as the Almighty, there could be no serious, alternative spiritual power for good or for bad because God is the All-Mighty, there is nothing left over, God has all power.
If you want, read the first chapter of Job today at home or borrow a Bible from the Sunday School after Mass. The Bible says: “One day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.” Satan is up in heaven talking with God, and his name actually means “the adversary” or “the accuser.” His position is tantamount to that of a prosecutor in a court case. He is definitely not the personification of all that is evil and in competition with God, that really comes about in Christianity. Satan becomes the devil because people grew so uncomfortable with the idea of God causing both the good and the bad in the world. So they split the divine powers in two. But this would make no sense for those who believe in the All-Mighty. And the All-Mighty is the reason why people feared the presence, even the gaze, of God. It was usually much better to be a part of the faceless mass of people than to be singled-out by God like Job was.
But just like last Sunday, Jesus comes with a new revelation. God doesn’t cause particular diseases and tragedies, but likewise God can’t prevent them all either. Miracles are by definition both seldom and random. But what Jesus can do as the presence of God in our world is exactly what he did for Peter’s mother-in-law. He can hold us and help us up. He can give God’s comfort and strength to us who believe. The world is full of contradictions and theodicy is only one of them, how a good God can coexist with evil in the world. But amid the world’s contradictions is the constant presence of Christ to hold us and help us up when they strike us down. We all know the reality of suffering, but today’s message as we begin our journey to the cross, is that so does Jesus; and that with complete empathy, He holds us and helps us. It is neither God nor His evil twin the devil that causes disease and tragedy. These unfortunate realities are amoral. They are a natural consequence of the world that allows us to live in the image and likeness of God. But when they do strike, Jesus is there to hold and to help. We’re never alone in our suffering. This is the greatest of contradictions for the All-mighty, but it is the reality of God’s caring presence among us. May Christ help us to understand this huge contradiction, and to find comfort and strength in it. For this we pray in His name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo