33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – November 17, 2019
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Malachi 3:19-20a; Psalm 98:5-9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19
The Bible. We all have one in our homes. We have all read stories from it. We can all quote some part of it. Some of us may have even read the whole thing through. But what is the Bible about? What is it about? “It’s about Jesus.” Ok, that’s not helpful.
What is the story of the Bible? There are a lot of ways to describe it, but here’s one. The Bible is the story of God gathering a people who will worship him. Let me say that again. The Bible is the story of God gathering a people who will worship him. Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. Again, as Americans we have this natural aversion to being told that we have to worship something, that we have to praise someone, that adoration is the goal of existence—that just doesn’t sound right to our ears. We want to seek-out our own good, to take care of ourselves, to do what’s best for us. But no! The worship and praise of God, adoration is exactly what we as humans need.
What do I mean? “Adoration” comes from two latin words: ad and oratio. In other words, mouth to mouth, an embrace, a kiss, and ultimately love (c.f., Benedict XVI, Homily at World Youth Day, 2005). Adoration, mouth to mouth, is talking about being perfectly aligned with the thing you “adore.” We need to praise God, because in the act of adoring and praising him we become aligned to him. And when we are aligned with God, everything else falls into place.
It has been said that everything you need to know about someone you can learn by asking one question, “What do you worship?” “Worship,” again, from two older English words: worth-ship. What is of highest worth to you? What is of highest worth to you? What do you hold most dear? What is it that you orient you life around? Because whatever you orient your life around, that’s going to determine where everything else falls into place in your life.
In the Bible, the Jews put this on display on almost every page. This dynamic of, “What is of highest worth?” is constantly on display, from the very beginning. Adam and the story of creation: it’s not a story about how God made everything appear in seven literal days. The creation story is about the “liturgical procession” of all of creation; how everything come from God and is directed back to Him. Adam comes at the end of this liturgical procession, just like the priest comes at the end of the procession at mass. Why? Because Adam, like a priest, is meant to lead all of creation in right praise, in worship of God. And that’s Adam’s sin—he turns-in on himself, he worships himself over the Creator. And it falls apart from there. Cain kills Abel. The Tower of Babel results in the scattering of the people. Again, all symbols of how we as humans and all of creation falls apart when God is not worshipped, when God is not of highest worth.
But through Abraham, God begins this process of knitting people and all of creation back together. Through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a family and a tribe and a people are formed. God makes covenants with his people. With Moses, God leads a nation into a promised land. In David, an international kingdom is formed. And at the center of it all? The Temple.
The Temple points us right back to the Garden of Eden. The Temple was covered and filled with images of the cosmos and a garden. The Temple was a little microcosm of the world, but not just any world. It was a world in which everything was in proper order, a world where right praise was given to God. It is the Temple that was at the center of Jewish life. The Temple, and Israel itself for that matter, was meant to be a beacon, a magnetic pole that gathered all people and all of creation back to God. That’s why we hear things in scripture like, “Jerusalem, true pole of the earth” (cf Ps 48), “it is there that the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord” (cf Ps 122:3-4). The Temple was meant to be this great gathering point, a place where all of mankind and all of creation were once again brought into right relationship with God.
But the Temple wasn’t enough. The Temple wasn’t God’s final plan. The Temple was far from perfect, Temple worship was far from perfect. This reading we have from the prophet Malachi is rich in meaning, but it’s only one and a half verses. The book of the prophet Malachi is only three chapters long, but it’s a book about the time after the people had returned from exile and had rebuilt the Temple, but things weren’t going well. In fact, one central part of the book is God accusing the people of defiling the Temple. How? Because people were not offering their best, and the priests of the Temple were going along with this corrupt worship. People were also not tithing to the Temple (yeah, they had tithing even back then). In other words, even though the Temple and the sacrifices of the Temple were going on, it was just a show—people’s hearts were hardened, and they were just paying lip-service to God.
But that’s when Malachi makes the promise we hear today. “Lo, the day is coming…” Malachi talks about a day of purifying judgement! A day of joy for the faithful remnant, because the corruption will finally be burned away! God will send a new Moses, a New Elijah to restore God’s people and heal their hard hearts. (Think of Jesus asking the apostles, “Who do people say that I am?” And they respond, “Some say Moses, others, Elijah…” This is why people think Jesus is Moses or Elijah!)
But Jesus flips the script! If Jesus is the Messiah, he should be advocating for right worship at the Temple—that’s what everyone thinks. But instead, Jesus talks about the destruction of the Temple. At the very beginning of our Gospel, he says, “All that you see here [in the Temple]— the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down” (Luke 21:6). Throughout his life and ministry, Jesus speaks of a New Covenant, a New Law, a New Temple. To our ears, we don’t hear it. But to Jews, what they heard was all about worship and praise. Jesus was introducing a new form of worship, of praise.
This is how the early Christians understood Jesus! They understood him and his actions in terms of this new form of worship. Jesus Christ was the New Adam (St. Paul constantly makes that comparison). Christ is the New Moses, the New Elijah, the New David. Jesus Christ is the New Temple, the Temple of his body (c.f., John 2:21). And Jesus Christ comes as the New Adam to lead all of creation in right worship, in adoration, of God. How? The cross. On the cross, the new priest, the new Adam, offers and sacrifices himself in the Temple of his body. And the offering isn’t corrupt, it isn’t blemished. It is a pure and unblemished offering—not even a broken bone. This sacrifice isn’t some sacrifice to a blood-thirsty God, no. The sacrifice is an offering of complete obedience, even to the point of unjust and innocent death; a free and total offering of self, an offering of total love. That’s the cross. That’s the worship Jesus teaches.
And how do we participate in that worship? By participation in the mass—the act of “right praise,” Jesus’ complete self-offering to the Father, communing in that same sacrifice/self-offering/self-giving. In the mass, we are participating in the cross.
Why the mass? What are we doing here? Well, this is exactly what we’re doing here! We’re finally giving right praise to God, we’re finally adoring him.
What is the very first thing we do at mass? It’s not the sign of the cross. The first thing we do is gather! Remember, what happened after Adam sinned? Creation was no longer walking toward God, it was scattered! Israel’s mission was to gather the people, “Jerusalem, true pole of the earth” (cf Ps 48), “it is there that the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord” (cf Ps 122:3-4). And so the very first part of the mass is our act of gathering. And at the end of the liturgical procession is the priest, in personal Christi, the New Adam, come to lead the people in right worship.
What do we do then? We begin with the sign of the cross. The cross marks every motion. Then it is the penitential rite, we are reconciled to God. Reconciled comes from the words con and cilia—cilia is eyelash. So eyelash to eyelash, reconciled. Just like adoration. We are lined-up with God, eyelash to eyelash, reconciled.
We then listen to Sacred Scripture, immersing ourselves in this great flow of history, of God gathering his people again for worship. We then stand for the Creed, claiming this faith and this story as our own. In the offertory we offer to God the first-fruits of our labor, the unblemished offerings. (Remember the prophet Malachi. One of the problems was that the people weren’t tithing. The people couldn’t even show fidelity to God by offering one-tenth of their earnings. That’s why tithing isn’t throwing in loose change, it is the first thing that should come out of our budget. It is not what we have left-over, it is the first fruits, the best!)
Then in the Liturgy of the Eucharist we pray, “Life up your hearts.” Do we lift up stoney and hardened hearts? No. We lift up humble and contrite hearts. It’s not just lip-service, we actually lift-up our entire heart, our entire life, everything—we offer our entire life to God in an act of love, just as Jesus does on the cross. In the Eucharistic prayer, Christ’s sacrifice, his body “given up for you” and his blood “poured our for you” are made present. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is made present, the New Covenant is established, and with hearts lifted-up, we participate in this sacrifice of complete and total self-offering, complete obedience to the Father. In receiving communion we become “Christified,” we become more and more like Christ.
And then we are dismissed, sent back into the world, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your lives,” “Go and announce the Gospel.” We are called from the world to, and then are sent into the world to bear witness, to give testimony.
The way we “worship” shapes everything else about us! The mass is the most important thing we do because it shapes everything else about us. Coming to mass is not some requirement because we need to appease a blood-thirsty God, no. The mass puts us in right-relationship to God.
Look around us, look at the culture we live in. I’m sure many of you remember the time when nothing was open on Sundays, not even gas stations. There were no sports on Sundays. Lord, you couldn’t even buy a beer on Sunday. Why? Because Sunday was the day of worship, of the right praise of God. Now? Everything is open on Sunday. Sunday is just another Saturday. Sunday isn’t sacred. The way we “worship” shapes everything else about us! We need to praise God, because in the act of adoring and praising him we become aligned to him. And when we are aligned with God, everything else falls into place. When God is of highest worth, everything else falls into place.