Thursday, March 22, 2012

Homily for Lenten Vespers in the Week of Laetare (Lent 4)

(No Audio Available)

The Wound of Mockery

Matthew 27:27-31

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

There have always been pagans, agnostics, and atheists; that is to say, there have always been unbelievers. In fact, we were all such at one time. From the call of Abram, however, God began to set a people for Himself apart from the others. He chose Abram. He called Abram. He gave Abram justifying faith, setting him apart from the unbelievers, so that Abram believed God’s promise of a son of his own flesh who would bless all nations, and God counted Abram’s faith to him as righteousness.

At times in history, the heirs of Abram’s faith have enjoyed broad acceptance and influence in society and culture. However, there have also been times of persecution, sometimes in the form of mild mocking and ridicule, and sometimes in the form of violence, imprisonment, and execution. Arguably, since the 1960s, Christians in the United States have suffered from such mild mocking and ridicule, while enjoying still considerable broad acceptance and influence in society and culture. However, in the past decade, it is apparent that the rhetoric of mocking and ridicule has been heightened and has become more and more aggressive. Additionally, the broad acceptance and influence of Christianity upon society and culture has been lessoned considerably. Now, arguments can be made that Christians themselves have contributed to this due to highly visible hypocrisy in some corners of the Church: Televangelist embezzlement scandals, the Westboro Baptist protests at the funerals of our servicemen, violent attacks upon abortion clinics and doctors, and the cover-up of child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. These are horrible atrocities, to be sure, and they are clearly contrary to the central tenets of our Christian faith, doctrine, and confession, and they must be condemned by all believers. However, Christians are not unique in their capacity for sin, but “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Needless to say, we do not need to create enemies and persecutions for ourselves, for these will come quite readily of themselves from the hearts, mouths, and hands of sinful men.

It is said that you reap what you sow, and that is often true. Your words and deeds speak what you truly believe in your heart, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” and “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person”. Though the Christian Church as a whole may be mocked, ridiculed, and persecuted, if you treat your neighbor with compassion, mercy, love, charity, and forgiveness, it will be the rare unbeliever who will have anything negative to say about you. Generally, when it comes to personal relations, you reap what you sow, and the meanness, selfishness, judgment, and hypocrisy you show to others will be returned to you in loads.

That you occasionally get what you deserve stands in stark contrast with your Lord Jesus and the mockery, ridicule, and persecution He suffered for your sins, not His own. After His own people, the children of Israel, had betrayed and denied Him and handed Him over to the Roman government under Pontius Pilate, the pagan, unbelieving Romans had their shot at Him. The soldiers took Jesus away from the crowds, into the governor’s headquarters, the way a lion carries off its prey to a secluded area before getting to the task of flesh-tearing and blood-spilling. They gathered the whole battalion before Him. “And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head and put a reed in His right hand.” What they were mocking and ridiculing was much less Jesus Himself, but what He represented to them – hypocrisy, weakness, and meanness. They did not recognize Jesus as a king, but they knew that the Jews did not either. They adorned Him in a mocking array of kingly vestments – a robe, a crown, a scepter – and, in ridicule, they knelt and bowed before Him in mocking worship saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” “And they spit on Him and took the reed and struck Him on the head.” The Roman soldiers didn’t care about Jesus. They had their own pantheon of gods and goddesses. They had no respect for the Jewish religion because they saw that the Jews themselves did not believe or practice their own religion. In mocking Jesus, they were mocking the Jews, their religion, and their God. After they had their fun, “they stripped Him of the robe and put His own clothes on Him and led Him away to crucify Him.”

God created our First Parents, Adam and Eve, and their children, to be kings and queens of the world that He had made. But they forsook that in favor of an attempt to be gods unto themselves. Human history is a record of man’s rebellion and idolatry, worshipping created things, even by the hands of men, instead of the Creator of men and all things. The best of men are idolaters who confess their fleshly weakness and turn in repentance to God for forgiveness; the worst of men live in hateful, angry denial of God and mock and persecute those who trust in Him. When they act in such a way they are acting out of their nature and the hardness of their hearts. Interestingly, this may be preferable to those who feign to be Christians outwardly, while inwardly, in the heart, harboring all manner of wickedness, hypocrisy, and unbelief. Jesus says of such persons, “O that you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm I spit you out of my mouth.”

Contrary to the unbelief of both the Jews and the Romans, Jesus is indeed the King of the Jews, the King of heaven and earth, who left all that behind and humbled Himself to become a sinful wretch for us that we might be restored as kings and queens once again. Ancient iconography depicts this restoration in icons of the resurrection of Jesus showing a man and woman, Adam and Eve, being raised from their tombs and, sometimes, wearing crowns upon their heads. C. S. Lewis famously wrote of this restoration at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as Aslan showed the victorious Pevensie children the four thrones in Cair Paravel saying, “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.”

Jesus willingly bore the mockery and ridicule, the persecution, suffering, and cruel death to secure for you your restoration. In doing all this, in boundless, selfless love, Jesus showed Himself to be the true King that He was, a King that so loves His subjects that He would willingly lay down His own life into death for them. Your King has died for you and has been raised for you that you may live and reign in Him and with Him. What kingly love. What perfect love. What selfless love. May your Lord’s kingly love be reflected in your lives, words, and deeds in selfless, sacrificial love and service of your neighbor to the glory of God the Father. And, may your suffering be for and because of Christ and not because of meanness, selfishness, judgment, hypocrisy, and unbelief. Help us Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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