Cleft for Me

(January 27, 2019)

Bottom line: Like Martin Luther King, we need to come to Jesus, to hide ourselves in that Rock cleft for me - and for you.

Before getting to the main body of this homily, I address a question some people ask: From a human point of view, how do we know he Gospels are reliable? Can we be confident they tell true history?

Well, in the opening of today's Gospel: Luke states he is compiling a narrative based based on eye-witness reports. If Luke doesn't get things right, those and other first-hand observers could correct him.

Recently I had the funeral of man who like me was a member of the class of '64 - him from Monroe and me from Stanwood. At that time Monroe and Stanwood were rivals. I made a joke about the Spartans beating the Bearcats in every football game. After Mass a Monroe graduate was happy to tell me the precise record, even some of the half-time and final scores. Needless to say, my account didn't hold up.

It was different for Luke. He's a careful historian. He interviews people who were there. After his Gospel starts circulating, people would correct errors just like that Monroe graduate corrected me. A trained physician, we can trust Luke.

As Christians of course we know the Holy Spirit guided Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but even on a human level we see that the Gospels are not fairy tales. They are trustworthy narratives about life-changing events.

We see one of those events today - and this brings me to the main point of the homily. When Jesus returns to Nazareth, his home town, he stands up in the synagogue and opens the scroll to Isaiah's prophecy about the messiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because has anointed me." In Hebrew the word for "anointed" is Messiah - and in Greek, Christ. The Spirit anoints Jesus to bring glad tidings to the poor, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed and to proclaim a year of favor, of grace. Those verses encapsulate his mission.

We can illustrate Jesus' mission in a man we are following this month: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I found inspiration listening to his speeches and sermons - and a book about his final year: Death of a King. It shows him working to liberate not only his fellow blacks, but whites and others in our American mosaic. Martin Luther King identified with other people's suffering because he endured grave afflictions. In the last year of his life he suffered depression that led to hospitalization. We can understand his depression in light of the stress he was under: savage attacks from the press, family troubles, financial woes, a splintering movement with internal divisions and betrayals - and his own demons that led him to seek relief in alcohol and infidelity. Those failures and sins brought guilt that drug him deeper into depression.

His staff members - many of them fellow ministers - worried about him. They finally got him to take a few days away. At the place they were staying one of them - at 3 in the morning - realized Dr. King was not in his bedroom. The fellow minister searched frantically and and found him on a balcony. Remembering that Dr. King had attempted suicide as youth, the friend was thinking he might now plunge to his death. Moving closer, Dr. King asked, "Do you see that rock?" Then he sang in full voice, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me; let me hide myself in thee." Jesus was cleft for us like Moses cleft - opened - the rock in the desert.

Dr. King's power came from the fact he took his troubles, weaknesses and sins to Jesus. Jesus, he knew, came to free the captive, give sight to the blind and let the oppressed go free. That's Jesus mission as we see today.

You and I may not have lives so stressful - and so significant - as Martin Luther King. We are little people. That of course does not mean we won't have stress. From the outside other people's lives can look easy, but as a pastor I've often seen that someone who has - quote - "peaceful life" can be enduring terrible anxiety. Like Martin Luther King, we need to come to Jesus, to hide ourselves in that Rock cleft for me - and for you. Amen.


Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for Third Sunday, Year C):

2016: New Beginning: God's Plan
2013: I Do Not Belong
2010: Certainty of the Teachings
2007: If the Lord Gives a Burden
2004: God’s Weak Ones
2001: Returning to Our Roots
1998: An Historic Week

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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Fr. Frank Schuster
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Fr. Jim Northrop
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