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April 19, 2019
[Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu]
If Jesus died to take away our sins, why is there still so much sin in our lives? It cannot be denied that we still put other gods before the true and living God who became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we make ourselves gods. Sometimes we treat money or prestige as gods. It cannot be denied that we often take God’s name in vain. Yes, we still hear the holy name of Jesus used as a swear word; but worse, we take God’s name in vain when we presume upon his mercy without making any effort to repent. It cannot be denied that we do not always keep holy the Lord’s day, because we often let other things take precedence over the worship that we creatures owe to our Creator for all the blessings he gives us. It cannot be denied that we still disrespect our elders, have murderous and violent thoughts and actions, allow lust to take over our lives, lie when it gets us out of trouble, and envy what other people are and what they have. It cannot be denied that if all sins were taken away, our world would be in a much better state than it is in at present. Of course, those who do not believe in God or in Jesus as the Savior are the perpetrators of many of the sins of the world, but it cannot be denied that even we, who claim Christ as our Savior and who sing of his salvation, still fall into sin. And often our sins are even worse than those of others, because they mar Christ’s face beyond recognition, make him look ineffective, cause others to mock and reject him, and convince others that his power over sin and death is little more than the fantasy of religious fanatics.
We certainly can identify with many in today’s Gospel, the Passion narrative from John. We are the faithful disciples like Peter who want so much to defend our faith that we cut with the sword of our tongues anyone who dares to question him. We are the ones who are with him when it is easy to be his disciples and we share our faith with beautiful, like-minded people, but who deny him when someone challenges us, as Peter was challenged in the high priest’s courtyard and denied Jesus three times. We are like Pilate, who knew what was right but who was so moved by fear of popular opinion that he condemned to death a man he declared to be innocent. We can be like the chief priests who hated the rule of Rome over Israel, but who were so intent on silencing Jesus that they tried to manipulate Pilate into giving them what they wanted by declaring, “We have no king but Caesar!”
But we can also learn from Jesus, who, particularly in John’s Gospel, remains steadfast and very much “in charge” even in the face of adversity. When they went to arrest him because he had blasphemed by making himself equal to God, he declared the truth “I am,” knowing that they would understand this as the name God gave himself when he first spoke to Moses from the burning bush. We see him before Pilate, who had the power to crucify him, speaking the truth and being the truth, even when it brought him ridicule. We see him carrying his own cross and taking care of his beloved mother by entrusting her to the beloved disciple and taking even better care of that beloved disciple by entrusting him to such a wonderful mother.
The lesson for us today is to admit that we are so attracted to sin that we often mar the loving face of Jesus, that we often deny that we know him, that we often mock him with our actions, and that we often relegate him to the tomb of history so that he does not have to really challenge our lives. But we are also invited by Jesus to stand firm on who we are, to insist on living the truth, even when it is difficult, and to trust in the mercy of God, even when he seems so far away. This may not happen to us in an instant, but if we keep at it, the Lord will let the seed of faith within us grow until it bears good fruit. Every time we pray for the conversion of others, as we will do in the next part of our liturgy, we commit ourselves to be veronicas, which means “true icon” showing the merciful face of Jesus to others. Every time we kiss the cross with sincerity, Jesus strengthens us to embrace our daily crosses and not to run away from them. Every time we receive the Body of the Lord, though we are not worthy, we believe in his word that his presence can heal our souls.
If it were not for this day on which sin seems to have the upper hand by snuffing out so cruelly the life of the Savior of the world, there would have been no resurrection. Because on this day, Jesus carries all our sins upon himself. Each scourge that he accepts is an occasion for us to have a healthy guilt that will lead us to repentance. Each thorn that is driven into his head to mock him as a fake king helps us understand what a noble King we do have. Each taunt he suffers and each insult he endures for our sake makes us stronger in our resolve to follow him, no matter what difficulties such discipleship may bring us. Each step he takes carrying the cross gives us courage to carry our crosses, knowing that one day, we will indeed be freed from all our sins.
The hugest struggle of this day is to realize how profoundly Jesus loves us sinners, because it is only by accepting such saving sacrificial love that we will be able to say in fullest truth that Jesus, the Lamb of God, takes away the sins of the world.