Saturday, May 6, 2023

Rely on the Rock of Ages: Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter 2023

My dear brothers and sisters,

The second reading from today's lectionary, the reading from the first letter of St. Peter, which we have been reading through the Easter season, offers some powerful images.

Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings

but chosen and precious in the sight of God,

and, like living stones,

let yourselves be built into a spiritual house

to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices

acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

“Come to him, a living stone.” My mind goes back to the third Sunday of Lent when we read of the thirst of the Israelites in the desert and the way in which this thirst was satiated by water from a rock. That Rock, I pointed out in my homily, was a foreshadowing of God the Son, who fulfills our spiritual thirst with the water from His side.

The marvelous character of Jesus Christ, this rock of ours, this rock – as the words of the psalm 94 tell us – “who saved us”, is that it transforms the nature of those who drink from it. This water transforms our stony hearts into living stones.

In the episode at Horeb, where Moses struck the rock and drew water, so terrified was Moses of the unrest among the peregrinating Israelites that he:

cried out to the LORD,

“What shall I do with this people?

a little more and they will stone me!”

In their hardness of heart the children of Israel would have harmed their prophet who drew them out of the darkness of their days in Egypt. As it turned out, they did something similar to the Saviour who would, as St. Peter tells us, draw them out permanently from “darkness into his wonderful light.”

Every object in this world has an end, that is a purpose for which it was created, a purpose for which it is most fit.  St. Peter tells us that now that our hearts of stone, which would once stone the prophets of God, and indeed His only son, are now turned into living stones that have a different end:

like living stones,

let yourselves be built into a spiritual house

to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices

acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

This, my dear brothers and sisters, is now our only task, “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” As in the words of St. Paul to the Romans (14:8):

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.

If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord

As I have said in earlier homilies, the Father wishes us to thrive, but not at the cost of contravening the words of His only son. Thus, when there is a choice between Christ and the world, our option is clear, we must not stumble, we must choose Christ.

We must not stumble, nor, as St. Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans (14:21), “do anything that makes your brother [or sister], stumble.” But this seems to conflict with what St. Peter suggests to us in the portion from his letter which we just read:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone, and
A stone that will make people stumble,
and a rock that will make them fall.

If Christ is the living stone, and we are to be living stones like him, does that not mean that like him we will become stones that will make people stumble and fall?

Yes indeed! That is to be our purpose! To make people stumble and fall, but which people? Not our brethren in Christ, but those who, as St. Peter continues to tell us, “disobey the word”. Their stumbling, he clarifies, is not because of anything wrong we have done to them, but because of what they have done, or do to themselves: the disobeying of the word of God which naturally causes people to stumble. After all stumbling and falling is the fate that befalls people who walk in the dark, of those who do not have faith. Recall St. Paul once again in his first letter to theCorinthians (1: 23):

we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles

The stumbling we offer the world is a favour, to stumble off the road of darkness, and into the light of Christ. And this stumbling is the context within which we should understand the words that Christ addresses to St. Philip in the Gospel we heard proclaimed today:

Amen, amen, I say to you,

whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,

and will do greater ones than these,

because I am going to the Father.

What were the works that Christ did? He proclaimed the Kingdom of God and assured us that this Kingdom is at hand. To us then, falls the task of proclaiming the Kingdom, not merely in words, but in deeds, in our daily lives. These are the miracles that we are called to do, and do everyday, lead lives that are so charged by Christ, lives that are so markedly different from all the non-Christians around us, that we are lights in the darkness. By leading truly Christian lives we offer stumbling blocks for those who, perhaps because they do not know better, prefer the ways of darkness. And we should rejoice in our ability to cause this stumbling, for to the extent that we cause people to stumble we are bringing them closer to Christ. Think of it this way, we may not be causing them to do good, but we are ensuring that they do not sin. It is of such acts, my dear brothers and sisters, that the kingdom of God is built.

And so, there is no place for cynicism, a sin that is such a marked feature of the Goan Catholic that it is almost our national character. The stumbling that we provide to the works of the evil one, which abound in contemporary Goa, are works greater than what Christ did when he was on this earth. And believe me, these are built on small works of mercy. A gesture of courtesy when we are in traffic that follows no rules. A refusal to break a queue and jump the line. Acts that restore dignity to the persons we interact with. Do this, and as Christ promises us today, you, and others around you, will “have life and have it more abundantly” and you will ensure that “the number of the disciples …[will be ] increased greatly.”

The stumbling of the world will result not from something we have done, but indeed because of what the non-Christian has not – that is has not placed all their faith in Christ. But regardless of whether the stumbling of the world is not because of something we have done, but what the non-Christian has not, the Christian still has to often face very severe consequences. This could be the crown of martyrdom, or it could be a rejection from immediate benefits. But remember, even though the Catholic lives in this world, s/he is not of this world. For as St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Hebrews (13:14) “here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” This city is the heavenly Jerusalem, where Christ has promised us today He is “going to prepare a place for you.”

Go then, and amidst the undignified that populate our world today, “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”, and while doing so remember your dignity, for you are:

"a chosen race, a royal priesthood,

a holy nation, a people of his own,

so that you may announce [the] praises" of him.

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