Friends, the Scriptures this week continue the message of “shining our own particular lights,” and we know, if we are listening to the Scriptures, not only is this call, “to shine our lights” for this week, but since Christmastime, we have been told, that we will do this best, by keeping our eyes, “on the glow” coming from our brother Jesus. And part of what Jesus makes clearly known in the glow around him is that we are loved by our God—that is the only message we really need to get in Jesus entering into our human existence.
My friends, I am quite aware that many of my homilies speak about the “why” of Jesus’ coming. And that is precisely because I want each of us to hear again and again this true reason—because we are loved —and I want to say it again and again, until the notion that his coming was just that of “reparation for our sins,” and this mean-spirited, controlling idea is a thing of the past.
I long for the day when I can hear Christians say, “Can you believe what people used to think, that Jesus became human just because an “Almighty” God needed to be appeased!” “How ridiculous!” “Who ever thought of such a thing?”
Friends, this may shock some of you, but if this teaching weren’t indeed untrue, why would Jesus have ever told such stories about his Abba God as that of the Prodigal Child or the Good Shepherd who left the 99 to go in search of the one lost? The Prodigal, we must remember is all about a selfish kid who went off, squandered the family fortune on riotous living and when eventually had nothing left and was starving, returned to a loving parent who when that returning kid was within clear sight, ran to embrace and welcome this lost one home.
Unfortunately, so much of the preaching around Jesus’ coming into humanity is emphasized by men, and soon, with the coming of Lent, we will hear more of the same. I say, “men” because they are the only ones who have been given “permission” to do this awesome task, and they tend to concentrate on this archaic notion of a mean-spirited God, that has really done so much damage in our Church, as opposed to that of one who loves us beyond all imagination.
Isaiah says clearly in today’s 1st reading that the People of God have had “the yoke that has burdened them…removed.” Additionally, he tells them that, “their reason for gloom is gone…because they have seen a great light.”
Further, the prophecy of Isaiah and the gospel selection from Matthew, are united through the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, mentioned in both, showing us the continuous love of our God through the prophets of old until the prophet Jesus, our brother came and confirmed through his life and ministry, the “great light” that he truly was then, and now, for all who, from time to time, “walk in darkness.”
And Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today, gives us our call… [we are sent], “to preach [this] gospel” [of light and love]. Paul goes on to be more specific… “you must not quarrel.”
This reminds me of what a friend shared this week, of a way that she was recently, “blessed.” She was talking with an acquaintance who held differing views from her own and rather than have that conversation turn argumentative, she went into it making the decision that even if she disagreed, she would simply try and listen. This she did, and at the end, even though she still disagreed, she felt that perhaps, a door had been opened for more in the future.
My friends, this “standing in the glow” of our brother Jesus will not for the most part be easy, but we must always try to see the truth and get to the message intended. If we get caught up in the surface message that, Jesus came to die for our failings, looking no further, then we will miss the deeper message that Jesus wants us to get—that we are loved and because we are, we have the responsibility to love others in return.
And what might that look like in our daily lives? The gospel from Matthew today tells us that Jesus moved among the people, curing all their illnesses. Will anyone after we are gone, be able to say that of us—that we cured the illnesses we found in life? Granted, what we may “cure” will look different than what it did for Jesus, but to be able “to listen” as my friend, in the above example did, will indeed “cure” more than a physical affliction!
We should always look beyond the words on the pages of Scripture to their deeper meanings. Jesus, in today’s gospel found men who worked daily to harvest a catch of fish from the sea. His call to each one of them was that they now become “fishers” of the people in their village and beyond.
In my reflections for this homily, I looked back at what the Spirit gave me in the past that might still be meaningful today and found some comments from Chief Justice John Roberts at the beginning of Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial that seem to speak to this issue of “standing in Jesus’ glow,” speaking and doing what is needed whether ultimately in our own personal best interests or not. His direction to the Congress people at the outset was that they try, “to be their best selves, if they expected to be heard by others.”
Think back to the example I shared earlier about my friend attempting to truly listen to someone that she disagreed with. In the end, we can’t expect that others will listen to us if we don’t afford them the same.
In today’s 2nd reading to the Corinthians, Paul is taking “counsel” it would seem, from Chloe and “members of her household.” Paul is following Jesus’ example too, “of conversing with women and allowing himself to be influenced by them. And what of men in our Church today? Isn’t it time that they do the same? Jesus and Paul, in their times did shine the light on inequality as they found it, and can those who wish to lead in our Church today, do any less?
Another issue most present to us in our day would be that of racism, and I am not speaking of individual “racist” acts, but the “cultural racism “out of which white people in this country live, and probably for the most part, are unaware of. And if you are thinking, “Oh, that is not me,” it might be good, for each of us to consider, why our prisons are still filled with mostly black brothers and sisters, living with far greater sentences for similar crimes than their white counterparts, why COVID struck black folk with a much greater vengeance than it did white folk, and the examples continue.
The fact that racism is deep in the culture to the point that we are often unaware of it, can be the only explanation for why white Catholic Sisters’ congregations, nearly across the board, for many years, denied entrance of black women into their convents, to pursue their God-given calls. And if black women were allowed entrance, they were treated abominably, giving them the lowliest and most undesirable tasks. This is all well documented in the 2022 book, Subversive Habits by Shannen Dee Williams.
As I always say, to all of us, this Christian living is no easy thing, but keeping our eyes on Jesus should give us great hope in not being afraid, knowing that we do not do it alone. That is why I had us sing today, “You are my light and my salvation, of whom should I be afraid?” Singing these words seems to go straight to our hearts, instead of our heads, which I think we have to allow, if their true meaning is ultimately to make its mark.
Jim Wallis, creator, and editor of Sojourner Magazine says this a bit differently, but I think makes the same point. We need to “let Jesus into our boat” he says, when all of what we are called to do seems too great.
I am part of an Interfaith Council here in Winona and when COVID hit back in 2020, we stopped meeting in person, and reverted as so many groups did to Zoom meetings, and with time, those fell away too. Coming this spring, this Interfaith Group will be meeting again, doing the work of our brother Jesus, who prayed before he died, “that all would be one, a really universal prayer, and along with the work of all other religious and spiritual groups, who show us together, the most complete face of our loving God.
Along these lines, your pastor has been invited to give the homily tomorrow for the Unitarians here in town. They asked me to speak to one of their principles—that of “acceptance of others.” So, my friends, we continue on being our best for ourselves and all others. Amen? Amen!