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A HOLY DISRUPTION
Homily for the First Sunday of Lent - Year B
St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY
I talk quite frequently with a 16-year old boy who lives in Harlem. Mpiana is a refugee from Congo who lives with many hardships that are different from most teenagers. Through it all he is a remarkably resilient student-athlete determined to succeed.
Mpiana goes to a Baptist church with his little brother and, impressively can recall passages from the Bible. He once told me he believes God does not test us beyond our ability to be tested; that God does not leave us alone; that God helps us deal with the tests that come our way. (1 Cor 10:13) Mpiana is nourished by God’s promises.
Mark’s gospel today (Mk 1:12-15) asks us to pay attention to “Biblical precedents where God does test people to play a significant role in the story of salvation.”  Think of Abraham being tested to sacrifice his son Isaac. But this gospel is not just about Jesus being tested. (The Greek word also means temptation. One could say all temptations are tests.)
The gospel also tells us how Jesus was called to ministry when his cousin John baptised him. According to the story, during that event God broke through the world order with an earth-shattering, roaring voice, accompanied by thunder and lightning. Jesus was being called out loud by God to a life of service that would engage him in a conflict with world powers.
David Schnasa Jacobsen, biblical scholar at Boston University, noted that Mark’s narrative pointed out the urgency of the gospel. “In doing so, we’ll understand Jesus’s temptation as the first skirmish of his vocation and a harbinger of the apocalyptic battles to come.”  Those are the struggles that confront us today.
In so many words, Jacobsen wrote that Jesus’ baptism in Mark is portrayed as an act of apocalyptic, cosmic, holy disruption that will usher in God’s plan for the coming kingdom. It will be a time that includes healings, liberations from bondage caused by evil, announcements of forgiveness, and calls to social transformation.
But the devil and evil are still at large. How do we respond to the tests that often can lead to a change of heart? The reading from Genesis (Gn 9:8-15) is a good reminder of the covenants God created with us. A covenant is an ancient formula wherein two parties promise to do something or not do something. Some of them are worth remembering. In the covenant with Noah God promised no more floods. It was a sign of God’s faith in people but the people did not return the favor. The psalmist (Ps 25:4-9) today reminds us God’s ways are love and truth for those who do keep God’s covenants.
So God tried again. The covenant with Abraham and Sarah prompted loyal relationships with God. What is our bond with a God who wants to be our friend? The covenant with Moses at Mt. Sinai included a code of conduct (the 10 commandments) to help us live together in harmony. Are we abiding by those moral barometers?
The covenant with David included the promise of a messiah who would save people from all oppression. And, the new and everlasting covenant embodied by Jesus assures us that God forgives sins and restores communion with all of God’s people. (1 Peter 3:18-22)
So, how do we keep our part of our covenant with God today? Can we set complacency aside? Advocate for justice? Can we disrupt the work of evil doers? Or, are we being tested beyond our abilities to handle the test? These are urgent questions for us as we begin our march toward Easter.
Lawlessness is rampant; lying is normal; negotiated diplomacy doesn’t seem to matter; covenants rooted in love are broken, civility is trumped by rudeness, distinctions between classes are distorted and the rights of marginalized persons are minimized. These challenges require a “moral reinforcement in [our] collective beliefs.” 
Of course, Lent can be an intense period of prayer, reconciliation, initiation and even fasting. More urgently, however, it is a time to confront those forces that alienate us from God, one another and ourselves. Can we figure out “what we are willing to sacrifice for a more important good.”  Our task is to balance competing interests that can cause anxiety, even sickness.
On Ash Wednesday Pope Francis said Lent is about rediscovering our call "to love the brothers and sisters all around us, to be considerate to others, to feel compassion, to show mercy, to share all that we are and all that we have with those in need.”
Yes, Lent calls you and me to renew the values that Jesus invites us to embrace — loyalty, commitment, solidarity. It is a time to cause a holy disruption that will bring about the kingdom of God here on earth. Getting into “good trouble”  is grounded in our longing for God to set things right. If Mpiana, that young teenager from Harlem, were here he would say: “Hey, Bro, don’t you know with God on our side anything is possible.” (Mk 10:27)
1. Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press) 2008, 33.
2. David Schnasa Jacobsen. <https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-mark-19-15-6
3. See Karen Fields and Barbara J. Fields. Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life. (NY: Verso, 2012), 227 in Joerg Rieger Theology in the Capitalocene: Ecology, Identity, Class and Solidarity. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2022) 96.
4. David Brooks “The Cure For Ails Our Democracy” <https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/15/opinion/democracy-good-evil.html>
5. John Pilch. <https://liturgy.slu.edu/1LentB021824/theword_cultural.html>
6. “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America.” John Lewis made this statement on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 1, 2020 commemorating the tragic events of Bloody Sunday.
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Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B Cycle
Presented at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY
There are many stories in the New Testament about the healing miracles performed by Jesus. The evangelist Mark uses these episodes to describe Jesus exercising his messianic ministry; a redeemer who had definitive authority over anything having to do with evil spirits, sickness, oppression, and death.
Some believe Jesus cured people from whatever afflicted them. The word “cure” is in the gospel we just heard. We all long for miraculous cures for cancer, dementia, Sickle Cell Anemia, and other diseases that plague our minds and bodies. But did Jesus actually cure people or did he heal them? In the Bible healing is different from curing.
When Jesus healed people it was not just about fixing things in the moment — making them see, walk, feel better, rise up again. No, the purpose of those actions was to inspire the healed person and those who witnessed the act to transform their lives, to follow Jesus, to become healers of humanity themselves.
In the Bible healing is a long transformative process, one geared to bring about the kingdom of God on earth through acts of loving kindness. In today’s gospel, once Peter’s mother-in-law was healed from her fiery fever, she started offering hospitality to others in the room.
Jesus does not tell us why suffering exists. However, he does show us how to deal with it. As the long awaited “eschatological prophet”  it was his vocation to heal humanity from pain and, in doing so, deliver people from oppressive regimes — what Paul calls the powers and principalities. That’s the political message of the gospels that has been entrusted to all Christians.
Through his miracles Jesus revealed a time, an end-time, when all people would experience freedom from illness, disease, oppression, persecution. We refer to that time as eternal life. But who can wait that long? Jesus was slowly fulfilling the promise of liberty from dictators, power mongers, greedy financiers. It would be a time when justice is the hallmark of every country and institution.
Jesus of Nazareth performed those redemptive acts before his execution on a cross. Proclaiming freedom was a costly mission for him. His antagonists were suspicious of his words and actions. They wanted to get rid of him. What does it cost you and me to be followers of Christ, healers of humanity?
The author, Murphy Davis, a tireless advocate for homeless people and incarcerated persons on death row, once wrote that we cannot just go with the flow. To do so, she wrote, is to “give silent assent to the realities of war, oppression, violence, crushing poverty, mass imprisonment, executions, [and] the destruction of the earth.” When she was alive Murphy Davis urged her colleagues and others to make good use of their time on earth to “perform redemption.” 
But every healing process takes so much time. Addicts overcoming addictions, unemployed persons hunting for a job, hungry people waiting in line at food pantries and soup kitchens, incarcerated persons spending time in correction facilities, immigrants reaching across borders — all these persons know what it means to be resilient and steadfast as they search for inner peace and sustenance.
In the worldview of the gospel physical illness is no less a mark of the evil spirits in the world. There is continuity between the healing that took place in the house of Peter and the exorcism in the synagogue in last week’s gospel.  So too there is continuity between these ancient biblical stories and our own modern lives.
Our world order is off track. Of course, we can choose to ignore the facts about inequality, climate change, and looming threats to freedoms but these factors are eroding lives of millions of young and old people. The story about Job is our story. Job’s life was turned upside down and he began to think he would never see happiness again. This tale is commonplace today. Life is a terrible drudgery for people all across the cultural, educational, financial spectrum — people who are afraid, lonely, poor, disoriented.
Yet here we are. We gather in this holy place to be sustained by one another in a ritual sacrament to remember who the Christ was, what he did and why he died. We also remember and believe in being raised up again like he was.
Our faith is not just in the mission, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. Our faith and our hope rests with all of us, each of us. Our love for one another, family, friends, and strangers alike, should stir in us a desire to be proactive working for peace, justice, reconciliation among all peoples. The psalmist says God heals the broken hearted. God does that through us. Our passion for doing good is the same that Jesus had for healing the world. He showed up to dispel evil spirits and evil doers. Now it is time for us to do what we’ve been called to do — “perform redemption.”
1. Eschatology is a study concerning the final things, such as death and the destiny of humanity.
2. Murphy Davis, “It’s about time,” Hospitality 28, no. 9 (October 2009) 9-10 in Jennifer McBride, Radical Discipleship: A Liturgical Politics of the Gospel (Fortress Press: Minneapolis) 2017, 102
3. Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press) 2008, 46