Deacon Cornellís Homily

Readings:   

Nehemiah 8:2-4a,5-6,8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Luke 1:1-4,4:14-21

Date:

January 24-25, 2004, Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Tip OíNeill used to tell the story of Honest Jake. Honest Jake was a quiet unassuming owner of a small variety store located in an area of Boston that had a lot of immigrants. Over the years, Jake would extend credit to his poorest customers so that they could buy the basic foods they needed to survive. As he approached his sixtieth birthday, a group of his customers got together and threw Jake a party, and give him a gift of a fair amount of money they had collected from all the people he had helped over the years. Well, Jake took the money and decided to make himself over. He had his teeth capped, got a hairpiece, paid for a personal trainer and lost some weight. He went out and bought himself a whole new wardrobe and went to Miami for a vacation. He hit the beaches of Miami and met a beautiful younger woman and asked her for a date. To his surprise, she said yes. As they walked back from the beach to get ready to go out, a bolt of lightning hit Jake and he ended up in heaven. Jake was furious. He stormed over to God, and started complaining, ďAfter all those years of struggling and trying to help others, I was just about to start enjoying myself and you cut my life short. How could you do that to me?Ē God looked at him questioningly, and finally said, ďJake? Is that you? I didnít recognize you!Ē

If an alien were to drop in to our culture and study it, I suspect that one of the main conclusions he would come to would be that image is everything. We are pounded daily with advertising that promises to give us a better image through products and services. In political seasons, we struggle to see past the image-makers to catch a glimpse of the real person running for office.

In todayís gospel story, right at the start of Lukeís portrayal of Jesusí journey from his home in Galilee to his death and resurrection in Jerusalem, Jesus finds opposition to his mission. When he takes that scroll of Isaiah and reads the passage we just heard, he evokes the deepest hope of the people in that synagogue, their waiting for the Messiah, the anointed one of God who will bring them liberty and sight and glad tidings. Then he declares that this is no longer a hope for the future but that this hope is realized here and now in their sight.

But they canít see it. Jesus just doesnít have the right image. They are expecting a great prophet and king in the mold of Moses or David. One who will lead them out of their oppression by the Romans, and conquer all the surrounding nations. What they see is a neighborhood kid who has grown up as an itinerant preacher, surrounding himself with a ragtag group of followers. †

I would suggest that we have an image problem as well. Our problem is that we canít recognize a messiah either. How many people here are messiahs?

All of us who have been baptized are.

Messiah is just the Hebrew equivalent of Christ, which means anointed. But we have an image problem. We donít see ourselves that way. We tend to put ourselves down as not being Messiah material. And we tend not to see our neighbors as Messiahs either. And so we live our lives down under the radar, as far as our baptismal call goes. We are not important enough to have any effect in Godís plan for salvation.

In one sense, our self-image is on the mark, as far as being Messiah is concerned. We tend to look at ourselves and each other as individuals. Paul sets us straight with his wonderful metaphor of the Body of Christ, the body of the Messiah. We are not called to be messiah as individuals. We are called by baptism to be members that together make up the body of the messiah, with Jesus as the head. And Paul goes onto remind us, every part of the body is important.

In our first reading Nehemiah and Ezra realize that the Israelites have an image problem too. They have just gotten back to Jerusalem after 70 years of exile in Babylon. But their joy at being free at last, is tempered by the desolation they see when they get back. So Nehemiah and Ezra bring them all together to form them back into Godís chosen people. Ezra reads them the story of how God chose them, and gave them laws so that other nations would marvel at the wisdom and closeness of this God. Because only by joining together as Godís chosen people, can they bring glad tidings to the world.

We gather together today for the very same reason. Our mission statement as baptized Christians is exactly the one that Jesus announces for himself in that synagogue. As Godís anointed, we are to bring freedom, and sight, and joy to the world. But we canít do that as individuals. We are called as the body of Christ to do this so we need all the different members. To paraphrase Paul, no matter how good a head we have, we need the feet to get us where the head wants us to go. And whenever the least member is hurting or down, it severely impacts our ability to fulfill our mission.

So let us try a little image improvement today. Not, as Honest Jake did, by trying to correct defects or covering them with new clothes, but by seeing more clearly who we truly are. Let us give thanks to God for calling us by name and anointing us. Listen to these readings that remind us how we came to be called, and that announce to what we are called. Look around you, and take a minute to see what a messiah truly looks like. Then come forward in communion to be formed more fully as the body of Christ. Even our actions can help do that. Our standing until all have received communion reinforces that we are all one in this body, with a single purpose. And most especially, pray that as we are sent forth, we continue to act as the body of Christ, fulfilling that promise of Isaiah here and now: liberty for captives, freedom from oppression, sight to the blind, and glad tidings to the poor.

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