Parish of the Precious Blood
Homily for the
Twelfth Sunday of the Year
Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
June 19, 2016
Do you remember what your first word was? With rare exceptions, the answer is no. But lucky for us, there are people in our lives who do…and for many of them, especially our parents, their child’s first word is a moment of great joy. It’s probably the most concrete sign for parents that their child is healthy and growing up…but let’s be honest, the real reason mom and dad so look forward to that first word is because they are hoping it’s going to be “Mama” or “Dada.” What greater gift can a precious little child give to his or her parents than to use their burgeoning power of speech to express their childlike love for mom and dad by uttering their names first? It’s beautiful. Now every so often you get a rebel child – like myself – who destroys his parents dreams by choosing a different word. For me, it was a simple, but clear “No!” that I first spoke in this life…but the vast majority of little tykes will honor one of their parents. We start off this life, even before we’re able to take our first steps or formulate coherent thoughts, by expressing our fundamental and instinctual understanding that this life is all about relationship.
What’s both absolutely crazy and utterly amazing, is that the Eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the very One through Whom all things were made, would not be deprived of this experience. Because He took on flesh and became like us, indeed became one of us, He would have gone through the same thing. One day, out of the blue, after months of goo’s and ga’s and other little baby noises, the little Child Jesus would have come to formulate His first human word. Maybe it occurred in the stillness of the night where no one could hear it. Maybe it occurred while He and Mary and Joseph were shopping at the market. Maybe it occurred when He was playing with a toy that Joseph made Him or while Mary was changing Him. However it happened, whenever it happened, no matter around whom it happened, I would bet my life that the first word the Christ Child uttered was Abba - Father.
Today, in our country, we are celebrating Father’s Day…a day for us to thank our dads for the gift of life, for the care they’ve given us, and for the love they've shared with us. No doubt we’ll throw some steaks on the grill, let dad play some horseshoes, and shower gifts of cheap tools and bad ties on him today, but I think that the best thing we can do for our fathers on this Father's Day is to meditate a little bit on the meaning of fatherhood and to grow in our love for the way that our dads have lived theirs out. And I can think of no better way to do this than to reflect on the meaning and significance of the fact that Jesus calls upon God, and dares us to call upon Him, as Abba - Father.
It has become a rather popularized practice in modern Christianity to speak of the Aramaic word Abba as meaning “daddy” or “papa.” Thus when we hear in the Gospels that Jesus uses this word in respect to God, we can’t help but think of it as a mushy gushy sentimental expression. We like it because it helps us to think of God the Father as some great big eternal Teddy Bear, and it brings us comfort to think that this is the image of God that Jesus is showing us. Unfortunately, while there might be some truth to this, the greater significance of Jesus calling upon God as Abba has less to do with making us feel good and more to do with revealing the very nature of the Godhead. Throughout the ancient world, and indeed in every non-Christian theistic religion in our own day, to conceive of God – the one than which nothing greater can ever be thought – as “father” is completely ridiculous. He is almighty; He is holy; He is eternal; He is creator; He is all-powerful and all-knowing; He is all of this and so much more…but father? Fatherhood is an earthly experience…it’s too common and insignificant and doesn’t seem to adequately express the ultimate transcendence of the Creator of the Universe. Maybe we can get away with saying that God is like a father, just as He is like a rock, or a mighty ocean, or other similes. But to say that He is Father, well that’s tantamount to blasphemy. After all, you can only have a father if you have a son or a daughter, and so to call God “Father” is to call oneself the “Son of God.” But this is exactly what Jesus did. And it’s what landed Him on the Cross. The significance of Jesus of Nazareth calling God Abba - Father is not to entice us towards sentimentalism, but rather to give us the greatest and the most revolutionary revelation of Who God is. We can attribute many things to God, we can conceive of His power and might and so on, but Jesus reveals to us that over and above all else, God is Father. And because He is Father, and because His Fatherhood is the most definitive expression of His Essence, it must be the case that He has eternally – without beginning or end – been Father. But to be Father means that God’s own Self is defined by relationship…relationship with a Son. God the Father and His Son, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. This is what Jesus reveals to us when He calls God Abba. And the eternal Abba sent His Bar (in Aramaic), His Ben (in Hebrew), His Son to us, that by becoming one with Him, we too can call God our Father.
Fathers are great. They possess within themselves the power and the ability to generate new life. They carry on the family name. They provide food and shelter and protection. They pick us up when we fall down and they even knock us down a few pegs when we need it. They offer us wisdom and advice. They empower us and encourage us to grow up and to do great things. And the best of them show us how to love and to be loved in a way that speaks right to our hearts. Our earthly fathers, as human and imperfect as they are, each of them plays a role is helping to witness to us the greatest mystery that the human heart can contemplate in this life: that God loves us, not as some far off Supreme Being, but as Father. He has high standards for us, He wants the best for us, and He calls us to greatness. He can be tough with us sometimes, but His love is all-pervasive and ever-so-intimate because we belong to Him as His children.
In our Gospel today, taken from St. Luke, Jesus asks His disciples Who they say that He is. Peter replies that He is the “Christ of God.” In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Peter provides an additional word in His response: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Today we call upon Christ as the Eternal Son of the Father, and we ask Him to make us more and more like Himself so that we can be in ever-more perfect union with the One that He, and we, call upon as Abba, as Father.