Homilette for Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wednesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 50:4-9a; Matthew 26:14-25)

Few passages of Scripture give better context for appreciating Jesus passion than the four so-called Servant Songs which we read on Monday, Tuesday, today Wednesday, and Friday of Holy Week. These passages are taken from the work of an unnamed prophet who is called “Second Isaiah” because his writings are attached to those of the great prophet of Judah. Second Isaiah lives in Babylon with other exiled Jews. He recognizes his call from God to preach to the people about the wonderful deliverance God is going to work on their behalf. Second Isaiah’s writings comprise much of the middle part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. They appear to be autobiographical telling how the prophet has suffered on behalf of the people.

What Second Isaiah says about his own trials, we can apply with greater relevance to Jesus. In today’s Servant Song, for example, we remember how Jesus communicates with God in prayer, how both Jews and Romans revile him during his court trials, and how God vindicates him when the persecution ends in his death. The Servant Songs announce a completely new form of messianism. No longer is the Messiah a sword-wielding conqueror of armies; rather, he defeats evil by patiently taking upon himself the sins of others.

What Second Isaiah says of the Suffering Servant and what Jesus validates in his own ordeal we Christians should take to heart. We want to make a presumption against the use of force to accomplish our ends because Jesus is non-violent. We also want to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others as Jesus does in the gospels. Such postures will distinguish us from others. Indeed, they will make us a guiding light like Jesus himself which the world will come to acknowledge and, at least in part, to emulate.

Homilette for Tuesday, April 7, 2008

Tuesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 49:1-6; John 12:21-33;36-38)

The gospel today invites us to compare and contrast Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial of Jesus. Preachers sometimes say that the two offenses amount to the same sin of infidelity. That opinion, however, seems mistaken. It would be like equating setting a house on fire and failing to call the fire department when we see the blazes. “First, do no harm,” wrote the primordial physician-philosopher Hippocrates.

Preachers may also condemn Judas’ treachery of handing Jesus over to his enemies but dismiss Peter’s failure to stand up for Jesus out of fear. This way of thinking also seems misguided. There is no evidence that Peter suffered clinical anxiety. Indeed, he appears as a head-strong man. Doing good almost always involves some negative factors. Peter’s failure to act righteously when forced to declare himself about Jesus indicates that he considers his losses in standing up for Jesus as greater than his benefits. Although his repeated denials comprise lies, Peter’s principal sin is one of omission.

Nor can Judas’ treason be defended by saying that the devil makes him do it. Although the passage states, “Satan entered him,” a bit later when Judas leaves the supper it adds, “...it was night.” This reference is not to give the time of day but to indicate that Judas deliberately chooses the darkness of evil to the light of Christ. We are wise to consider that we too are susceptible to the same tragic mistake.