Homily – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Friends,

Robert and I have been away on a cruise to see the Panama Canal and actually travel through it! It was a wonderful get-away and it is good to be back now. We were able to do this because of the generosity of my colleague and friend, Pastor Dick Dahl. I will be sharing today, the first of the three homilies he gifted us with in my absence. Tomorrow another and on Saturday, the third. Enjoy! -Pastor Kathy

Homily, February 4, 2018

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells Simon and Andrew, “Let us go elsewhere so that I can proclaim the message. That is why I came.” In the second reading Paul writes that he put himself in slavery and accommodated himself to all kinds of different situations so that he might share the benefits of the Gospel with others.

What was and is the message Jesus was eager to move on to proclaim? What really is the news or Gospel that Paul went through many perils to share with others?

Marcus Borg, theologian and New Testament scholar who died in 2015, wrote: For the author of John’s Gospel, Jesus is the revelation of God’s love.

Through the centuries since Jesus and Paul lived physically among us, many have claimed to know and preach that Gospel, this Good News. In the process, sadly, the distortions of the message have led whole groups of people to feel and be excluded and condemned. Instead of revealing God’s love for all, these distortions of the Gospel have been used to justify even slavery, torture and wars. Rules and laws have led many to bear burdens of guilt and fear of God, rather than rejoice in God’s unconditional love and unearned GRACE. It has led to feelings of alienation in those who weren’t guilty of sin and false justification in those who were.

This has not been the whole picture, of course. Many people, countless people, both known and unknown to us, have lived lives of love, compassion, generosity and mercy. Nevertheless, the distortions of Jesus’ message have led many to reject Jesus, Christianity and religion altogether.

Vince Hatt, the former director of the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse, said in a recent talk, “There is no ‘they.’” In other words we must not allow our minds and spirits to divide people into them and us. That road to dualistic thinking makes “them” the people who are wrong while we are right, the people we can criticize or even persecute for their beliefs or their actions, in other words, the enemy.

The Sermon on the Mount is the best summary of Jesus’ teaching. It is the very blueprint for Christian life. Francis of Assisi put it this way to those who followed him: “Preach the Gospel; use words if necessary.” In other words, while words may help clarify the message, it is mainly shared through lives that speak compassion, generosity, tolerance and respect for all others, in short, love.

The Gospel message is authentically proclaimed and shared by those who like Francis of Assisi live by love, not by power or insistence on  being right. When you reflect on which people you think best proclaim the Gospel to you by their lives, who comes to mind? You each have people, who are not known beyond your personal acquaintances perhaps, but who witness to the love and presence of Jesus by how they live.

Sometimes, others have a better sense of God’s love than we do. Jesus’ story of the Samaritan who cared for the man beaten by robbers made this point. As Father Richard Rohr points out, “Truth is public domain.” We need to recognize, welcome and rejoice in it wherever we find it—in our Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist brothers and sisters, and also in those who consciously profess no faith but whose lives reflect the care and love of neighbor that is the sign of God’s presence.

I keep running into people who say they are former Catholics or “recovering Catholics.” What are they recovering from? It is certainly not from the message Jesus proclaimed that we are loved and have been from the beginning of time.

We live in the mystery of a benevolent universe even though it seems to be an indifferent one. And depending who we are, or when and where we live, evil and unjust suffering is experienced to an overwhelming extent, often by both the just and the unjust, and especially by children and the helpless.

What difference does God’s love make in such a life? This seemed to be the lament of Job in the First Reading today. What we do know is that Jesus spoke with his actions as well as his words. We know that Jesus was misunderstood. He was betrayed by a friend. He was imprisoned. He was humiliated and tortured. He suffered an agonizing death in which at the end even he cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” He went through the ordeal, not to satisfy a sadistic god, but to prove he stands in solidarity with all who suffer. He is God’s promise that evil and tragedy will not have the last word.

I am closing with a statement by Father Rohr that I have quoted before but I repeat because it summarizes what this homily is all about: “Jesus did not come to solve a problem but to reveal the love of God for all creation. Jesus came not to change God’s mind about us, but to change the mind of humanity about God.”