Look On Him They Pierced

(Homily for Twelfth Ordinary Sunday - Year C)

Message: Today we see who Jesus is: The one pierced for our sins.

Last Sunday we heard Jesus say to the woman, "Your sins are forgiven." The people asked, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"

We might misunderstand the question. We might think that the people represent judgment and condemnation, while Jesus represents mercy and compassion. But what's at stake here is not just that we should avoid judgment and strive for compassion. That's good, but there's something deeper at stake. Namely: Who forgives sins? And how does he do it?

Let's talk first about who forgives sins. Imagine this scenario: A burglar robs a series of houses on Columbia Street. He not only takes electronic equipment, cell phones and computers, but even family keepsakes. Before he leaves, he trashes the homes. We have a neighborhood meeting and I announce, "Don't worry, people. I forgive the robber!"

My neighbors are likely to say to me, "Who are you to forgive him? He robbed our homes, not yours." The people reacted similarly to Jesus: That woman wrecked my family. She corrupted my son. Who are you to forgive her?

Now here is where we see the true difference between Jesus and me. I have no business forgiving offenses made against other people.* It's up to them, not me. But in Jesus cases' the offense - on the deepest level - is against him. You and I - if we receive God's grace - can forgive people who offend us. Jesus, on the other hand, presents himself as someone who forgives offenses. Period.

So, who is Jesus to forgive sins? Well, he existed before the world began. He brought it all into being. He stands behind the image of God in every human. Every offense is against him. We get a glimpse of that in the first reading. Zechariah says, "They shall look on him who they have pierced." This mysterious prophecy applies to Jesus. Our sins pierce his heart.

That verse gives an indication of how Jesus forgives. He does it, as we see today, by the cross. They shall look upon him who they pierced. We do that when we focus on the crucifix. We do that at Mass. When the priest holds up the host, we look on the one we pierced by our sins.

Today Jesus speaks about the crucifixion. Then he states what we must do to follow him. Take up the cross. The cross at its deepest level means forgiveness. To take up ones cross means to accept forgiveness and to ask help to forgive others.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. That's easier said than done, especially today. Someone has said that we live in a culture that tolerates everything and forgives nothing. Let me say that again: A culture that tolerates everything and forgives nothing. Think about it. How often do we hear people say, "I am a very forgiving person, but what he did is unforgivable"?

We can fool ourselves. We tolerate - even celebrate - things that our grandparents would have barely mentioned. That doesn't make us more forgiving. When someone genuinely offends us, we have as hard a time, maybe a harder time, forgiving. We certainly have a harder time holding relationships together - in our families and in our parishes.

And our social media can be a two-edged sword. They enable us to communicate rapidly, but they also give occasions to offend quickly and at a distance. The prayer Jesus taught us is more relevant today than ever: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against.

Forgiveness means to lose ones life. I'll be honest. I don't want to lose my life. I want to save face, I want to show that other person I was in the right. I dream about the day I can say that perfect zinger. I sometime have difficulty meditating on the Scriptures for twenty minutes, but I can spend an hour meditating on that offense and imagining my moment of vindication.** Jesus, however, says, "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

Today we see who Jesus is: The one pierced for our sins. He asks us to look on him, his cross. Yes, people have also pierced us. The one who wishes to come after Jesus, he tells us, must take up his own cross -daily - and follow him. Amen.


*Except of course in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but that I do on Jesus' authority. (John 20:23)

**For a clear (and humorous) response to those who say they cannot meditate, read the opening chapter of Mother Angelica's Private and Pithy Lessons from the Scriptures.

Versión Castellana

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

2016: Becoming a Disciple Week 3: Your True Potential
2013: Look On Him They Pierced
2010: Why Go to Mass, Part 2
2004: Take Up Your Cross Daily
1999: Submission to the Cross

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