“Chosen” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, May 7, 2023

The opening verses of our gospel today are a favourite for funerals. You can see why. There is great comfort to think about Jesus coming personally to take the hand of a loved one who has died and lead them into a mansion or dwelling place in heaven created by Jesus himself for them. And we can take additional comfort for ourselves in knowing that when our time comes to depart this earth, we can look forward to Jesus doing the same for us.

Sort of a heavenly B&B perhaps?

Actually, there is an interesting image being used by Jesus here, drawn from the Jewish culture, to do with marriage. What would happen in such a case is that the bride and groom would  cometogether in the  synagogue to exchange vows, after which they would be considered to be officially married. But before going off to live together, the bride would return to her parents and wait for her husband, who would have to go back to his father’s house and build an extension there for them both to live in. Only when the groom’s father was satisfied that the new building was satisfactory, would he give permission to his son to go back and collect his bride, celebrate the wedding feast and then go back to his father’s house to consummate their marriage and begin their new life together. You can see why condemnation would fall on Mary, when she fell pregnant during this period when her new husband, Joseph, was away building the extension on his father’s house. 

When Jesus talks in the gospel about his going back to his Father’s house and preparing a place for us, then coming to take us back with him, he is clearly talking about what happens when we die, but he is using the wedding imagery to describe it. Why? Because Israel was well used to being described in the Old Testament, as God’s “bride”. So, in the prophet Isaiah, Israel is told: “as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your God marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5). In fact, going a bit further back in this passage, Isaiah speaks about Israel being “a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”  So the marriage between Israel and God is also a “royal” wedding. Just as, because God is King of the Universe and we his children by adoption at baptism, we become royal princes and princesses, something I always want to point out to parents at their child’s baptism. Since we share in the priestly anointing of Jesus at our baptism, we also become a “royal” priesthood, as St Peter points out in our second reading today.

And St Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, picks up and continues the imagery of the royal wedding theme, but now applies it to the relationship between Jesus and the Church. He is our groom, we are his bride. And St Paul says that Jesus loved his bride, “the church, and gave up his life on the cross for her to make her holy by cleansing her . . . so as to present the church  to himself without a wrinkle or anything of the kind” (Ephesians 5: 25-27). So Jesus is coming back for his bride on the last day and expects to find her without a blemish, holy and sinless. Looking at the state of the church today, and especially looking at ourselves, that seems a tall order, and I personally would despair of Jesus ever being able to find me “holy and blameless”, since I keep on sinning, despite my best efforts not to. But St Paul gives us a very encouraging word, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, verses 23 and 24. Having urged us to “keep ourselves, spirit, soul and body, sound and blameless for when Jesus comes for us“ at the end of our lives, he goes on to say “the one who calls you, i.e. God, is faithful, and he will do this.” 

What an incredible relief! 

It Is not down all to me to keep me free from sin. I know that I just would not be able to do that. But it is down primarily to God to achieve this. I have to co-operate, of course, with his grace and his Spirit, for, whilst I certainly cannot do it on my own, God certainly will NOT do it on HIS own. We co-operate with Him by seeking His will in all circumstances, and striving to carry it out in all obedience. As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: ”THY kingdom come (not mine), THY will be done (again not mine) on earth as it is done in heaven”. And so after the Lord’s Prayer at Mass, the priest prays a prayer, in which he says, “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil . . . that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ”, Jesus who is also our king, our groom, our brother and our Lord.

“You are a chosen race“ says St Peter in our second reading. Chosen. Throughout the series, called “The Chosen”, which we are continuing to watch every Sunday evening at St Philip, I have been asking “Who, exactly, is, or are, the chosen?” Well, obviously, firstly, it is Jesus Himself, who his heavenly Father declared over him at his baptism in the Jordan, ”This is my beloved, my Chosen One”. But also the term refers to the apostles, whom we see, throughout the first series, being personally called by Jesus and chosen to be his disciples and follow him. But in another sense, as our second reading makes clear, the term “chosen” also applies to each one of us, baptized and confirmed Catholic Christians. We are called, we are chosen, to that “royal priesthood, that holy nation, God’s own people.” What a fantastic privilege to be singled out like that by Jesus. Doesn’t he know how fragile and fickle we  are? Of course he does. Does that put him off? Of course not!

Jesus is the one referred to in our second reading, as the cornerstone of the new thing God is doing, he is the one “chosen and precious in God’s sight.” The other stones in a building are to be aligned or oriented in relation to the cornerstone. So it is with us in relationship to Jesus Christ. There is an account of Michelangelo carving his famous sculpture of David from a rejected stone. Due to numerous irregular veins that rendered it prone to fracture easily, the huge block had previously been rejected by many, more-experienced sculptors. Michelangelo ,somehow, “saw” David in the tone and then “freed” him with his carving. Jesus,in a similar way, sees the real potential in you and me, even as he saw it in the unlikely persons of Peter, John, Matthew, Mary Magdalene and so on, and worked with unfailing patience, compassion and love, to “free” them from all the outer crust of failure, weakness, sinfulness and character flaws, so they could become part of his bride, the Church, spotless, without blemish. So Jesus will do with each one of us, brothers and sisters, if we will let him.

What do you say, brothers and sisters?