December 03, 2012

Sympathy for Pontius Pilate

Interesting homilies last couple weeks, one in Florida and one here in Ohio.

IN Florida, the young priest seemed slow of mien and slightly turgid of speech, but that first impression was somewhat false. He had a calming voice and manner as it turned out and he surprised me (so rarely am I ever surprised by a homily!) by mentioning that Pontius Pilate is honored as a saint by Ethiopian Christians, that they see how Pilate (unlike Herod) was open to the truth as shown by three times declaring publicly that he found "no guilt in Jesus" while St. Peter, at the same time, was denying Christ. The priest said that Pilate was not given the gift of faith, through no fault of his own, since he said, "I am not a Jew" and presumably followed the Roman pagan gods.  He seemed an honest seeker and a "potential model" for the many of those who currently don't have the gift of faith. He also quoted St. Augustine as saying that "believing helps the believer", which sounds sort of circular unless one sees that believing is perhaps not so much binary but a continuum.

Felt transported by the Byzantine liturgy on Sunday back home. The stained glass looked particularly winsome and consoling despite a rainy, cloudy day. Landed in the back right "overflow" bench, and got acquainted with some of the fine and unfamiliar saints (icons) surrounding me. Fr. T's homily was striking. It took a very familiar Scriptural scene, that of the rich, young man who went away sad after Jesus telling him to sell everything, and made it completely new. Fr. Terry said that what the young man was really asking was, "What can you offer me? How are you different from what we've already been taught? What do you add?" And Jesus replies, "Trust me. [i.e. sell everything). Love me [i.e. follow me]." The young man had already kept the commandments but Jesus was ultimately saying that only He Himself saves. Wealth and health cannot. He said we should follow the commandments not in an effort to be saved - for only Jesus saves - but in response to Christ's love.

Fr. T then mentioned that one of his best friends is an Independent Baptist minister, a full-blooded fire-breathing fundamentalist. And people wonder what they have in common, a Byzantine Catholic priest and a Baptist minister too radical to be a Southern Baptist, but Fr. T says they have in common the belief that only Jesus saves. The minister says, "if I'm laid up and near death, can you come and bring your oils?" Fr. Terry said in reply, "If I'm laid up and near death, can you lay your hands on me and call the Holy Spirit down?" A beautiful ecumenical sentiment.

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