Sunday, April 27, 2014

Witness Protection Plan

God offers a protection plan for those who witness in the power of the Spirit...

SJF • Easter 2a 2014 • Tobias S Haller BSG
These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Happy Easter! I say that because Easter is not just a single day, but a whole season, and we are now on the Second Sunday of that Easter Season. This season is a time to celebrate something that is too good just to commemorate with a single day — the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is something to celebrate for a whole 50 days, right up to Pentecost. And beyond! For I hope I don’t surprise you further by reminding you that every Sunday is a “little Easter,” a celebration of the resurrection. Even the Sundays that fall during Lent are called “Sundays in Lent” but not “of Lent” — that’s a little liturgical footnote.

Eastertide — those fifty days — is a special season that speaks to us eloquently, because it coincides with the awakening of the world to springtime glory. I often wonder what it must feel like to be celebrating Easter in the Southern Hemisphere, where it is the beginning of fall — that must give it a different feeling. But here we are lucky enough to have Easter coincide with all of those beautiful flowers coming up outside; some of which we owe to our dear friend Monica. After the winter we had, believe me, spring is most welcome. As is Easter.

This is also a time to hear passages of Scripture that describe the birthday of the church and its very beginnings, that emergence of the body of the faithful believers in Jesus as they shared with each other in their experiences of the Risen Lord. The seed that had been planted by Jesus himself began to blossom and to bear fruit, in those days after his resurrection. For the church this was new life in a new world: the world’s spring.

Primary among these believers is Saint Peter. In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear the first part of Peter’s very first sermon — the one that he preached on the day of Pentecost — and we also hear a brief passage from his First Letter. We will hear more from this sermon next week, and more from that letter over the coming weeks of this Easter season. And I want to spend some time today and in the coming weeks exploring the teaching Peter develops about what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be the church in this world’s springtime.

Peter’s sermon to the crowds on Pentecost was more than a sermon, of course. It was testimony, and that is the element I want to highlight today. Like any religious Jew of his day, Peter knew his Scriptures well, and also like any pious believer then or since, he always tried to bring his own experience into relation with Scripture, to place his own experience into the history of salvation to which the Scriptures bear witness.

So Peter does some scriptural exegesis — which is just a fancy word for exploring and explaining what Scripture means. He quotes from the Psalms of David, Psalms that point to eternal life, and the promise that God’s Holy One would not suffer corruption. And Peter has the guts to say to the gathered assembly, “Well guess what, folks. David died! Not only that, but he suffered corruption — he was put in a tomb, and his tomb is right down the street and you can go and see it if you want. So David wasn’t talking about himself, but about one of his descendants. It is this Messiah that David is talking about when he says that he “will not be abandoned to Hades or experience corruption.” Then Peter pulls this historic analysis — all well in and of itself — right into the present: He tells the people there, “It has happened, right here in Jerusalem and not so long ago: this descendant of David, this Jesus — the man in whose crucifixion you all played a part by getting the Romans to execute him — God has raised him from the dead, and of that we are all witnesses!”

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Now, recall the situation. Just fifty-two days earlier, this same Peter was huddled by the fire outside the court where Jesus was on trial. When people recognized him and accused him of being one of the disciples, he denied it three times before the rooster crowed; and it all ended in tears. Peter, too, you see, had played his own part in the crucifixion of Jesus. Yet here — now, fifty-two days later — is this same man now boldly proclaiming to the whole community not only that they are guilty of complicity in a terrible crime — the execution of an innocent man — but that this man was and is the Messiah, whom God has raised from the dead, and that he and the other apostles are eyewitnesses to this raising. The former coward and traitor has been transformed by his own personal experience and the coming of God’s Spirit into one willing to testify to the truth, even at the risk of his own life — for remember who he is talking to: he knows that those who had worked to bring down Jesus may well still be there among that crowd, and they might do to Peter and his colleagues the same things, to bring them down — as indeed some of them would soon do — and we’ll be hearing more about that in the coming weeks!

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So there are two parts to this phenomenon: Peter’s actual experience of being a witness to something, and then the action of testifying to that experience. Has anyone here ever served as a witness in a trial or a hearing? (I won’t ask for a show of hands, but if you did you’ll know what I mean, that there are two parts to the experience. Not only have you had personal experience of some event, but you are willing to testify to that event. It means having and sharing first-hand knowledge, being able to deliver your testimony. It isn’t enough to have hearsay — somebody told me this happened — no, it means being able to say, “I was there, and I saw what happened.” And it isn’t enough just to have seen what happened — you have to be willing to be sworn in and to testify to your memories of what you saw. You have to tell your story — a story that happened.

Peter lacked the courage to testify that he knew Jesus on the night that Jesus was betrayed, but in between that and the testimony we heard this morning, two great events took place: Jesus was raised from the dead, and the Spirit descended on the apostles. These two events changed Peter and made him willing to take a risk he had been unwilling to take just weeks before.

For there is a risk in offering testimony. As I said, Peter, in that sermon was testifying to the same people who, as he said, got the Romans to crucify Jesus. Sometimes the risk is so great that people who testify, in a modern setting, have to be offered special protection; sometimes even a whole new identity, a whole new life in a different place. They call it a “witness protection plan.” God had such a plan for Peter, and it too had two parts. First came his own personal experience of the risen Christ, the Easter experience of a new life raised from the dead. But even more powerful was the descent of the Holy Spirit that came on him and the other apostles on the feast of Pentecost — which is when he spoke the words of this bold first sermon to the people. These two events gave Peter a new identity, and equipped him with what Paul would later call “the armor of God” but which Peter refers to as “protection” — a depth of trust and conviction that converted him from fear to faith. And they gave him a new life in a new place — the church that was born on the day of Pentecost, as we’ll hear again in a few weeks. He could boldly preach Christ and him crucified, but also risen from the dead, and he did so in the witness protection plan of God’s Holy Spirit.

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In addition to our sermon from Peter, today’s gospel passage gives us another story of a witness, the patron saint of witnesses: Doubting Thomas. Thomas is a skeptic — perhaps by nature. John reminds us that Thomas had a nickname; he was called “the Twin.” Now, we don’t know if he was an actual twin, or if he just looked so much like someone that they called him that. But he had probably had to argue many times with people who tell him, “But I saw you at the shop yesterday,” when what they saw was his brother or someone who looked like him. Even people who aren’t twins suffer from mistaken identity often enough — perhaps our twins can testify; have you ever been mistaken for someone else? or each other? I’m sure you have; I know I have! Or have you ever mistaken someone else for someone else; gone up to someone on the street and started to say “hello” and they look at you like, “Who are you?” And then you realize, “Sorry, I thought you were someone else.”

So Thomas probably had that kind of experience for much of his life. And when you’ve lived with that long enough you can become very skeptical about the eyewitness reports you hear about others. You’ve been there; you know how wrong people can be.

So when the other disciples assure Thomas that they have seen the Lord, he is not persuaded by their testimony. His first thought is that they’ve seen someone who looks like Jesus. Even their eyewitness testimony is not enough to convince him. He won’t accept their word: he needs to see for himself.

So, when Thomas finally does see for himself, he is practically speechless; he is only able to say a few words — how many times have you repeated them yourselves as you knelt at this altar to receive Christ present in the Eucharist — that simple phrase, “My Lord and my God!”

And Jesus does not rebuke him: he merely reminds him that being an eyewitness is not possible for everyone. It is the task of faith to believe those who are witnesses to the truth. We are challenged to test everything, yes, but to we are also called, as Jesus tells Thomas, to give credence when we see the greatest good; to believe not only the testimony, but the good faith of those who testify, who, in their lives and in their works as well as in their words show forth the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit at work in them. That is putting the power of faith to work: not just seeing, but believing, and testifying and bearing witness in one’s life, so that others may see and believe in the power of God, and have the courage to have faith.

This is how the power of God’s witness protection plan works for us. It gives us a different kind of courage — but through the same Spirit that gave courage to Peter. This is the courage to believe that of which we are not eyewitnesses — the resurrection of Christ — yet hold fast to the testimony of those who are witnesses — and to allow that experience of God to work in our lives.

We are not eyewitnesses to the resurrection — but we do have the testimony of those first eyewitnesses, passed down to other believers, and then on to the next generation of those who believe, and who receive the courage of faith through the Spirit, to act on their own belief to do the work God gives them — gives us — to do. And the power of this testimony, handed down through the ages, can still change the world. Our own “witness protection plan” is not based on having seen, but having believed, as Jesus promised Thomas would be the case. This gives us our new identity and our new dwelling place — as members of the church, Christ’s body on earth, and with that new identity, “Christian.” This testimony is as fresh as the day it was first delivered, blooming up out of the soil of cowardice and fear into the light of faith. It comes alive, alive like the springtime, like Easter itself in its continued rebirth, every time that testimony is offered, every time you speak a word of faith to someone who does not yet believe, you help that seed to blossom into life. It is the power of God at work for good in the world that God created, the world God redeemed, and the world God fills with his Holy Spirit.

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This is the promise and the fulfillment of Easter: the season of resurrection, of new beginnings and new possibilities, when life comes to the dead, cowards become courageous, doubters become believers, and even those who have not seen dare to speak out, dare to stand firm and to stand forth against all that works against the human spirit or God’s Spirit, to testify that they are saved and redeemed by the blood of Christ: witnesses protected by God!

This is our faith; this is our testimony; this is our courageous proclamation in the Spirit; this is our story, this is our song! beloved sisters and brothers in Christ. We may not have seen him rise, but we know he lives.

Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Here Comes the Calvary!

SJF • Easter A 2014 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.

Sending all of the children [to Sunday school] reminds me that when I was about that size — though perhaps a little bit smaller — I used to love watching cowboy-and-Indian westerns and TV shows when I was a boy. I confess I even had my own little cowboy suit (yes they made them that small!). It was a genuine Walt Disney Mouseketeer Cowboy Suit (probably a size zero), complete with shiny buttons and an imitation leather holster with a trusty pot-metal six-shooter cap-gun. What’s more, a couple of years later I had a Davey Crockett racoon-skin hat, and later a Bat Masterson walking-stick that fired caps when you tapped the end against the ground, and then, best of all, a genuine Rifleman toy repeating rifle that shot caps. (And we weren’t even members of the NRA!) Come to think of it, I wish I still had all those things — because they’d fetch a nice bit on eBay! But sadly, as Saint Paul said, when I became a man I put aside childish things, and who knows where all the paraphernalia of my childhood may be today? Maybe I should check eBay?

One thing, though, that stays with me from that period, though, is the spirit of optimism that was such an intrinsic part of those old westerns. These TV shows and movies evidenced an unshakable opinion that however dark and hopeless things might appear, rescue will come and all will be well.

You remember the situations: The family or the farmers are surrounded by evil cattle rustlers, or the wagon train is in a circle fending off the marauding attacks of Indians who are galloping around and around, the little farm cabin bristles with arrows and flaming torches are hitting into the sides of the Conestoga wagons.

And at these darkest and most dangerous moment, suddenly a voice rings out, Here comes the cavalry! The bugle sounds in the distance, and over the ridge there appears the rescuing troop of horses, thundering down the hill with banners flying and guns blazing, scattering the rustlers or Indians or desperadoes, sending them fleeing into retreat.

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Our Old Testament reading this morning carries with it that same spirit of optimism and hope at the darkest and most terrifying moment.

Deep in the past of Israel’s history, is an event that would come to be seen by them as the defining moment in their history, a dramatic scene of rescue unfolds. This one really does have a cinematic air — now wonder it has been put on film a number of times! The children of Israel are trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea, caught between a rock and a hard place, or perhaps I should say between the devil and the deep blue sea! The situation looks hopeless, and the people shout curses at Moses for bringing this disaster upon them. “Weren’t there graves enough for us in Egypt, that you have to bring us here to die by the sea?” they cry out — for sure enough there were graves in Egypt,
some as big as mountains for Pharaoh and his family, but even the common workers, even the slaves such as they, had their own little tombs. Archaeologists discovered them not too many years ago, right there in the shadow of the pyramids, little tombs for the ones who built those big tombs, somewhat fancier ones for the overseers, simpler ones for the common laborers. But even such simple graves are much to be preferred to what seems to await the people now: slaughter by the seaside! Here on the shore of the Red Sea, it looks like these folk are doomed to miss their chance at a decent burial.

The Egyptian army draws on, and they get pushed closer and closer to the edge of the water. Then suddenly, the voice of God speaks out, the power of God in the pillar of fire moves in majesty and awe to cut off the Egyptian assault, God’s cavalry and chariots of fire opposing the horsemen of Egypt. Then the command is given Moses lifts his staff. The waves begin to push back as the wind from God blows mightily, and the sea itself begins to part, the water unnaturally flowing back and up, leaving dry land for the Israelites to tread through — as the hymn says, with unmoistened foot — to safety on the other side. Then Moses stretches out his hand once again and those walls of water collapse on the hard-hearted Egyptians, unwilling to allow this miraculous rescue, and themselves instead destroyed and drowned, all those chariots and horsemen.

What a scene, what a drama — it was something to sing and dance about; and that was what the people did, a song of the Lord’s glorious triumph, sung on the other shore. “The Lord has triumphed gloriously; the horse and its rider has been thrown into the sea. The fathomless deep has overwhelmed them; they sank into the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in might; your right hand, O Lord, has overthrown the enemy.”

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Such is the substance of our reading from the Old Testament, summed up in that phrase, “Here comes the cavalry.” It’s what God does, it’s what God favors, this last minute reprieve, this rescue just when things look their worst.

But this would not always be the case. There was a time when God did not send in the cavalry. There was a time when God did not send down ten legions of angels, even though he could have. There was a time when God was silent, a terrible time when a man was dying a most horrible and cruel death,
a man who was far closer to God than Moses was.

That was the terrible truth of Good Friday, that God did not intervene. The silence of God appeared to start in the Garden of Gethsemane. The gospel writers record no response from God when Jesus asked that, if it was possible, the cup might pass from him. (Although one of the Gospel writers couldn’t resist having an angel there to pat Jesus on the shoulder and give him some comfort.) The silence of God continued on up through the scourging, through the journey through the crowded streets, bearing that cross. Even when the nails ran in, the cross was hoisted, and the Son of God hung in shameful pain, there was no bugle sound in the distance, no angelic troop sweeping down through the clouds. Into that silence the man on the cross uttered words of desolation, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Where was the pillar of fire? Where was the staff to part the sea? Where was the legion of angels? No, there was no rescue then. There was no cavalry on Calvary.

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And yet.... and yet, it appears after all that God the master dramatist had a new twist in mind, an even greater rescue than any ever before. And that is why we are here today. That is why we will be here next Sunday, and Sunday after Sunday throughout the year. For God did act, though he delayed acting, delayed his entry into this drama to such an extent that some people couldn’t believe what he did when he did it.

The religious authorities deny it; the politicians immediately tried a cover-up to squelch it — nothing new there! — the women at the tomb trembled in fear even if they were joyful; the disciples doubt their story, one of them even to such an extent that he earned the nickname by would be his forever, Doubting Thomas.

But it wasn’t that God went too far. God went just far enough — though it was further than anyone had ever gone before. To rescue someone from impending death, to deliver someone from the danger of death — why, that’s the stuff of heroism. But to rescue someone from death after he has died! That, anyone could have told you, is impossible. That is not the stuff of heroism, but of miracle.

And so it was. It was impossible, but God did it. For all things are possible with God, working with and in those who believe. With the Lord all is provided, even the impossible, even the unbelievable. The Lord has provided, and the Lord provides, and the Lord will provide! That is just the way God is. God’s cavalry will keep on coming, even if it means working the miracle of resurrection rather than of rescue. God did not rescue his Son from death — he rescued him through death.

And he will do the same for us. We all will die, rest assured. But that will not be the end for us any more than it was the end for Jesus Christ. For we have been baptized into his death — and if that were the end, what fools we would be. What fools we would be if all we did was worship a dead god! What fools we would be to gather here week by week. What fools to baptize children into death — and not into life! For we who have been incorporated in him, by a death like his, will also share and rise with him, in a life like his. After our own mortality leads us to the grave, we will ride his coattails on up and out of the grave, whether they be as grand as Mr. Woolworth’s mausoleum up in a Woodlawn or as humble as a grave in a little country church; whether as notable and long-lasting as the pyramids or as anonymous and unmarked as a burial at sea, at the end we will rise with him, lifted up into life again.

Paul wrote, “For we have died, and our life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then we also will appear with him in glory.” This, my beloved sisters and brothers in Christ, is better than any last minute rescue, a reprieve, a deliverance, a continuation of the same old same old. This is nothing less nor other than new life, transformed and remade as a new being, a new creation. This is the hope and promise of Easter, the hope and promise that the Lord provides, as he has provided so much else.

God has given us much for which to give thanks, But this — this promise of life everlasting with him — this is the best. This is really good. And it will last for ever.+

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bit Parts

SJF • Palm Sunday A • Tobias Haller BSG God also highly exalted him and give him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Every knee bending, every tongue confessing — Isaiah said it first and Saint Paul repeated it. But that’s hardly what it seems like in the Passion according to Saint Matthew that we heard today. Maybe in the Palm Gospel, where everybody is celebrating and calling out to Jesus our Lord, but certainly not in the evangelist Matthew’s version of the Passion. It doesn’t take very long for the cries of “Hosanna” to turn into, “Let him be crucified.” And the change of heart seems to be just about universal. Just about everybody is against Jesus. It isn’t just Judas, and the chief priests and the elders, and the crowds, and the soldiers. Even his friends don’t seem to want to have any more to do with him any more; even Peter, the only one with even a modicum of courage to follow at a distance, even he, as you recall, denies Jesus when put to the test. In Matthew’s version of the Passion even both of the thieves crucified there, on either side of Jesus, join in the fun and curse him. The opposition is almost entirely unanimous.

There are, however, a few exceptions. Matthew portrays Pilate, for instance, in a somewhat sympathetic light — a typical politician torn between trying to keep the peace and trying to please the mob and seeing to it that true justice is done. As is often true with politicians, he chooses the easy way, he chooses peace and pleasing the mob instead of justice. He washes his hands of the innocent blood, and allows the execution to proceed.

Pilate is certainly not the first politician to try to have his cake and eat it too; nor is he the last to place himself in a position of deniability and shift the responsibility to someone else. In a more modern setting, rather than washing his hands, he would probably have had his press secretary issue a statement to the effect that “we were badly advised and we were operating on insufficient intelligence” and perhaps he might even use those timeless words, “mistakes were made.” Still, Matthew does not portray Pilate as a bloodthirsty villain, and certainly not as being against Jesus except to the extent that his job requires it. +++ But there are two other characters in Matthew’s Gospel that I’d like to invite to step into the spotlight today. They are not major players by any means, but rather they are bit parts in the drama. They are one step up from being an “extra” — but still don’t get into the category of a featured role. In the movie business they are called an “under five” — which means that they have fewer than five lines. In fact, in this case each of them has only one line.

And one of them is an offstage voice: Pilate’s wife; she sends that message, warning her husband to have nothing to do with the trial of an innocent man because she has had a bad dream about him. For Matthew, this harks back to his account of the Nativity in which Joseph — as I’m sure you recall — is warned in dreams at the very beginning of the Jesus’s life; and so here another dream comes to the wife of Pontius Pilate, in the closing hours of the Jesus’s life. I suppose to pick up another analogy of a film you might imagine this as a voiceover — I’m sure you’ve all seen films where someone is reading a letter from someone else, and you hear the voice of that other person — picture Pilate unrolling a scroll and hearing his wife’s voice as he reads her letter: “Have nothing to do with this man, for I have been troubled in a dream on his account.” A bit part, clearly, but an important one — for it adds to Pilate’s discomfort with the whole situation and his desire to keep his distance from it.

The other bit player is the centurion, who with the other soldiers gathered at the foot of the cross, has the last word in today’s reading of the Passion: “Truly this man was God’s son.” Now, the role of these Roman soldier is all the more interesting because earlier in the drama they were on the “anti” side, those who mocked Jesus — so this represents a major change of heart, at the end, when suddenly they see something that most of the others can’t see; they see this so-called king of the Jews as not just the king of the Jews but as God’s Son: a declaration not just of royalty but divinity. +++ The interesting thing about these characters — Pilate’s wife, and the centurion and the other soldiers — is that they are all Gentiles — in fact, if you include Pilate, all of the even-close-to “good guys” in Matthew’s Passion are Gentiles. Why is that?

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That’s a good question — since Matthew is generally considered to be the most Jewish of the four evangelists; that is, he is the one who most often quotes from the Old Testament in the course of his Gospel. You know how it all went, from the Nativity stories right on: “this happened to fulfill what was said by the prophet” every step of the way he is bringing the Old Testament into the New, relating it, tying it together. Notice in today’s account of the Passion how he dwells on the details of Psalm 22: actually quoting it at one point. He includes the mocking, the challenges to have God deliver him, the piercing of the hands and feet, the division of the garments and the casting of lots; and then most powerfully, when he actually quotes the opening verse of the Psalm, putting those words, in Aramaic, into Jesus’s mouth — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” — as Jesus himself cries out that powerful verse of Psalm 22 as his arms are stretched out upon the hard wood of the cross. That Psalm is the lament of an innocent man surrounded by gangs of enemies who have literally ripped him to shreds and hung him out to dry — and die.

And yet, for Matthew, in spite of his own Jewishness, and of the echoes of the Hebrew Scriptures that run through his Gospel, and his outreach to his own people, Matthew chooses to highlight the Gentile bit players as the most sympathetic characters in his account of the Passion.

And right there at the heart of the quandary you have the clue as to why Matthew has done this, what Matthew’s intention was in giving these sympathetic parts to Gentiles. You see, Matthew is writing to his own people, writing to a Jewish audience, and he is using a form of argument to convince them, a form of argument that is itself a rich part of the Jewish tradition, a form of argument called “light and heavy” — of which I’ve spoken before because Jesus himself makes use of the form, in another account of the Passion, when he says, “If they do this when the wood is green what will they do when it is dry?”

And what is the point of the argument? Remember, Matthew is an evangelist — he has one primary goal: to tell the Good News to the end that those who hear it may believe. This is the one thing all the evangelists have in common, however different their style, their audience, or the details that they choose to emphasize in their accounts. Here, Matthew, is writing to his own people; he is trying to embarrass them into realizing the extent of their error in having rejected the Messiah.

He echoes the language Peter uses at the first Pentecost, when Peter tells the Jewish pilgrims from all over the world that they acted in ignorance, but that this was part of God’s plan not only to save them, but to bring the Gentiles into salvation. Matthew’s goal as an evangelist is to convict and convert his own people. He wants more than anything to help them see that Jesus was and is the Messiah of God. Throughout his Gospel he has been showing how Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures — and in the Passion, he makes use of these Gentile bit players to say, “If even these Gentiles, who know nothing of God, these pagans living outside the law and the covenant, outside the blessing of God, if even they are capable of seeing the Messiah, shouldn’t you be able to as well — you my brothers and sisters, you who have read and heard the holy Scriptures from your childhood up? You who know God — don’t you know him when you see him?”

Matthew is using that argument of “light and heavy” as we might say “it’s so easy even a child can do it” — meaning that if a child can do it certainly an adult can. He is saying, if even a Gentile can recognize the God of the Jews when he comes, who is the God of all people, why can’t the Jews who have been given that promise from the very beginning?

Like the apostles Peter and Paul, Matthew wants his people — the Jewish people of his day — to join him in accepting Jesus as the fulfillment for which they had so long waited.

This is the way in which the prophecy of Isaiah would come to pass, the prophecy that Saint Paul reaffirmed in his letter to the church at Philippi — that all people, of every land, of every tongue, Jew and Gentile alike, of every tribe and kindred on this celestial ball, together with the chosen heirs of Israel’s race would bend the knee and cry out as one that Jesus Christ is Lord.

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We set our feet today upon the path of Holy Week at the end of which we will watch with our Savior as he is crowned, not with a royal diadem but with a crown of thorns. We too ought to be embarrassed by this Gospel — for we have not always witnessed to our Savior as we should. But let us pray to God to give us the strength to follow Jesus, to walk with him and to watch with him, that we may one day live with him and praise him in that place where he sits enthroned in glory — where by the will of God and the grace and mercy of his sacrifice we will join with angels and archangels, with the prophets and the dreamers, with the blessed company of the apostles and martyrs, with the penitent and repentant — even those embarrassed into faith — where every knee shall bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.+