04 Apr 2019

We’ve all got something embarrassing in our past, some great shame we’ve repented of and would rather not be reminded of: mine is that I used to be… a lawyer.

Shameful or not, I have to admit I quite enjoyed it, which might please your parish patron, St Thomas More, who is patron saint of lawyers and statesmen. I remember well my first attendance in court. It was a legal aid case I was more or less holding the hand of a young man who’d got himself into quite a spot of trouble and was pleading guilty. All he had going for him were some character references, a few people from his past who were willing to testify that he wasn’t such a bad egg as he might first appear. It struck me at the time as interesting that we are willing to take people’s testimony about someone else so seriously, perhaps more so than someone’s testimony about themselves…

We are now well past the half-way mark of Lent and already John’s Gospel has Jesus on trial: not His formal trials at end of His life before Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate, when He refuses to speak for Himself – when, indeed, He has no witnesses to speak for Him. At the end of His life, Jesus is abandoned by disciples and friends, and even, He feels, by His Father who will only give evidence in support of His Son after He has given His all, even His life. Then the Father will give the most spectacular testimony in history: raising Jesus from the dead to glory at God’s right hand. But today, early in John’s Gospel, Jesus gives His answers in the trial that is His whole life (Jn 5:31-47).

And who are his witnesses? Well, the first witness Jesus calls in His own defence is John the Baptist. John, He notes, is well recognized as a shining light. But it is this John, who pointed to Jesus and declared, “Behold the Lamb of God; behold the One who is to come; behold the One more important than me; behold the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit; behold the Chosen One of God; behold the One who comes from above.” (Jn 1:19-27; 3:27-36; 10:40-42; Mt 3:1-12) But as John came comet-like across their stage, and was hugely popular for a time, so that it could be said “all Israel” heard his preaching and was baptized (Acts 13:24). But in the end, rather than heeding his message, the world would rather kill him…

Next, Jesus brings forward the evidence of His own works, works that He says testify to who He is and who sent Him. These are His works of healing, exorcising, teaching, comforting, challenging, redeeming. These ‘signs and wonders’ certainly brought Him temporary fame, as did John’s preaching and baptizing (cf. Lk 7:18-23). But in the end, rather than recognizing these works for what they are and honouring their source, the world would rather kill Him as they did John before Him…

Third, Jesus calls His Father forward to testify. This is the Father-God who so loved the world He sent His only Son (Jn 3:16). From heaven He declares at Jesus’ Baptism and Transfiguration: “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased! Listen to Him.” (Mt 3:17; 17:5; cf. Jn 3:31-36) But as Jesus points out today, the world would rather block its ears to God’s words than make the changes necessary for His Word to live in it, in us.

So Jesus brings forward a fourth witness: the Holy Scriptures. In so many places the Scriptures promise His coming, describe His qualities and actions, help us recognize Him. “You study the Scriptures of Moses and these testify to me,” He says. Moses, as it were, appears in court for Jesus today. But again, people refuse to see what is right before their eyes.

So today’s Gospel is like the forensic account of a court reporter, describing the evidence, the testimony of the various witnesses, the character references and all. We hear that God the Father gives witness to Jesus, that John the Baptist does, that Moses does, and that Jesus own works do also.

And how do we know all this? Because these proceedings, these witness statements, are reported to us in turn by John the Evangelist in his Gospel, this Gospel which he calls and we call a New Testament, a new testimony, a new record of evidence. And, of course, the Church, in turn, hands on this testimony to us.

For the trial of Jesus Christ goes on then, the witnesses are still being called, the interrogators are still asking their questions: Who is this God anyway? Who is Christ? What are we to do with His Church? Should we kill it as we killed him?

The trial continues. And we, of course, are now the witnesses: it is on us that Jesus now relies in His continuing trial. It is to us that the world turns to hear the testimony we give in our words and deeds. Our Lord calls on us today to take the witness stand on His behalf: how shall we respond?


St. Thomas More, Brighton-Le-Sands, Sydney

Welcome to this celebration of the Eucharist as I begin my canonical visitation of the Parish of Brighton-Le-Sands for the next four days. I’m looking forward to my several Masses with you and to visiting and meeting with various group leaders and individual parishioners, with leaders, staff, students, and parents of St Thomas More’s Primary School, and others. I thank Fr Manuel Santiago PP and all the parishioners for your preparations for my visit and your welcome. I would like to welcome also all the Year 6 students who are here representing their school this morning. To them and to everyone present this morning a very warm welcome!