Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily 15 January 2017 “What Are We Looking For?”


Second Sunday in Time A – 011517 – What Are We Looking For?

Click here for today’s biblical texts

john-bap-lamb-of-god-hugo-jaacobszAn altarpiece by the Netherland artist Hugo Jacobsz shows John the Baptizer standing in a crowd pointing to Jesus in the middle of another group. We can almost read John’s lips. “Hey, I am not the one you are seeking. Look over there. He’s the One you’re looking for  — the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world.”

In this morning’s gospel John proclaims the servanthood of Jesus. After 30 years of silence, this everyday craftsman from Nazareth arrives to take away the “badness of the world” (Jean Grosjean). It is just the first part of the story. The next two verses read, “When the disciples heard him say this, they trailed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following him and asked, “What do you want?”

Lutheran theologian Audrey West noted that Jesus’ ministry did not begin with a command, do this or do that, but with a question “what do you want?” How do you and I answer that question? 

Why do we, week after week, gather to praise God whose son was born to take away all the sins of the world but has not? Why do we petition God in word and song to come to our rescue when, it seems, God is often silent? Why do we visit sick and home bound people? Why distribute food to hungry households? Why go to prisons to support incarcerated men and women?

We do so because God chose us to do so! The first reading from Isaiah is a vocational call to the Israelites who struggled to keep their trust in God while living under duress. They were being called by God to be servants to one another and all the nations! New Testament scholar Guerric DeBona interprets this invitation as a radically personal call to each one of us. We are summoned to “recognize Christ’s presence in our own baptism and in all creation.” [1]

John the baptizer restored hope to the tribes of Jacob when he introduced his cousin Jesus, as the lamb of God who would bring salvation to the entire world. The connection between Isaiah’s reference to Israel as a servant nation and John calling Jesus the lamb of God is helpful to us. 

The Aramaic word “talya” can be translated as boy, child, servant or lamb. When John refers to Jesus as a “lamb” of God, the Aramaic speakers of the early church could have heard “child of God” or “servant of God.” [2]

Many people are at work to take away the sins of the world today. Next Saturday (January 21, 2017) — the day after the presidential inauguration — there will be a march here in Albany to protest the “sins of the world” — any government agenda marked by oppression and hate.

(Note: the Women’s March on Washington also takes places on January 21, 2017.)

Other people have served as models for us. Today marks the birthdate of Martin Luther King Jr. Few would disagree that this Christian man embodied the suffering of his race; that he acted as a servant to them and others; that he risked his life to speak the truth in pursuit of justice for people of all religions, races and cultures. 

Our remembrance of King, like our memorial of Jesus’ life, his work and his own death, urges us not only to be mindful of the wrongs in our society but, as Psalm 40 reminds us today  “to announce the justice of God to a massive, widespread assembly of people.” *

Another model is John Lewis, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, who was at the side of King when he was assassinated, and is still a voice of conscience in the House of Representatives. Lewis, who continues to speak out passionately against racism and other crimes against humanity, once said, “If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” What are we looking for? Strategies and actions for achieving reconciliation, justice and peace.

I know, it is one more task for us to consider amidst many other responsibilities. Although we cannot take action to oppose every injustice, we can give focus on at least one issue. What is important is that each of us does something to take away the sins of the world. We are called by God to do so.

  1.  DeBona, Guerric. Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal Year A. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2013, 154-157
  2.  Martens, John W. The Word on the Street. Year A (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2016, 65


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Homily – 18 October 2015 – Missions Impossible?


Twenty-ninth Sunday In Ordinary Time – Missions Impossible?

Click here for today’s scriptures

I wonder what the interfaith leaders at the World Parliament of Religions (Salt Lake City) might have to say about this text. The Parliament, with its thousands of participants from diverse faith traditions, seem to be of one accord in its attempts to resolve problems that affect all of us, for example, women’s rights, income inequality and several others.

I wonder what the bishops at the Synod on the Family (Rome) might have to say about this text. There appears to be much less agreement among the bishops especially regarding same sex marriage and divorce, which are only two of the many topics being considered in Rome.

Created as part of Vatican Two reforms by Pope Paul VI the Synod is mandated to read the signs of the times and find fresh ways to interpret the teachings of the Church. Pope Francis is calling for mercy in every instance. Some bishops, not happy with this more pastoral approach, are looking to strengthen existing doctrines. Can our church apply a one size fits all solution for 1.2 billion Catholics living in diverse cultures?

To resolve the issues being discussed at both gatherings seems to be an impossible mission. Today, World Mission Sunday, offers a small window of opportunity to think about the complexity of the problems around the world. Just to be aware of these situations is a good first step for us even before trying to figure out what to do about them.

The discussion in today’s gospel, between Jesus and two of his earliest missionaries, is provocative. For the third time Jesus was explaining that death awaits him, that the road to glory is not easy, that hard work and endurance are essential. To be a missionary of Christ you have to give something up.

However, the apostles did not comprehend what Jesus was talking about. They were confident that he was the messiah, who would atone for all the sins of the world. Scholars generally agree that the understanding of Jesus as a suffering servant is a reference to the prophecies attributed to Isaiah. Also, the Letter to the Hebrews, which we read today, presents Jesus as a high priest who, like Old Testament priests, would atone for sins. But, Jesus was a layman.

Thinking that Jesus is the savior and that there was nothing left for them to do the disciples negotiated with him about who would have a lofty place in heaven, without doing any heavy lifting. More exasperating they apparently were not at all concerned about the other disciples. [1]

Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, would say “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” Jesus rebuked his disciples who wanted special favors, “can you handle the work load first?” “Can you drink from the same cup I am?”

What does that question mean for us? Pope Francis reminds us: “Those who follow Christ cannot fail to be missionaries.” Maybe we join local coalitions working for justice. Maybe we help agencies who assist poor people. Maybe we take a closer look at our diocesan and parish budgets and our priorities. Maybe each of us chooses to do something, large or small, to make a difference in the lives of others.

Learning to be a 21st century missionary is a hard thing to do especially for those among us who struggle with daily necessities. Popular author, Marylynne Anderson, wrote recently, Christianity is meant to be hard. We realize then why these familiar biblical challenges, the Words of God, are important to our faith tradition. No mission on earth is impossible when we work together for the common good.

Pope Paul VI wrote, “The grace of renewal cannot grow in communities unless each of these [communities] extends the range of its charity to the ends of the earth, and devotes the same care to those afar off as it does to those who are its own members.”

Watching those televised images of refugee families fleeing their countries in search of new life is overwhelming. I think of the small children in my family and how blessed we are to live in a country that is free and full of opportunity.

I do not know what I can do to ease all the pain that exists abroad. I am more aware, however, that large numbers of God’s creatures are vulnerable and poor while only a few humans have way too much power and wealth. I am grateful for the leaders and missionaries of all faiths doing what they can do to help people in a merciful way. I am thankful for this chance to think about my responsibilities as well.

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1. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 166 ff.