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He’s The Hunter – Fr. Gary Pennings

Fr. Gary Pennings’ Homily December 11, 2022

“Rejoice in the Lord always again I say rejoice indeed the Lord is near, Gaudete, Sunday rejoice. We rejoice in the coming of Jesus. Why? Because we have been rescued. He rescued us. We continue our four part series in preaching during the Sundays of Advent on what’s called the Kerygma. It’s a Greek word, meaning the proclamation, the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News, and this proclamation, this Kerygma, is God’s answer to three of our common questions- Why am I here? Where am I going and how do I get there? Our series is kind of based on this book by Father John Riccardo called Rescued. He gave a mission to all the priests in the or a retreat to all the priests in the dioceses last June. And he summarized the Kerygma, this proclamation of the Good News, in four words. He said created, captured, rescued and response. The first Sunday of advent we talked about created and the immensity of God’s creation, the marvel of God’s creation, and how you and I, yes, these embodied spirits are his favorite creatures. He’s called the Angels to serve us. What an amazing gift. What a great plan the Lord has to share his own divine life with us. Second Sunday we talked about captured how one of those creatures an angelic one became envious and wanted to destroy not God, you couldn’t destroy God, but his favorite creature, you and I. It was on the bad news and just how bad the bad news was. Some people say, Oh, Father, that was a pretty dark homily. Yeah, the bad news was pretty bad. But only when we understand how bad the bad news was can we understand how immensely good the Good News is what Jesus has done for us. Today we focus on that. We rejoice in the Good News. We have indeed been rescued.

Today, we focus on what Jesus, in fact, did, what it means to be rescued. So why did Jesus come? We often have been presented, especially if you’re my age and kind of grew up or in the late sixties or seventies, we often have been presented with the image of Jesus as a meek and mild teacher. And let’s be honest, sometimes he’s portrayed as a real milquetoast, not always depicted in a way that inspires young people to follow him. And while it is certainly true that the heart of Jesus’ message is the command to love, there’s no question about that. True love sometimes demands that we fight to save our beloved, to save our loved ones. Jesus came to fight and the Book of Wisdom affirms that. It describes what we celebrate at Christmas like this from Wisdom chapter 18, ‘While gentle silence enveloped all things and night in its swift chorus was now half gone you’re all powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal thrown into the midst of a land doomed a stern warrior. God becoming man is the invasion of one kingdom, the kingdom of darkness, hell, death, sin and Satan by a stronger kingdom, the kingdom of God. Now God isn’t fighting on His own behalf, but on ours. God Himself, out of His immense love and favor for the human race, rescued us from the slavery to sin and the dominion of death that plagued all generations since the rebellion of our first ancestors. Sacred Scriptures tells us the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work, I John 3:8. That’s pretty straight forward, if you ask me.

He landed, so to speak, on Earth to fight our enemy, the devil, on our behalf. So what was Jesus doing on the cross? Well, I think you could come up with three answers. One, he’s revealing the depth of the father’s love. Second, he’s making atonement for our sins, for sure. But the one we don’t think about might quite as often is on that cross, he’s going to battle for us. He’s a warrior for us. We talk a lot about the first two, but not so often about the third. Now, John 3:16 says, ‘God so loved the world,’ you and I, ‘that he sent his only begotten son.’ You know the rest. You should have that one, if you don’t have that one memorized you need to start reading the Bible a lot more. Whoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life. And Romans 5:8 said, ‘God shows his love for us that while we were yet sinners,’ we didn’t have to fix it all. We didn’t have to be be all accomplished, ‘while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.’ While we were still in rebellion. Christ died for us. The letter to the Ephesians said, ‘God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead to our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. By grace, you have been saved.’ Ephesians 2:4-5. So yes, for sure on the cross, Jesus reveals the father’s love for us. Also on the cross. He atoned for our sins. As John the Baptist said, ‘Jesus, is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ He told his disciples, ‘Behold, look there, the lamb of God!’ And they knew what the lamb of God, that they were saved by the blood of that lamb at the Exodus. He said, ‘Behold the lamb of God.’

The Prophet Isaiah identifies Jesus as a suffering servant. And here what he says, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions.’ You hear these words in Holy Week. ‘He was bruised for our iniquities. Upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole. And with his stripes, we are healed.’ Isaiah 53. At the Last Supper, Jesus took the cup of wine and said, ‘Take this, all of you and drink of it for this is my blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ Yes, for sure. He made atonement for our sins, but Jesus also came to do battle. While some may look at the crucifix and see a naked, defeated, bleeding man who’s been nailed to the cross, and we are too modest, but he wasn’t wearing a loincloth, right? He was humiliated. They wanted to humiliate him besides kill him. It wasn’t enough just to kill him. We look at that and we think, did he triumph? But Jesus is, in fact, not the hunted, but he’s the hunter. And in a sense, he’s certainly not the victim, although we have a song O Saving Victim, but he’s the aggressor. Recall Jesus’ words, just before his passion. ‘No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down on my own accord.’ John, Chapter 10. Later in the Gospel, Jesus would say, ‘The prince of this world is coming, but he has no hold over me.’ John Chapter 14. The Crucifixion could not have happened unless God wanted it to.

Remember why sin and death entered the world. We talked about it last week, it was Satan’s envy, not envy of God, but envy of you envy of me. He’s mad at us. He wants to destroy us. He wants to get at God by destroying us. How fitting, then, that God comes to the rescue mission as a man in human form, his divinity cloaked in his humanity. Fr. John Riccardo, the author of the book Rescued understand Jesus on the Cross as what he calls the Ambush Predator. Now, when I read that I thought what is that? He didn’t even understand it. He said he had to look it up. It was a word that came to him in prayerful meditation. Well, if you look it up, it’s an animal. Usually an animal could be a plant, I guess, but an animal that kind of camouflages itself. It sits there and waits. It looks innocent until it’s prayed. It draws in its prey and then it strikes. That’s an ambush predator. It lures its prey by seeming powerless until the prey finally takes it and then it strikes. The incarnate Lord landed on Earth in order to vanquish the enemy. But here’s the challenge- the enemy won’t fight God. Satan’s no idiot. He knows that he can’t compete against God. He won’t even try. He’s got good intellect, right? He knows he can’t do that. He’s against us. He’s here to destroy us. So God devised a plan, a plan that would involve piercing nails and the cross and then he hid himself as man and he waited. He waited. If you meditate upon the crucifix using kind of a Ignatian method of imagination, imagine Satan looking at the cross on the day of Calvary, seeing Jesus crucified, naked, bleeding, gasping for breath. Imagine Satan standing there, taunting him, saying something like, ‘You know, you’re a rather interesting character. You do some pretty astounding miracles, but I don’t see any miracles now, Jesus.’ And Satan might further say, ‘And you know what? These breaths are getting harder to take. In a few moments, you won’t be able to take another one. In a few moments, you’ll be mine. No one escapes death. No one. No human being escapes death and I’ll have you.’ That’s exactly what Jesus wanted. Our Lord entered death and from the inside destroyed its power. Jesus on the cross is not poor or helpless. He’s not the hunted. Jesus on the cross is the aggressor and the hunter. He’s the ambush predator. Now, we have may not have heard of this divine methodology before, but it’s not new, St. Ephrem, a Syrian doctor of the church writing in the fourth century wrote this, this, imagine this. I wish I could preach like this and that’s why I’m stealing it from him. ‘Death slew him by means of the body, which he assumed, but the same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his God had engaged death in combat, but in slaying our Lord death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural human life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man. Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body. Neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld, his body. This chariot was the body with which he received from the Virgin and in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open the strongroom and scattered all its treasures. And what are those treasures? You and me.

So what difference does it all make? Well, Jesus has humiliated the enemy on our behalf. He’s destroyed death. We’ll die, but it can no longer hold us! When you go to the grave of a loved one, yes, you might cry for your own loss. Don’t cry for them. Death cannot hold them because of what Jesus did when he rescued us. Death no longer, now it did prior to Jesus’ coming his passion, death and resurrection, death had the final say, but no more! It can no longer hold us. It’s not permanent, and it doesn’t have to hang over us. And so often, our decisions in life are still because we have this fear of death. You need not fear it. It cannot hold you. Yes, you will experience it. We all will and that might not be so pleasant, but it can’t hold you. They can’t hold you. Jesus has triumphed over death. St. Paul says to Timothy, ‘Our Savior, Jesus Christ abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. ‘To Timothy 1:10. He transferred us from the kingdom to from the kingdom of darkness to into his own marvelous life. He transferred us to his kingdom. We now belong to his kingdom and we have now access to the Father.

I feel really bad sometimes because people call and want to make an appointment with me and the Secretary says, ‘Well let’s see it’s about three or four weeks out, he has an opening.’ That’s horrible. I wish I could be more, make another mini me or something. There’s that little cut out every once in a while they put out there, but you can access the Father because of Jesus. You can talk to God, the Father who created the universe at any time you want, day or night, you can engage with Him. You can open your heart to Him. He’s given us access to the father. He recreated us. At baptism we become a new creation. He rendered sin impotent. Oh we still battle with it, but he’s given you and I authority over enemies and we often don’t exercise that authority. Sin and death, dominion has been in death has been destroyed by Jesus and He now sends us on mission to get his world back

We often say that the purpose of life is to get to heaven and that’s true. That is definitely true. First line of the Prolog, ‘We were created to share in divine life.’ But there’s more. It’s not just about my salvation or not just about your salvation, but it’s about our salvation. We are also called to collaborate with God in His saving act to help him get his world back. Because freedom, our freedom is still a factor. He’s won the war, but we’ve got to engage in the battle. I’ve been thinking of putting, you know, someday I hope to kind of freshen up our gathering space and one of the ideas I had was to actually put signs over the doors saying something like, ‘you’re now entering mission territory.’ As you go out from here, because that is what we’re called to do. You remember that passage in Matthew where he gives the keys to Peter and he says, upon this rock, I’ll build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. We often think that, Oh, man, you know, as bad as it gets, somehow the church is going to survive. Somehow we’re going to make it through the gate, you know, hell won’t destroy us. That’s not what that means at all. Have you ever been attacked by a gate? No. Gates are defensive. He says the gates of hell won’t prevail. That means we, his body, the church is going to attack the gates of hell! We’re going to conquer the gates of hell! That’s our mission. That’s our mission.

Next week, we reflect on all we’ve said so far in these last three weeks. We’ve been created in this marvelous way, we’ve been tragically captured by the reign of sin and death. We’re born into the kingdom of darkness, but we’ve been rescued by Christ Jesus. In our baptism we’re snatched from that darkness into the Kingdom of Light. And now next week, we’re going to talk about the third part, the fourth word in Father Ricardo’s definition: created, captured, rescued, and now the fourth one next week, respond. With this great rescue that we’ve had how do we respond now? How we respond, how appropriate in this class and next week, the last Sunday before Christmas, that we reflect on what our response might be. We’ve been captured, but now we’ve been rescued. How would we respond to that amazing intervention, that amazing battle that the Lord did on our behalf?”