I know it’s been a long time, my friends. More about that later. I would like to publish the homily I worked on for last Sunday though. I hope you like it.
A young girl named Jamie was having a conversation with God that went like this:
Jamie- God how long is a million years to you?
God- it is but a second Jamie.
Jamie- God how much is a million dollars to you?
God- it is but a penny to me
Jamie- God can I have a penny (STOP)
God- just a second
Sometimes we read or hear scripture and don’t listen, or we think about things like time and money in just human terms. The joke that I just told illustrates that God’s thoughts are not like ours, and when God tries to explain something to us in scripture, we really need to perk up and pay attention.
When popular politicians make short statements about why they are running for office. When celebrities say on TV why it is that they act or sing, we tend to perk up and pay attention. When sports starts declare why they train so hard, we pause for just a moment and listen. Why is that? I think that human beings are wired that way. We want to know what makes people tick. We want to know the WHY of things. I really want to know what YOU think your life means – why you were placed on this earth – because maybe that might give me a hint about why I’m here, too
Well, imagine that God himself told you why he came to earth, wouldn’t you want to know the reason? I hope you would.
Does Jesus ever state very clearly exactly why he came? The answer is absolutely yes. And when Jesus himself states why he came, we need to pay very close attention because he is given us a very clear idea about exactly who he is to us.
In today’s gospel Jesus clearly states, “The Son of man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The first part about service doesn’t really need much explanation. But we should place this in perspective. Jesus himself gave us the best image of service. On the night he was betrayed he took off his cloak, wrapped it around his waist, and washed the dirty feet of the twelve apostles that would abandon him in the next several hours. And he was the king of the universe. There is supposed to be an election tomorrow. Imagine how much better this country would be if politicians had that attitude of service. Please try to elect the closest person to that description, as hard as that might be.
It can be hard to serve even people that we love. But Jesus served even his enemies. He served the people who did not understand him and never would. He served the crowds who one week wanted to make him king and the next week would shout “crucify him!” And he even served the priests and government officials responsible for driving nails into his hands and feet.
The more difficult part about what Jesus said is the part about giving his life as a ransom for many.
We’ve all heard this word, “Ransom.” We usually look at it as a bad thing. Imagine if I got a note that said, “We are holding Fr. Jack prisoner unless you send $5,000 to this mailbox in the next three days.” First of all, that would mean that something terrible is going to happen to Fr. Jack in three days, right? Think for a moment about what a “ransom” means. Webster’s dictionary says that a ransom is a sum of money or other payment demanded for the release of a prisoner. Now let’s hear again why Jesus said he came to earth: “to give his life as a ransom for many.” Who are the many? We are.
Who is paying a price? Jesus is.
What is Jesus giving as payment? His own life.
But wait a second. If Jesus is paying a ransom, that must mean that we are being held prisoner by something or someone. Basically, we were held prisoner by death and by sin. It might be better to say that by the time Jesus was born, humanity owed so much praise and so much good works to God that had not been given to him, that there was no way that humanity could have ever paid for it. So Jesus did – and he did this by willingly handing over his own life.
Saints and Ransom
There are saints who have given their lives as a ransom for two thousand years. One of the best known modern saints who did this is St. Maximilian Kolbe.
During World War II, in his labors to protect many Jewish refugees, Kolbe found himself a Nazi target, was arrested, and sent off to Auschwitz in 1941. There, in the midst of the death camp’s unimaginable daily horrors, he worked to encourage his fellow prisoners by setting an example of faith and hope. One day a prisoner escaped, and, in order to bring an end to any future plans of the same, the guards decided to punish 10 inmates of cellblock 14 by condemning them to death by starvation in an underground bunker. One of the ten was Franciszek Gajowniczek, who began to weep and cried out, “My poor wife and children! I will never see them again!” At that moment, Fr. Kolbe calmly and purposefully stepped forward. “I wish to die for that man. I am old; he has a wife and children.” Such an unusual offer surprised the deputy commandant, who asked Kolbe to identify himself. His response was simple and direct: “I am a Catholic priest.” Those words said far more about the saint than any name possibly could. (from http://www.catholic.org/homily/yearoffaith/story.php?id=52046)
The commandant agreed to grant the request. He spent the last few weeks of his life encouraging the inmates while they died, praying and singing hymns to God. He had offered his life as a RANSOM for another.
But since Jesus was God, he could offer his life as a ransom for every human being on earth.
One of the greatest saints in our modern times that understood his life was a ransom for many was Padre Pio. Saint Pio is the saint in the history of the church who has the distinction of being the only priest who has borne the stigmata – the actual wounds of Jesus Christ’s passion on his body. This is what he said about giving his life as a ransom for many:
“I have worked and I want to work. I have prayed and I want to pray. I have kept watch and I want to keep watch. I have cried and I want to cry – always for all of my brothers who are in exile. I know and understand that this is very little but this is what I know how to do; this is what I am able to do; and this is all that I can do…. You are never without my prayers which you ask for, because you have cost me such sacrifices that I can never forget you. I gave birth to you in the extreme pain of my heart.”
What Does it Mean to be a Ransom
Is all this stuff about being a ransom a stretch or was this part of God’s plan for a long, long time? Yes, it was part of the plan. We get an indication of this in the first reading – that’s why we heard it today. Our first reading is a prophecy that refers to exactly the kind of Messiah that Jesus would be when he finally came. Remember that Isaiah was written around 750 years before Jesus was even born.
If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.
Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
We don’t like the idea of an innocent person suffering for the sake of someone who is not innocent. But that’s exactly what Jesus did. That’s exactly what this reading is about. That is exactly what Padre Pio and Maximilian Kolbe did.
WHO LIKES STATISTICS AND MATH?
Those of you who like math and statistics, listen up. And those of you who don’t, PLEASE LISTEN EVEN HARDER.
Just recently the Vital Catholic Church Statistics came out. Let me share a few with you. Now, there is only one Catholic priest per 13,752 persons in the world of every faith. There is only one Catholic priest per 3,019 Catholics. Now there are about 7.1 billion people on the planet. There is roughly 1 Catholic layperson per 7 persons in the world who are non-Catholic. The problem is that only about 20% of those Catholics are actually practicing Catholics. And that estimate is very generous. The people like you – people that hopefully take the mass and prayer and acts of kindness seriously. If you do the math, that means that there are 250, 485,200 serious praying Catholics in a population of 7.1 billion people. Why am I telling you all this? Why am I confusing the heck out of you with these annoying statistics? Here is my point.
According to my best and very generous estimate, this means that there is roughly one prayerful, serious Catholic for every 15,000 on the planet earth.
Y’all, Jesus said that he came to give his life as a ransom for many. What if the reason why I was born into this world is to be a ransom for those 14,633 people who don’t care or who have never heard the gospel? What does that mean? I don’t necessarily have to die for them. But what I am supposed to pray for those who do not pray? What if I am supposed to do good works for those who are lukewarm, or even those who do evil works? What if for all those who do not have faith in God, I am supposed to have faith in God – just like Padre Pio and Maximilian Kolbe did? The irony is that the people who sacrifice the most often end up being the ones filled with the most peace and the most joy. And they are the people we never forget. We don’t have to shoot for great deeds. We can all do this in our own little way – my mother and father often ransomed their own time and money so that I could be joyous and free, and I will never forget them. They were Jesus to me.
People, it makes sense – there’s some who go through the world destroying it, raising curses to heaven, damaging hearts, breaking hearts, spreading anger and lust and deceit. Does it not make sense that there should be a clean up crew to come behind them healing hearts, sending prayers and songs to heaven instead of curses and blasphemies, and offering up their life as a ransom for many instead of wasting it in selfish pursuits?
Are you going to be part of the clean up crew, or just another person making a terrible mess of an already broken world? But we’ll never know that unless we pick up our prayers and our good works like so many brooms and mops and get to work on a dirty world. So what are we waiting for? Those 15,000 people need your help and they need it now. This is what Jesus did. The only question remains, will you choose to follow him and be a ransom for many.