Homily – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, this Sunday’s readings give a wonderful treatise on the great love of God for us.  Scripture scholar, Diane Bergant says, in no uncertain terms that, “The only way Elisha could have made the promise to the Shunemite woman, “This time next year, you will be holding a child in your arms,” and have it fulfilled, is through the power of God.

She says, we can liken this gift to the same offered to Abraham and Sarah—Isaac would be a gift to the nation and from him, along with all the women involved, a great family would result.  But this son offered as gift to the Shunemite woman was merely a gift for her, for her kindness to the prophet, Elisha.

Psalm 89 speaks of the “lovingkindness” (one word—hesed, in Greek) and faithfulness of our God.  The entire psalm uplifts God’s love which lasts forever and God’s faithfulness that is praised through the ages, because of the covenant God made with the People of God.  In other words, God will always-be-with-us!

And what are we to do in response to this great love? Paul tells us in his letter today to the Romans.  We are to set aside our old ways of living and take on a new life of holiness.

Paul speaks of what happens to us in our baptisms—Bergant continues and I paraphrase—we are plunged into the real chaos of death to ourselves through baptism and are raised to new life in Jesus—new life, living as he did.  Paul continues, she says, and again, I paraphrase, the chaos that physical death can be because it changes the one who goes through it, is what Jesus encountered when he lived, died and ultimately rose from the dead—an encounter we will all experience, one day!

In anticipation for this new way of being; we are to prepare our spiritual and physical selves through becoming all that we are called to be in this life, just as Jesus did, and the gospel reading from Matthew today, tells us how.

The words of this gospel can be a hard reading if we read it only in a literal way.  Does Jesus really mean that we are to put family aside—think of their needs only second?  Yes and no!  He is not asking us to turn our backs on our families when they are in need. What he is saying is that tending to our families cannot keep us from living moral lives—doing the right thing—doing what Jesus would do.

An example or two will make this clearer.  If we are asked to keep a secret within our family under the guise of protecting the family unit when the secret is covering up abuse, the challenge from Jesus would be to do the right thing.    In the past, much abuse, sexual and physical was kept quiet because people were taught that the institution, Church, State or Family was of most importance.

The Netflix documentary, The Keepers, tells its viewers the story of Catholic nun, Sister Cathy Cesnik, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame who was cruelly murdered in 1969 because she was going to go public with the truth of sexual abuse of female students at Keogh High School in Baltimore over several years, primarily by one priest, with the collusion of Church and State. More than her murder, the story of the cover-up of her murder looms before us as followers of Jesus.  Now, you might be thinking, why did we never hear of this? Why indeed?!

This is an incidence of protecting the “family of the hierarchical church” over the “little ones” that we as baptized followers of Jesus are called to watch out for and Jesus would say that this is wrong.

Martin Luther King, Jr. while in prison for civil disobedience in the 1960’s wrote of this overriding principle:

“In a real sense all life is inter-related…All [people] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.  I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.  This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

Our baptisms in Jesus, the Christ and our calls to be his followers challenge us to spiritually die to our own desires, wishes, preconceptions of what and how life will be.  A letter to the June 30th edition of the National Catholic Reporter is indicative of this—in part, it reads:

“I was one who was indifferent toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons until my grandchild came out as gender neutral at about age 16 or 17.  Then I remembered how this child struggled since early childhood with personal identity and continues to struggle today at age 20. Now my indifference has turned to awareness and deep concern for my grandchild, whom I will always love and hold dear to me.  This awareness and deep concern now extends to all of the LGBT family.  My grandchild’s struggle has changed me by opening my eyes to be more understanding and accepting of others.”

For those who get the Winona Daily News, this past week carried the 60 year love story of two people, Jim and Peggy Meyer, known to many in our community.  In 2009, Jim came out publically to family and friends as a transgender person and assumed her new identity as Jaimie Ann Meyer, a reality that she has been living with and coming to terms with for most of her life. One can only imagine the pain of not knowing who you really are for so many years, living within a culture of Church and State that, in many places still chooses to see reality for others in a very small, narrow vein.  And yet, we are confronted in today’s Scriptures that speak to us of a God of lovingkindness who is faithful forever.  God created all the differences for us to delight in, not to set some up as the norm and condemn the rest.

We can only imagine what Peggy Meyer has gone through coming to terms with Jaimie Ann’s coming out.  We are told that, “they are finding their way together.”  I cannot read this story without thinking of the total giving, dying—really, to oneself that has gone on in the past for Jaimie Ann and in the present, now for Peggy.  I salute them both as women of strength.

So, Ordinary Time—not for sissies—if we are true to Jesus’ message; it calls us to expand our hearts and minds and souls—to truly see our brother Jesus in all the wildly different manifestations that are presented to us each day in lives that are fully engaged! Amen? Amen!