The first comedians ‘roast’- Feast of St Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr – John 12: 24-26
The setting of today’s reading is Palm Sunday (John12: 12) and these are the opening words of His Palm Sunday ‘homily’ preached to His disciples. Interestingly, He is the author of the text, He is the subject of the text and it is in Him that we find our context.
The plot to kill Jesus has already been set in motion in chapter 11 and snowballs into killing all those around Him who in any way increase the strength of His popularity, including Lazarus (12:10). Clearly it was the growing popularity of the mission of Jesus that threatened the foundations of Pharisaic beliefs.
Their fear of losing this battle is confirmed in the scripture text that precedes the Gospel of today (12: 19), for right before their eyes they see and confess that the “world has gone after Him (Jesus).” The message of Jesus had certainly spread like wild fire, enough to attract ‘some Greeks’ who had come to worship during the Passover festival. These ‘God fearing’ Gentiles, clearly have been drawn to the Jewish festivities, yet hearing the message of Jesus, they now seek Him and not the temple.
The Good News that Jesus came to preach, was principally to the Jews, but it soon began to captivate the beliefs of the Gentiles too. The Early Church had to struggle through this phase. Should the mission of Jesus be limited only to the Jews and the demands of its traditional customs? It was the Jewish ritual of circumcision, demanded of the Gentile converts, which created divisions between St Paul on one hand and the apostles on the other.
The first council of Jerusalem which took place around the year 50 AD, recorded in Acts 15 and the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, debated precisely this issue necessitated by St Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. The Church had a rapidly growing Gentile following over a smaller Jewish leadership who sought to make the acceptance of Judaic rituals a prerequisite to becoming a Christian.
Better sense prevailed and Paul won the day for an expanding mission to the Gentiles with a new identity, albeit with conditions. The council decided that Gentile converts to Christianity were not obligated to keep most of the Law of Moses, including the rules concerning circumcision of males. The Council did, however, retain the prohibitions on eating blood, meat containing blood, and meat of animals not properly slain, and on fornication and idolatry.
When John wrote his Gospel somewhere after 90 AD, the Church had largely become Gentile, for Paul had by then crisscrossed the Roman world, with the message of Christ. But while the contentious traditions of Judaism were suppressed within the infant Church, the message of Jesus was never watered down.
Jesus’ message to the Greeks and any other prospective convert does not change. The Christian, like the grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die if he or she wishes to bear fruit. Only Jesus’ death makes salvation possible for others, and only when we die to ourselves do we we bring life to the Church.
St Lawrence the deacon, whose feast we celebrate today, well understood this when he was appointed as one of seven deacons by Pope Saint Sixtus II. After Sixtus was martyred under the persecution unleashed by the Roman Emperor Valerian in 258, Lawrence was commanded to hand over in three days’ time, the wealth of the Church, which under law had now become state property. Lawrence distributed to the poor all that the Church had, and presented himself to the prefect with the blind and the crippled as “the true riches of the Church.”
Needless to say his punishment was brutal and slow over a super-heated gridiron. He thus finds himself not only as the patron of chefs but also of comedians, for tradition has it that he asked to be turned over because he was “ well done” on one side. The comedians of today can take a page out of the creator of the ‘roast’.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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