12 March, 2012

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent (B) 2012

Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1Corinthians 1:22-23)

Our second reading today comes from the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians. In this letter the Apostle is trying to settle differences among factions of this thriving local Church. Many have come to faith in Jesus, many have been baptised, but the Church is still suffering divisions among her members because not all the Christians seem to hold to the same system of beliefs.
Corinth was a great city, an important Mediterranean hub for commerce and a melting pot of cultures. Traders from all over the known world would come to Corinth to do business or to restock their ships. In other words, Corinth was what we’d now call a “cosmopolitan city” where people from different backgrounds met in a unique setting.
It was inevitable that the Corinthian Church should mirror this diversity of cultures and beliefs. Some Greeks who lived in the city had converted; while others joined the Church from the outside such as many Jews escaping Roman persecution in Israel. One thing however is clear; many of this people had brought into the Church some of their own customs and individual expectations. This was breaking up the Church and threatening the unity manifested at the Eucharist.

In this Passage St Paul’s prepares the ground for his theological debate and his exhortation to unity. To both Jewish and Greek converts he presents a third way, another possibility of how to look at their Christian faith. This is the way of the Cross.
Paul doesn’t attack all the Greeks or Jewish people as a whole, he rather criticises the way of thinking of many of these converts for they are setting their hopes on a Christ who was not the Jesus of the gospel.
We hear that the Jews demand signs, signs of a Messiah who was expected as the saviour of his people, someone who would have overturned the Roman regime and re-established the kingdom of Israel with its Temple. We hear that the Greeks desire wisdom, and looked at the Christian faith as a source of secret, personal enlightenment. They expected Jesus to be a famous speaker whose charisma no-one could resist; honoured and revered like a celebrity of our time.
Against all these expectations St Paul sets the figure of the real Jesus, the only one who saves and gives wisdom, but in a way that both Jews and Greeks could not have expected; and this is the way of the Cross.

So we ought to ask ourselves, ‘Who are these Jews and Greeks of our time?’
Who are the people who look to Jesus as the one who will restore Christianity’s primal role in society? Who are the ones who are looking to Jesus as object of individualistic religion? Who preach a message where all is fine, all is reasonable, and all is self-empowering?
The answer to all these questions is probably, ‘We are’.

St Paul presents us here with the fundamental reality of the Christian faith that is the Cross. There are no astounding events, signs, or miracles that show God’s love for the world; equally there is no worldly wisdom that could lead to the knowledge of God. For St Paul there is just the way of the Cross; a sign that still today we fail to understand fully and a stumbling-block for many who look at Christianity for a comfort blanket.
Remember the words of Jesus in St John’s gospel, when I am lifted up from the earth [that is, when I am on the Cross], I will draw all people to myself (John 12:32). He doesn’t say, when I am risen and triumphant I will draw all people to myself. Therefore St Paul is able to say, we proclaim Christ crucified.
The Cross of Christ is at the centre of our faith; it is the mystery that draws us to faith in the resurrection; it is the foolish act of God’s love made present in the Eucharist; and it’s the only looking-glass which can give meaning to life. This is also the sign which is given before baptism, a Cross marked with oil, symbolically recalling the anointing of athletes in preparation of a tournament. Under this sign we are called to run the race of our life.

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