Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Royal Throne and the Hundredfold

Some days I come home from Mass with a homily-redo running through my head. Today was one of those days. You know, you hear the readings, and your mind starts putting things together, and then the priest goes off in a completely different direction that leaves your thoughts like a pile of bricks begging to be reassembled properly. Tell me that happens to you, too. Right? Well, never mind, it is my blog, after all.

Here are those readings, by the way: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082112.cfm

Basically, there's Ezekiel prophesying to an extremely wealthy and arrogant politician that all of his money and all of his supposed high-and-mightiness wasn't going to do him a whit of good when, shortly, he would face a bloodthirsty murder who would stick a sword through his belly. (This reading wasn't very familiar to me; I guess we skipped it in my Sunday School class when I was a kid.)

The psalmist actually was quoting arrogant people saying obnoxious things about how they don't need God, and the response was God saying "It is I who deal death and give life."

(I was the lector today, too, so I was really feeling the this-ain't-so-rosy-ness of these readings.)

Then there's the gospel of the rich young man who really wants to follow Jesus, says he's kept all the commandments (yawn), is there anything else Jesus can think of he might try as a spiritual exercise? And Jesus tells Him "sell what you have a give to the poor, then come, follow me." And the guy goes away, waiting, I guess, for another rabbi with better ideas to try.

But then, and I think this is the key, Jesus continues talking to his disciples about this. And here I'll quote:

Then Peter said to him in reply,
"We have given up everything and followed you.
What will there be for us?"
Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you
that you who have followed me, in the new age,
when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory,
will yourselves sit on twelve thrones,
judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters
or father or mother or children or lands
for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more,
and will inherit eternal life.
But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."

What hit me as the key to understanding all this is that talk about thrones. Yes, in heaven, Jesus is depicted as seated on a throne (in Revelation, and therefore in art). But what is that royal throne as it appeared on earth, in Jesus' lifetime? Where was He high and lifted up to draw all men to Him? From whence comes Jesus' right from the Father to sit as judge of the world (Jn 5:22)? The answer to all three is the cross, of course. Jesus' throne in glory is the flip side of His cross on earth. And Jesus tells his disciples that they, too, will sit on thrones, and they will judge the twelve tribes of Israel, which is the new covenant people, the Church. The promise of real authority must have encouraged those men, after all they were always going off about who would get the prime positions in the kingdom. But what a blow that crucifixion was to them, completely and utterly messing with everything they had ever envisioned the kingdom to be. Still, I think Jesus planted these words in them so hope couldn't die and so that they wouldn't all go off like Judas and hang themselves on Good Friday. And so that after Pentecost they could look back and realize that the experience of the cross is necessary for every Christian.

So what about this wealth stuff that caused the prince of Tyre to be impervious to the doom before him, and that caused the young man to get turned off by Jesus, even though he was a "good person"? The key is that following Jesus means going to the cross with Him. It means dying to the idea that I'm all-powerful, that I need no other god but myself. Dying to self means to open myself totally to give and to love, as Jesus did. The basic truth of life on this fallen earth is that love has an enemy, but that we get  victory over the enemy by dying with Jesus and rising again. That happens when we are baptized; and after we are baptized it happens when we repent and confess our sins and then live in the truth of that victory. That is why Jesus promises his followers the hundredfold in this life, and eternal life in the next. The hundredfold is the riches of the Christian life. Look at what it is, by the way: not money and power, but people, and a place. The apostles were to gain lots of people into their lives all over the then-known world.

There. Now that I've got my homily out, I feel much better.

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