“No Other Name” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, April 18, 2021

I never cease to be amazed by the number of new drama series which come out every year on television.  Most of them, I notice,  seem to fall into one of two categories: either they are hospital dramas – such as The Good Doctor, Grey’s Anatomy, The Rookie – perhaps the interest in these is spurred by all the pandemic concern going on these days. But the second category relates to legal dramas. Having been trained in law, I am always fascinated by these. I have always been a fan of the Law and Order seriesand there have been, over the years, several spin-offs from this popular series. But now there are new series such as All Rise and Your Honour. 

People’s absorption of all things to do with the law never seems to diminish.  

This fascination goes way, way back. Even today’s second reading shows this in a way. It speaks of an advocate , Jesus Christ. An advocate is a lawyer, who represents someone in court. The original Greek word for advocate is paracletos, paraclete, a word which means, literally, called alongside. A paraclete, or advocate, is someone who comes alongside of you to speak up for you in your defense, when you are taken to court and charged with something. Other words for paracletos turn up in various versions of the Bible: counsellor, mediator, intercessor – they all mean the same thing basically. St John, in his writings, in fact, speaks of two advocates. The first one is Jesus , as is mentioned here in our second reading, and we will get to that in a moment. The second advocate, mentioned by Jesus in the gospel of St John, is the Holy Spirit (John 14:26) and we will be hearing more and more about Him as we get closer to the feast of Pentecost. These two Persons of the Holy Trinity come alongside of us, to help us in our defence. The Holy Spirit is our advocate with the world, especially with those people who persecute us and attack us because of our faith in Jesus. He gives us the words, the arguments, with which to refute these attacks and convict others of the truth of our beliefs about Jesus. 

But our original, our first, advocate is Jesus Christ, and his job is to represent us to our heavenly Father. Basically, Jesus speaks up for us when we have sinned, and confessed our sins  to God. By confessing our sins, we are saying to God, “Yes, I did do this. It was wrong, and I deserve to be punished for it.  I am not going to make any excuses for these sins, because there are none.  But I am truly sorry for what I did, and I ask you to pardon me.” At the same time as we are saying these words, Jesus is standing alongside of the Father in heaven, and pleading for us, interceding in our defence. He is basically repeating his words from the cross: ”Father, forgive him, forgive her; they do not know what they are doing“ (Luke 24:43). And Jesus, is at the same time, showing his wounds to the Father, and saying: ”Father, here are the marks of the nails in my hands and feet, and the mark of the spear in my side. I suffered these on behalf of this person who is asking your forgiveness. And I am joining my plea to theirs. Please pardon them.”

Do you think our Heavenly Father is going to ignore or reject such powerful pleading on our behalf? Of course not!!

Elsewhere, St John says in his first letter:

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness“ 

I John 1 9

Best of all ,this counsel, this defence of Jesus on our behalf, is completely free of charge. Imagine that! The best lawyer in the whole world, who has never lost a case, and we can have him come and represent us, for nothing. Not only that, but Jesus is available, for free, 24/7, whenever and wherever we need him. Hebrews 7:25 declares emphatically:

Jesus, because he continues forever, is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

Hebrews 7:25

Who could possibly reject such an offer?

Well, as it turns out, quite a lot of people, unfortunately.

Most people turn down Jesus’ offer to represent them before the Father, incredible as it may seem. There seem to be several reasons for this. Firstly, people think it is simply too good to be true. Forgiveness for their sins surely cannot be possible as easily as that, can it? Such people are convinced that their sins are so grievous that they can never be pardoned for them, so they carry around their burden of shame and guilt all their lives, instead of looking to the cross, and seeing Jesus has already carried their sins upon himself and brought them to death in himself on the cross. As Isaiah said of Jesus in prophecy:

He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.“ 

Isaiah 53:5-6

Remember the words of our second reading? “Jesus Christ … is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and for the sins of the whole world”. 

The reason we fail to believe this or accept Jesus’ offer to defend us for free is that we have believed the words  of the devil, who is the prosecuting lawyer at our trial, and who keeps feeding us lies, in order to intimidate us and make us give up hope of forgiveness. He will whisper into our ears such thoughts as: ”Who do you think you are, asking for God’s forgiveness? You are a terrible sinner, and God will never forgive you for what you have done. Even Jesus is disgusted with your sins, and will not speak up for you. So his sacrifice will not avail you at all.”

Lies, lies, all lies, yet so many good, and earnest, devout Christians believe them, and as a result carry inside of themselves such sadness, and such guilt, and shame, while God waits for them to come to them in confession to have all of that lifted off from us, and to set us free. Remember, it was Jesus himself who said:

Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying such heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:27

Often such people are too ashamed or embarrassed to come to confession, afraid that the priest will condemn them. Listen, brothers and sisters, Scripture says that all of us, without exception, have sinned, even, and especially in my case, we priests. We have absolutely nothing to be proud of, or self-righteous about. We are all in the same boat, in need of the redemption made available to us in Jesus. Often enough, when I am hearing someone’s confession, I am wincing inside, because those sins are mine as well, and a reminder to me that I had better get to confession myself as soon as possible!

Other people, however, respond differently to this offer of Jesus.

They are the ones who admit they are sinners, but prefer to represent themselves at the court of the justice of God. They think they can mount a better defence than Jesus. But their defence basically amounts to a belief in their own basic goodness, and goes something like this: ”Ok, Lord, yes, I have done some bad things, but not as bad as …(here they will name members of their family, or their neighbor, or their colleague at work, or whoever).“ They will go on to say, “After all, I live a pretty good life, I haven’t killed anyone, or robbed a bank. I just don’t deserve to go to hell.“ They forget that the standard of who is worthy or not to go to heaven or hell is not their family member, or their neighbour, or work colleague, or whoever.

The standard is Jesus.

That is who we will be judged against. Jesus Christ the righteous one, as our second reading describes him. And against that standard of holiness and purity, as St Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “we all fall short“ (Romans 3:23), all of us, without exception. 

Or such people want to be forgiven, but they refuse to accept the way out given by Jesus, believing in and accepting his sacrifice on their behalf. It offends their pride that they have to rely on anyone else to save themselves, even Jesus. So they will advance on their own behalf, their good deeds, their charity, their clean driving record, or whatever. Not good enough, not nearly good enough. Lots of good people, of great people, such as the saints in heaven, could say that about themselves, and use that as a reason to be saved. 

But they don’t.

Take a course in reading the lives of the saints, and none of them, none of them, have ever claimed their good works, their charity, as a reason for salvation. They all humbly admit that they were poor sinners, on the way to hell, if it were not for the salvation given to them, and eagerly accepted by them, through Jesus. Even the great St Paul admits that he was, of all sinners, the greatest (1 Timothy 1:15), but received mercy from God through Jesus. And Paul is adamant, as we read in his letters to the Philippians and Galatians, that no-one’s good works are enough to make them worthy of heaven. Only the good work of Jesus, dying on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. St Peter says it forcefully in Acts 4:12, before the entire group of Jewish leaders all believing in their divine right to salvation outside of Jesus,

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we can be saved (but that of Jesus).”

Acts 4:12

And then there are those who say that they don’t have to go to formal confession in order to have their sins forgiven. They can just say “sorry” to God and that is it all taken care of. It is like someone charged of an offence, refusing to go to court to defend himself against the charge, and simply declaring that he is not guilty, and assuming that he will not be fined or jailed. Not going to happen. There is a process laid down in human society for the trial of your offenses, and you cannot simply bypass it- so it is with the forgiveness of sins. 

And finally, there are those who will not avail themselves of Jesus’ offer of forgiveness  because they don’t believe they are sinners. What they have done wrong was simply a “mistake”, rather like a “white” lie (as if God were colour blind) or an “accident”, and in any case, not their fault, but their parents fault, or their upbringing, or society’s. No, St Paul says,

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are made right with God as a free gift of his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.” 

Romans 3:23-25

God is the one who, as Creator and Ruler of the Universe, makes the rules, and his rules state quite unequivocally, that sin is real, and that sin is serious, and merits the loss of eternal life with him in heaven. But that there is a way out, and it is through confessing our sins, and accepting the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and pleading that sacrifice with the Father in heaven. Only in that way, can we have forgiveness for our sins, and a pardoning of our offences against God.

To those who dispute or take issue with any part of that, here is what St John says in his first letter:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. But if we say we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar, and his word is not in us.” 

1 John 1:8-10

Not my words, brothers and sisters, but His.

Make of it what you will. I can say no more.