12th Sunday Repent



My friend Tom once told me of scene he saw from his office in the second floor of a building at the corner of State and Liberty in Ann Arbor. It was Good Friday and a man below was walking down the street carrying a cross. A full sized cross. I guess he was making a religious statement of some sort. Following close behind was a woman screaming her lungs out at him, protesting, in a rage. Tom couldn’t hear what was being said, but he could connect the dots.

“How dare you? Who do you think you are? You have no right! You self-righteous Christians. Get out of here! Are you trying to make us feel guilty, ya bunch of hypocrites. You’re intolerant, you’re judgmental.”

Now I suppose that the woman could have actually been just part of the act, that she was there to add realism to the scene. They do that in Ann Arbor, you know. I’ve seen it. During the art fair. It’s a theatrical town. But I’d bet that she was not an acting.

A parishioner here once told me of being in a store in, again in Ann Arbor and it was at the same time of year. Easter was approaching. She was across from another shopper looking at a display of Easter bunnies. A light conversation suddenly became touchy when our parishioner said something about the true meaning of the season. When it became apparent that they were at opposite ends of the belief spectrum, the other woman, an enlightened non-believer, said, that Catholics were “stupid, stupid”, spitting out the words in her face. I don’t think she was acting.

On television last week I saw a clip of a woman who was going absolutely ballistic about that terrible Duggar family, that bunch of hypocrites who were telling the world how to behave when they were harboring a “hardened” criminal who was a sexual pervert.

All very negative stuff. So, let’s change the subject and talk about something else. Something positive. Let’s talk about the Gospel of Mark. That’s Good News, you know.

We have three year cycle for our Sunday readings. We are currently in cycle B which started last year on the 1st Sunday of Advent and Mark is the evangelist highlighted for this year. And so I thought it was about time that we said a few words about him.

Tradition has given him second place in the list of gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But modern scholars think that his was the first to be written and that Matthew and Luke’s version were, in many places, directly copied from Mark.

Now while the Gospel of Mark is anonymous, it’s been attributed to a man named Mark. Sounds obvious but remember that in very few instances were these great works signed by the author. But sometimes they drop a little hint. Mark, also known as John Mark, speaks of a man who was present at The Agony in the Garden who ran away when the guards came to arrest Jesus. Someone must have grabbed him by the collar and his garment came loose and he ran off naked. Some think that this was Mark writing about himself. And it would identify him not as one of the twelve, but as one of the closer disciples.

He is also believed to be an associate of Peter, and so there is a good chance that the fisherman / pope dictated the gospel to Mark at a much later date and from Rome just before the persecutions began.

Mark’s Gospel is short, fast-paced, and to the point. And there are a few interesting details that come from it. First, it is only in Mark’s gospel that we learn that Jesus was a carpenter. So he followed in Joseph’s footsteps. It’s a little unclear as to what exactly that meant. Jesus is often depicted in art in the shop, at the workbench, with hammer or plane in hand.

But there are different types of carpenters. Maybe he was a house builder and did not practice in the shop so much as at the job site. There was a major city named Sepphoris which was near Nazareth and it could have provided much work for Joseph, and then Jesus.

Also we have the origins of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick in Mark’s Gospel. We will be coming up on that passage in just a few weeks. We have scheduled a healing service here in the week after the reading and the chaplains at both St. Joes and U of M hospitals have promised to come to assist me.

One interesting aspect of Mark’s Gospel is its opening. As I said, it seems as if he cuts to the chase. In the first lines of that first chapter Mark tells us that this is the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

He says that his coming was predicted by Isaiah who told us of “a messenger” who would pave the way for him. One we would come to know as John, who baptized Jesus in the Jordan. And it was there that the dove appeared and the voice of God the Father came down and spoke the words, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”

It goes on to speak of Jesus walking into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil and then coming back into Galilee to begin his mission of preaching, saying that the time has been fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand!

The king was now in their midst.

And then, the very last words of the first chapter which is, in a very real sense, the introduction to all that is to come after, and is perhaps the most important command of all the New Testament, and for all time. He says: Repent, and believe in the gospel !

And so it all began. Mark recounts Jesus three years with his disciples up until the time of his passion, death, and resurrection, and then finally his ascension. The last word of The Gospel of Mark is “Amen”. Truly. I believe. So be it.

I want to focus on that all-important command. Repent! It must have been considered important. When Peter began his ministry on Pentecost Sunday, among the first words out of his mouth, as he was preaching his first homily was, “Repent!”

Repent! Turn around, leave your old ways behind, turn over a new leaf, get a fresh start. Sin no more. A pretty basic message, and one for all people, every where, at all times.

You might remember that some time ago there were that often portrayed an old man with long hair and a beard, dressed in a robe and carrying a sign that said, “Repent, the end is near”. It became kind of a joke of our times. A gentle mockery perhaps. It became a cliché. People laughed when they saw it. Maybe they were thinking that we have been preached this message for 20 centuries years now and it hasn’t happened yet. And it probably isn’t going to happen any time soon, if at all.

Well, I wish I could get into the minds of your average schmo on the streets. I mean deep in. In the last year so much evil has happened in our world that I have to wonder what even the most hardened skeptics are thinking. I mean really, it doesn’t take too much imagination to see the potential for full scale, widespread chaos to break out on the streets of our world.

What can we do? Well, first off, and as I’ve told you before , a major part of my task is to assist you in any way I can, to prepare you for the Second Coming of Jesus. And that will come in one of two ways. First, at your own passing. Will you be ready to stand before the throne of God and give a positive account of how you spent your time in this world?

Secondly, only one generation in all the history of the world, will be the last generation. And leading up to that we have been told that there will be a great tribulation. Chaos, an upheaval of our society with a general decline of morality. And that warning, again from Isaiah,

“Woe to those who call good evil, and evil good”.

Isn’t that what we are seeing out there?

The great apostasy, or a loss of faith. We see that now. Church pews are relatively empty compared to what we remember from the recent past. We see so few young people in church anymore. Many refer to themselves as NONES. As in, “what is your religious affiliation?” “None”.

And the anti-Christ. Is he out there somewhere? Is he hiding in the bushes, ready to make and appearance? Will we recognize him? Will we have the strength to say no to him? Or will we see him as a modern day hero? Savior, Messiah.

Well, again, my job is to prepare you for that time. And I think the time is here and now.

So after being prepared yourselves, what then? What about your families, and friends and neighbors. What about the man on the street and maybe the man who is persecuting you?

What is expected of any of us? What will we say we did when we will have to give that accounting at our particular judgment? Will we be able to say that we were bold in telling people that they are on the wrong path? Were we able to quote the scriptures? Were we prepared to say to anyone, “hey, ask me about Jesus?” Will you know your faith, and be ready, willing, and able, to share it?

Well, as a rule I’m not very confident about the average Catholic. We have been talking a lot about Intentional Discipleship for a few years now and frankly, I don’t exactly see a groundswell of enthusiasm on the part of the basic, everyday, Catholic. We can’t seem to get enough people to cover Eucharistic adoration, confession lines are pretty short. Few signed up for the recent bible study, and small groups. A relative few are active in Christian service despite all of the opportunities around here and in our community.

Well, I think I may have what will prove to be a very simple solution to the problem of lukewarm Catholics. It won’t require much of a personal investment on your part. You won’t have to stand on a soap box at the corner of Grand River and Main. You won’t have to be trained, or take a bible study, You won’t have to say a word.

All you will have to do is…. to wear a button. Yep. This one was my idea for the latest pin-on button. This time I commissioned Fr. Lobert to add one to his sseries of buttons, and it has just one word:                  You guessed it. Repent !

You may find yourself in an argument with your non-practicing kids. You don’t want to make the rift any greater than it already is. But you can wear this button. You may not even have to point at it. It’s just there. They can see it, and they know what it means because you did after all pay for all those years of Catholic Education.

You encounter the person in the line at a restaurant, in Ann Arbor, of course. They see the button. They know what it means, they start screaming at you.

“You Christian idiots. Who do you think you are telling us to repent? Repent from what? You ought to repent. You hypocrites. You self-righteous nincompoops”.

You don’t have to say a thing, No arguments, no deep theological discussion needed here. Just point at the button. And hope that the person doesn’t literally take your head off.

But if he does, and you find yourself standing before the throne making that accounting of yourself, You won’t have to say a thing. All you will have to do is to point at the button

Jesus will smile and say, well done good (and very courageous) servant. Come on in.

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