Hi everyone, here’s my homily for OCTOBER 4, 2015 the 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/100415.cfm. As always, many thanks for reading, your comments and feedback – and for sharing this blog on your facebooks, twitter and reddit. Have a great week – In Christ – Fr Jim
Just reading this Gospel, reflecting on it on and off all week, one thought that kept coming to my mind wasn’t particularly earth-shattering and certainly wasn’t something unique or a ground breaking revelation.
Life is tough.
Like I said – not the most profound of realities or truths to come upon. It’s a universal truth. It’s something that every person, every individual at this Mass (or reading this online) can agree to. Even in this relativistic culture and society where every universal seems open to question, scrutiny, debate (is the sky blue? Well what’s your interpretation of the color blue?) Perhaps this is one that every extreme can acknowledge as true: Life is tough – and simply leave the debates over the particulars for later (like how tough is your tough?)
Just in the course of this past week: someone’s parent is dying; another person’s relative has died… this person failed an exam, another is struggling with how to make ends meet and is overwhelmed by financial debt; suicidal thoughts, alcoholic binges, drug addictions; severe depression rooted in a painful experience from the past; a friendship that has ended pitting two people who were so supportive and helpful to one another into a very adversarial spot where the mere mention of the others name turns their stomach…
Those are just a sampling of people I spoke to this past week – it could’ve been any week. It could have been anywhere. A look around our state, our country: fears and anxieties over a hurricane that was approaching (bringing back frightening memories of just 3 years ago when Hurricane Sandy hit) – news of another mass-shooting killing 9 injuring scores more who were simply going to college. Yes, everyone of us can pretty quickly find examples, illustrations that prove (in some cases it seems to be an understatement) Life is tough.
Then we hear this Gospel passage and it seems like things are about to get tougher. We hear Jesus talking, speaking pretty directly in response to the Pharisees who ask a question about marriage (there’s an un-controversial topic in 2015!) Actually it was more a response to their question about divorce, in which Jesus ends up giving a clear, precise, direct answer about marriage…God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but on flesh. And just in case they didn’t get it, Jesus says to the Pharisees – whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.
Boom. End of story. Or is it?
Because we cannot forget that this is the same Jesus who lovingly, mercifully forgives the woman at the well who was married 5 times and the man she was living with at that time was not her husband…
Ask any married person (any honest married person) – marriage is tough – it’s a result of that first universal truth – that life is tough. And Jesus came not to add burdens, add struggles…but relieve them.
This isn’t to say that he doesn’t mean what he says about marriage. That’s God’s design. That’s His intention: That marriage would be this dynamic, unique, relationship where a man and a woman come together – give themselves totally and completely to one another emotionally, physically, spiritually in such a dynamic, unique way that new life was born of that love. So much so that the rest of the world in seeing that — would get a glimpse of the presence, the activity of God. That’s the beauty of marriage. That’s God’s design for that institution.
In a broken world, it’s tough to do that. Life is tough. It has been for some time, which the Pharisees asking this question of Jesus about divorce – proves. At that time, Marriage was being destroyed. Women had few rights and scandalously were being treated more as property than as the “suitable partner” – the “flesh of my flesh” – the perfection of union and communion that we heard about in the creation story from Genesis in today’s first reading. (Notice the question was about a husband divorcing his wife – there wasn’t any consideration that it could’ve gone the other way) And people weren’t getting divorced because of abuse or infidelity… husbands were divorcing their wives over a tasteless meal, if a woman raised her voice, if the husband found someone more attractive (The Better Part, Fr. John Bartunek p 438)
They took the divorce decree that Moses left which was borne of the reality that Life is tough – that sometimes humans in this broken world hurt one another – even husbands and wives – and sometimes that could get really ugly, really bad and nowhere near reflect the beauty of the institution of marriage as a husband and wife giving to one another and nurturing their family to the point that it was showing quite the opposite of that ideal – well now that divorce decree was now being twisted for selfish, self-centered needs and in the process destroying the very institution of marriage.
Jesus is calling us to truth, to beauty, to ideals.
Jesus desires to restore the brokenness of this broken world – whether it’s the brokenness we experience in our daily lives or the brokenness we see on a national or global scale.
And Jesus has little tolerance with the Pharisees of yesterday (or today) who look to twist and manipulate God’s design for themselves and their own self interests.
Which is why its curious how this episode seems to abruptly shift at the end to this encounter with Children. Right in the middle of this divorce – marriage debate, Jesus welcomes children, embraces them… it must’ve been as awkward back then when it happened as it seems a poorly edited Gospel passage today. Yet Jesus insists on allowing that interruption. And what does he say with this interruption? he says those who are innocent, are trusting, are loving and welcoming; those who aren’t suspicious of him, demanding of him, doubting his wisdom – doubting his love – to those who are like Children – especially in their hearts… yes to those, the Kingdom of God belongs.
As we continue to experience how life is tough – Jesus wants us to turn to Him rather than trusting in ourselves and our world. So especially when marriage is tough,- when a couple struggles with struggles that only the two of them know, do they allow Jesus to lead, to guide, to challenge them how as husband and a wife they can live their vocations better? How they can persevere? How there is something good and noble and beautiful in their selfless gift of themselvs to each other and their children?
And yet, when divorces occur, when people are used and abused and taken advantage of; when people are unfairly judged or manipulated – do we allow Jesus to heal, to forgive, to restore, to renew our dignity as beloved sons and daughters?
Or do we, incredibly, pass judgement ourselves?
Moses had a law, and a good one; that law had a ‘safety valve’ in place – divorce was meant as an escape hatch, only to be used in dire emergencies. Beyond this, though, Christ is urging us to see more, to dig deeper – ‘C’mon, he almost seems to be saying to us, ‘Don’t you see it? There’s so much more here.’ Not less. More. Christ doesn’t want us to sell ourselves short, cutting our losses, severing ties, discarding people, playing it safe, being isolated, going through our meager existence miserable and burdened and overwhelmed by evil and want. He wants us to have more. (As he tells us – I’ve come that you may have life and have it abundantly Johm 10:10)
Life can be more. It can be abundant. Christ doesn’t come to make life difficult, to make life impossible for his followers – He comes to make it more. By saving us from the difficulties, the struggles, the failures.. Pope Francis talked about it in a homily last week in Cuba that’s been on my mind ever since. He said: Jesus’ love goes before us, his look anticipates our needs. He can see beyond appearances, beyond sin, beyond failures and unworthiness. He sees beyond our rank in society. He sees beyond this, to our dignity as sons and daughters, a dignity at times sullied by sin, but one which endures in the depth of our soul. He came precisely to seek out all those who feel unworthy of God, unworthy of others. Let us allow Jesus to look at us. Let us allow his gaze to run over our streets. Let us allow that look to become our joy, our hope.
Christ wants so much for us. He has given us himself, and he wants us to bring Him and His super-abundant grace, His overflowing joy His Hope into our world. Life may be tough. But, with Jesus, it’s so much more than that.
Quite simply, Life is good.