Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year B
Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?
Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.
How do you feel when you are with someone who is more perfect than you—morally, physically, mentally, socially? Chances are that even if the other person doesn’t do anything but just be his perfect little self, you will feel a little accused or judged or condemned.
This is the result of our fallen nature, which is always making comparisons. If we were holier or more simple, we would just be happy in the other person’s good fortune, and we would be humble about our lesser lot. But generally, we are at least a little uncomfortable around people who are better than we are.
Blaming and judging, accusing and condemning: these are things that perhaps we fear the most, sometimes even more than death, as we read of people even taking their own lives because of some public shame or accusation. Life can be a terrible trial for the disgraced public figure or the teenage girl mocked on social media. Shame and blame: awful business.
There are whole cultures built around shame as a motivator of conduct. Not surprisingly, these cultures often regard suicide as a reasonable choice or even a necessary one. Even if one has done no serious wrong but only failed to meet the expectations of others, one is judged lacking and defective and so can be discarded and forgotten. As our own culture, once Christian, becomes more and more obsessed with public image, as millions of people advertise themselves like commodities to be purchased on social media, and as the line between private faults and public information is erased, more and more we are becoming a culture of shame and blame.
In such a culture there is no redemption, no forgiveness, no second or third or seventy-times-seventh chance. There is just the bleak reality of public opinion, whatever the size of one’s public.
A culture that no longer hates the sin while loving the sinner—but which rather says there is no sin at all but only an offense against certain public values regarded as correct and a shame that comes from the exposure of the offense—will provide nowhere to turn for the one who finds himself completely disapproved. He is socially dead, an outcast. He might as well be dead.
This is the culture of the Evil One, Satan, whose name means “accuser.” The devil has worked long and hard to deprive our society of its Christian sense of guilt (not shame) and redemption and to replace this sense with the powerful weapons of shame and condemnation. He knows that since we all have or will do some things for which we may be ashamed, in his demonic world there will be no recourse, no forgiveness, only vengeance and condemnation.
But the beloved disciple St. John in his Apocalypse shows God’s elect, who are the topic of the eighth chapter of the epistle to the Romans from which we hear today, chanting God’s praises as they sing, “The accuser of our brethren is cast out, who night and day accused them before God. The defeated him by the Blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony!”
St. Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on this epistle passage makes it clear that God’s chosen are free both from condemnation and blame. They are free from condemnation because God had determined not to condemn them, and if he does not, then no one can. As the Savior said to the woman caught in adultery: “Does no one condemn you, woman? Neither do I condemn you.” But even more, St. Thomas makes it clear that in St. Paul’s burning words are presented also the Christian’s freedom from the blame of his faults, by the mercy of God in Christ Jesus.
After all, one could say that the Father does not condemn us, but Jesus is also another human being like us, but perfect, without fault or sin of any kind. Perhaps he could accuse us and shame us. After all, he will judge the world at the end of time. Interestingly, in the Gospels, Our Lord usually does not present himself as accusing anyone; if there is some accusation, he says “Moses will be your accuser” or “The Queen of the South shall arise and condemn this generation.” He has come to be our Savior, not our accuser. He is the advocate and intercessor of all, even the most wretched and abandoned and habitual and disgraceful of sinners.
So St. Thomas shows how Paul shows the motives for trusting that even the most perfect of men will not shame or blame us. These are the four benefits of his sacred humanity: his death, his resurrection, his sitting at the Father’s right hand, and his intercession for us. As we read today, “Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones? It is God who acquits us, who will condemn? Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.”
When we feel ashamed or condemned, we should fly to Christ, who has died and was raised and was glorified and who intercedes for us so that we might never have to bear the burden of the devil’s or anyone else’s blame or condemnation. If God does not blame his elect, then who can? The apostle tells us in the epistle to the Hebrews, “For the joy that was set before him, Christ endured the cross despising the shame.”
Of course, God’s not blaming or condemning us amounts to this great marvel: that through the intercession of Christ presenting his cross and resurrection to the Father we are given the graces of healing and repentance, we are restored to life, and sometimes over and over again. This is something the accuser, the devil, cannot do, and will not do, just like the cruel society that imitates his constant accusing and condemning. St. Thomas tells us in a lovely passage in his commentary on these verses:
Now his intercession for us is his will that we be saved, as he says in St. John’s Gospel, “I will that where I am they should be with me.” And he intercedes for us, presenting to his Father’s gaze the humanity he took up for us and the mysteries he celebrated in it.
If Christ is interceding for us, then we have the best of friends in him, a perfect one in every way before whom we never feel blamed or condemned but restored and blessed in him. It is this same blessed and loving Lord who intercedes for us each day in the Holy Mass as we along with him present to his Father’s gaze the mysteries celebrated in his and our humanity. The wounds of shame and worldly condemnation he bore for us, he now presents to the Father, and these heal our own wounds of blame and shame.
May all who feel despondent at the world’s bitter scorn find refuge in him, the only perfect one!