Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday in Holy Week

Isaiah 50:5-10 / John 12:1-9

Faithful witness to the Gospel can seem at times like thin gruel to feed a hungry world. When we witness the poor and homeless on our own streets, when we hear about the hundreds of millions of people in the world who do not have enough to eat, many of whom, indeed most of whom, are children, we might well find our hand falter when fishing in our pocket for a euro, a dollar, or a pound for a votive candle, or when writing a check for the new tabernacle veil at the parish. Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor? We may blush for a moment to find that the words of Judas come so easily to our own lips. Even so, we let the shame pass, or gladly endure it, if we can free even one child from spending one more day in hunger.

It is in the face of just such ills that our faith in Jesus Christ is put to the test. Do we believe that Jesus is who we say he is, that he is in fact the eternal Son of God, the Savior of the world, who by his Passion and Cross has purchased for us eternal life, and that in him we may share the glory of his kingdom, where there is no sorrow or weeping, and every tear will be wiped away? We say we believe this; we confess it daily. If true, however, it means that how we help others come to Christ is not simply as important, it is indeed exceedingly more important than any other good we can do for them. Even the smallest witness, if it should bring only one person to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, is of infinite value, more good than all the woes of the world past, present, and yet to come.

This is why forthright witness of the Gospel is indispensable. When Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, we are told that the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. Lazarus, merely by being alive, became a living Gospel, and thus a source of life for those who had only just heard his name: A great multitude therefore of the Jews knew that He was there, and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. Neither of these acts was profound in itself, the one intimate and private in character, the other altogether passive. All the same, they had both of them an impact which extended far beyond themselves, and would lead many, for countless generations to come, to eternal life in Christ Jesus. As the Jesus promises in Matthew's Gospel of Mary's generous service, Amen I say to you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, that also which she hath done, shall be told in memory of her. Where bellies might have been filled for a day with the money gained should the ointment have been sold, the simply witness of the brother and sister of Bethany have had, and continue to have, the power to lead the hungry of the world to the source of life eternal.

So, then, how do we measure the fidelity of our witness? Do we simply count the number of mouths fed? Do we tally up our donations to honor and magnify the Lord? Or, do we remember that there is no proportion between any act of ours, whether feeding the hungry or adorning the edifices of our worship, and the unsurpassable good that is Jesus Christ? We can, of course, be sure that no one gives authentic witness to the Gospel who is deaf to the cries of the poor, and offers only words of hope when real material assistance is also at hand. We can likewise be sure that no material assistance is of any good for a heart unconverted, and that even the shortest of lives on earth can be the seed of unending joy. More than any of this, however, is Jesus Christ himself, who is the source and summit, the Alpha and Omega, the very pattern and goal and creator of all that is. The Gospel is not, and never has been, meant to direct us back to the affairs of the world, whether in generous service to neighbor or pious service to God. To be a Christian is rather to direct all of the affairs of the world, our justice, our piety, and our charity, back to the source from which they come, to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Help us, O God, our Savior: and vouchsafe that we may celebrate with joy the memory of those benefits by which Thou didst deign to redeem us.

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