10th Sunday of Ordinary Time
TENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Genesis 3:9-15 | 2 Corinthians 4:13—5:1 | Mark 3:20-35
Oh, God, from whom all good things come, grant that we, who call on you in our need, may at your prompting discern what is right and by your guidance do it. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
WE’RE now in the ordinary time of the church year, which means we’re going to go over the extraordinary life of Jesus. In that life we have a story, a story of a human being who, like us, grew in age and wisdom, ended up living a life different than the ones around him. He never married. He was incredibly interested in scripture and spent 30 years of his life studying and wondering and pondering and meditating. Then at age 30, he stood up in his hometown and stated something that seemed almost completely insane. He somehow had a feeling that he had a message deep in his heart that had been revealed to him by God that he was the one who was to come to open the minds and hearts of human beings to the truth — the truth of who they are and who God is. The ultimate plan that he began, when he called Abraham, the ultimate plan being fulfilled. He was the one who was to proclaim it. He was the one to announce the kingdom. John the Baptist was, in a way, his emcee. He’s the one that announced him to the world. “This is the one. He is the one you have to listen to.”
So what’s his message? What is it that Jesus gave? How can we summarize that message? Well, one of the things he said, when he spoke in his hometown that Sabbath, he said that he knew that the work of God that he was there to perform had something to do with awakening in human beings that which laid dormant. It was awakening in mankind that there was a way out of a world of violence, destruction, shame, fear, anger. There was something that was offered to them, and what was being offered was described by its effect. And it went like this: eyes will be opened. You’ll see what you’ve been blind to. Whatever thing keeps you from being who God intended you to be. The prison that you’re in, that’s going to be broken open. All the burdens you feel about life so that it’s somewhat joyless and not about pleasure but about struggle — that’s going to change dramatically. What you’re going to find is that there is literally a world that God has created for us that is beautiful, and filled with joy, peace and, most especially, freedom — freedom. The United States of America is founded on that, and it’s been an amazing journey to watch a country that was established not on the authority of its leadership solely, but on the rights, needs, wants of individuals. The government was there more to protect the ability of a human being to make decisions about how they live their life, who they worship, what they do — freedom.
So if we see Jesus coming to bring this new freedom of an inner voice that’s deep within us guiding us, then what we have to look at carefully is sin, and I love the Adam and Eve story. Every time I go back to it, I see something I didn’t see before, but I want to draw from that reading you just listened to, something about the nature of sin. You know it’s based in a lie. The serpent lied to them, and what the lie contained was a way of being in the world that created separation, diving the world into good people and bad people, right and wrong, valuable and less valuable. It’s, in a way, a kind of binary world, but it’s more complex than that. It gave to human beings this lie that you have the right to judge, you have the right to control, you have the right to make things happen, and it sounds like every adolescent who beings to leave the comfort of a parental household and goes off and wants to make their own mark. So I really think the story is not about some horrific lie, but about our own story, our own salvation history. We start our independent life by taking charge, deciding who is in and who is out and what is right and what is wrong. It’s all that, and what it creates is separation.
So look at what’s the first words that were spoken to sinful human beings from God. Not, “What did you do,” but, “Where are you? You’re not with me. I don’t feel you’re with me anymore. What is it? Where have you gone? You’ve gone somewhere else. You’re not in harmony anymore.” They say, “Well, it’s not our fault. We were tricked. We were tricked.” Well, I love that, because it makes human beings in the story seem a little less malicious, but the malicious one, the one that divided, division, is going to be punished by receiving what he’s seducing these young creatures into, and that is a divided world. And so what you see the curse implying is — I don't know if serpents walked, but, “From now on, you’re going to crawl on the ground, and human beings are going to smash your heads.” Whenever you see a snake, your first instinct is usually destroy it, not, “Oh, let’s bring it home.” So you crush its head, and yet the serpent, to protect itself, is to go to the lowest part of your body and bite you on the heel if you’re running away. Interesting. So the fascinating part of that is, when you see Adam and Eve choosing this world of division, the first two human beings that lived, Cain and Abel, ended up one killing the other. It’s where there’s division, there is that desire to control or to destroy. That’s the issue that Christianity is seeking to free us from.
I remember — gosh, it’s been 58 years ago that I entered the seminary, and I remember, when I walked into that place and I put on my cassock and walked around, I knew this was the place I wanted to be, but there wasn’t that much interest in being a priest in the classic sense. I thought priests were nice and good, but they didn’t seem to be very, I don't know, influential in my life. I didn’t know any priests personally. They were always ritualizing something on the altar, and there was something in that that was attractive to me. But they didn’t seem real, like real people, and here I was choosing to be one. And yet I said, “The one thing I want to do is find out what is really real. What is true? What is the message of Christianity?” If you peel away all denominations and you look at all the different ways in which denominations create different rules and regulations and one’s better than the other — the world of division shows its head again. I knew there had to be something universal, and so I’ve always tried to find the universal truth of Christianity. I tried not to focus on denominational differences. That’s been the heart of my ministry on this radio program, and it seems to reach a certain group of people that I think are hungry for something more simple, pure, and direct.
So we see in the next set of readings, this image in Paul, like whatever it is you believe, however you see the world, that’s how you’re going to act. He said, “I believed, so I spoke.” What is it you have to believe? You have to believe in what’s unseen, and what’s unseen? Unseen is all the essential things that happen in your spiritual life between you and God, you and other people. Christianity is so much more than being nice. Being polite. It’s more than doing things you’re told by an authority figure. It’s more unseen. It’s more of an inner work of transformation, of a God who said, “I want to dwell inside of you.” The most dramatic thing that Jesus was teaching was the indwelling presence of God in a human being. It was a blasphemy. That’s why the Pharisees saw Jesus, when he started talking about intimacy with God — “You’re blaspheming. You can’t say God is that close to us, that God loves that way, that God forgives. You can’t. We’re in charge of doling out forgiveness. We’re in charge of telling people who God is. Don’t tread on our world, and don’t take away our power, our ability to control.” So it’s the shadow of every institution that’s ever claimed the name of God as their source, because the most exciting thing about the fullness of the message of God is the freedom he gives us to trust in that inner voice in our hearts creating in us a space of goodness and life, that presence of God inside us that, in the teaching of the Catholic Church, on conscience, which is the most beautiful thing — read it in the catechism. It’s all about the dignity and the worth of every individual, because the God who made him is in him, guiding him and making the ultimate decisions as to what is right and wrong. The authority of the church is valuable in keeping order. It’s also valuable in giving us good advice, but I don’t think the church’s authority was ever intended to be in place of you struggling with the issue you’re dealing with. And with God’s help, wisdom and, your own self-knowledge, you come to a decision, and the church says that decision must be followed. Your obligation is to follow your conscience.
So we look at the gospel, and it’s so perfect, because if you look at the experience people had initially of Jesus, it’s the same, I think, reaction we have when you see religion as it was always intended to be, a thing given to each individual person personally so that they can speak the truth, see the truth, live it. So what you see is his family coming, and they were not open to the truth, because they couldn’t fathom the fact that their brother, relative would end up being a voice of God. There was no way they could wrap their mind around that so rather than opening their mind to it, they decided to shut him up, to say he’s nuts, write it off, tie him up, tie the message up. And the leaders of the church are caught in a classic projection of their sin onto Jesus. They are the ones that want to destroy the message of Jesus. They’re the ones who want to silence his message of freedom and hope and life and peace. They want to rob us of the authority that God’s presence in us creates, so that we can be guided by his wisdom, his truth.
Father, your inner voice is your great gift to us, your truth, your life living within us, guiding us, directing us, opening our hearts to everything that we need to become in order to bring the world to the place that you have intended it to be, a place of peace and joy and true freedom. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.