Homily on the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1Cor 15:57)
This coming Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. On that day the priest places ashes on the head of all those present who come to him and says to each: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The Holy Scriptures on this 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time leads me to start this homily with a comment on the second option that the Church sets out for the priest while he is distributing ashes.
First, this saying is taken from the discourse that God had for our first parents after they committed their first sin. God delivered his punishment on the serpent, the woman, and finally the man. To the man, among many things, these are the final words of the Lord: “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gn 3:19). With this saying, God reminds the man how he was created in the second account of creation: “The LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gn 2:7). Without the breath of life from the Lord, you and I are dust and ashes. The placing of ashes on our head on this Wednesday with the exhortation that God has for the man after the fall is a wonderful reminder for us: Lent is opening to God’s spirit. No breath of life from God then we are like those ashes on our head which contribute nothing to our cleanliness but make thing messy and dirty!
The breath of life is the theme for the Holy Scriptures on this Sunday. In the Second Reading, which is taken from the conclusion of the 15th chapter of the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians: “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Cor 15:57). The victory that St. Paul spoke about is overcoming the sting of death by this very breath of life Christ the Lord blew into our nostrils again by the Paschal Mystery (Christ’s Death and Resurrection). This bread of life from the Lord helps us to understand a common theme between the First Reading and the Gospel.
In the First Reading, the Wisdom of Ben Sira offers us this advice: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so speech discloses the bent of a person’s heart” (Sir 27:6). The Gospel expands on this theme: “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles” (Lk 6:43-44). As we enter Lent, we often hear about the Tree of Life. That Tree is Jesus Christ the Lord, connect with him so that we can have all the nutrients and produce good fruits. In other words, connect with the Lord to receive the beath of life and do not return to dust.
It is fitting to conclude this homily by repeating the words of the Apostle to the Gentiles: “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Cor 15:57). Yes, that victory is only for us when we are open to the breath of life that changes and transform us here and now.