14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Ezekiel 2:2-5 | 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 | Mark 6:1-6
Oh, God, who in the abasement of your Son have raised up a fallen world, fill your faithful with holy joy, for on those you have rescued from slavery to sin, you bestowed eternal gladness. 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.
THIS story in the gospel is so fascinating, particularly the fact that Jesus was so surprised at the difficulty people had of believing that he could be who he is, that he could be one that spoke the truth. Maybe the simple thing you could look at in Jesus’ life is that he was the one who understood that this was a gift given to him, that wasn’t him, but it came through him. So for him to be chosen as an instrument of speaking the truth, it struck him in a strange way, because he was a man open to the truth, that they wouldn’t accept him. They wouldn’t listen to him and the reasoning was interesting. The reasoning was that he was too ordinary, not ordinary alone, but one of the lines in this particular passage that’s interesting is that, when the people of the village that were complaining about who this man thought he was, they said, “This is the son of Mary.” Well, some scholars in the study of scripture believe that this son of Mary line is so unusual, because never would they make reference to a person, whether their father was alive or not, that they were the son of their mother, which implied that they had this sense that he might well have been considered in the village as illegitimate. There is nothing that would put someone on the lowest rung of social acceptability than being illegitimate. So it wasn’t just that he was an ordinary man, but he was somebody who was supposedly rejected by God, because if there was a sin in your parents, you carried it as a child. So here is a sinner standing up in front of everybody, in their mind, saying, “I’m here to tell you the truth. God is using me to be the one who we’ve all waited for that is going to open your eyes and see the world as it really is.” Another word for that is truth.
Jesus used this phrase over and over again. “I am the way. I’m the truth. I’m life. I’ll teach you a way of seeing the world that is real.” And when you find the reality of this world and you enter into it, you’re going to experience this thing that God has won for us, longed for us to have, and that’s called life — being fully alive, fully alert, fully conscious, engaged, connected. So one of the things that is interesting about the truth of reality is there is a world that is there that we are not in touch with, and the prophets always came to tell people that they need to get in touch with the world as it really is. But there’s a difference between the prophets of the Old Testament and this figure Jesus, who is a different kind of prophet. It seems like the prophets of old were the ones who came to people to tell them, “You’re not doing what you should do. Change your behavior. Start following the law. You all are slaves to the law.” That’s what Jesus called them. He said, “I’ve come to free those who are enslaved by the law.” So Jesus realizes what he’s got is a message of tremendous importance and freedom, and he’s saying, “I want people to realize that isn’t the fullness of who God is, a god who tells you, you have to do what he tells you in order for him to be there for you and love you and save you.” No, it’s something much more complex and much more beautiful. No, Jesus’ message is radically different, because he’s saying, “This God who has created you wants to free you, free you from that slavery and invite you into a world as it is.” And the world as it is, is something that people didn’t have a paradigm or a way of understanding it. It was too repressed deep inside of them, because the truth is inside of everyone. God has placed it there. So the work of the Messiah is to awaken in you the truth you already have. You already know it, but it is hidden. And so what he comes to talk about is this thing that he wants to accomplish for the world, and I think, if you follow the humanity of Jesus, he didn’t realize exactly how he was going to do it. But he knew he had an intention to awaken people to reality.
I would say that one of the aspects of reality that God is calling you and me into, over and over again, is to be aware of the fullness of what this life entails. What it entails is an amazing connection, a oneness, a unity. It’s so simple, so clear. If you understand it, everything shifts. The world is one. Notice the tension between Jesus and those who have decided he is not who he said he is. He basically thinks that they are so blinded by what they know the world to be that they can’t see it for what it really is. We are all caught in that. The world as it is in our mind is the world we’ve experienced thus far, — your family of origin, your first images of God that came to you through your religion, experiences of your life. It forms us in a way of this is the way the world is, and if they hadn’t had any experience of this oneness, then it’s really hard to grasp because it means that everything is interconnected. Everything is, in a way, alive. By that, I don’t mean everything has full consciousness like humans do, but everything has a life force in it that has a capacity to impact us, to touch us, to move us. One of the ways you understand that, is beauty. There’s something beautiful about everything God has created, even the things that the world might say are ugly. When you see them, as they really are, reflections of the world that God has created for us, and you realize that this world is all for us — it’s a hard concept. It’s all for us. Everything happening around you is for you. For what reason? Well, it’s for you, because you gain life from being engaged in the world as it is, and you also are the person who gives life if you’re engaged in the world as it is. And that’s the image we had last week of St. Paul talking about some people are full. Some people are empty. Some people give. Some people receive. Some people that were giving before now receive. That’s what I’m talking about, unity, oneness. There is this wholeness to the life that God is living for us, in us, and with us.
So let’s look at this idea of unity. The one thing that I think is interesting about the fullness of the world that God has created for us — how alive it is and the flow of life that flows between us — if we don’t see the material world and the animal world as having impact on us, then I think we’re pretty blind. That seems pretty obvious. You look at a beautiful sunset. You look at a vista that is beautiful. Even more interesting to me is, if people are from the prairie, and they’ve been in the city for a long time, and they go to the prairie, they go, “Oh, this is so beautiful.” It’s like, “Hello? There’s just nothing there. It’s a big, flat place.” “No, no. This is home. This is where I’m from. This is what I know.” That’s what I’m talking about, that kind of connection. So if that is the connection God wants, then I’m looking at something that happens when we worship in churches. When we get together, there is a sense, especially if communion is offered, as it is in the Catholic Church, there is this sense that there is something being given to us here, some nourishment, some food, some life force coming into us, energy. But if it seems to just come from the church or just from God, it is that, but God is the truth. And Jesus reflects God’s truth. So what we are here to be connected to is everything that is here for us, and so there are two things that I think we often completely forget. In the Roman Catholic liturgy that goes back to the time of Jesus, whenever people worshipped, they had this sense that they were calling upon all spiritual beings, and we have a prayer that we say right before — right after we finish listening to scripture there is a prayer — it is called the preface. It’s like the beginning of a prayer that gets us ready, in a disposition to receive the gifts of the Eucharist, the presence of God in us. So what’s interesting about it is — and we gather together as a community, all of us, and we call upon all the saints and all the angels, and all of us together are saying, “Holy, holy, holy.” It’s all whole. It’s all one. It’s all healthy.
It’s all life-giving, all of it, but how many of us think about the dead in that way? Because saints are the people that are dead. We as Catholics have a system of canonizing people, and we think, we can pray to and ask the people who are really holy and we know are in heaven, because they performed miracles of intercession — we say, “Well, they are the saints, so we can call upon them.” So you call upon these people that are famous. It used to be they lived a long, long time ago, but now we have saints like — Pope John Paul II is a saint. John XXIII has been canonized. People that lived in the time that we live have been made saints, and so the interesting thing about that is, when we call upon the saints, that’s not what it means. It means we call upon all those who’ve died, and in the Eucharistic prayer, we say, “Those who have died believing in you,” and I love this line in the Eucharistic prayer. It says, “For those who have died in your mercy.” Those who die in your mercy, what a nice thought. Those who die in your mercy means there are people who die, and it is his mercy that brings them into union with him after life and fills into sainthood. So we call upon the dead, and then we also call upon all the angels. So I’m thinking, “Alright, are we aware in our daily life of all these sources of life around us that we have these people who are deceased, and they’re there around us, interested in us, caring for us?” How many people have had someone die and yet feel, either in a dream or in a symbol or something that they’re right there? They’re saying, “I’m here.” How many people have had friends who have died and feel like they are absolutely partners with them in everything they’re doing? It’s beautiful. That’s a whole source of — it’s a gift. It’s a simple gift that is there for us, and we just often don’t pay attention to it, or don’t know that it is there.
And angels are the other thing that is so fascinating. These creatures, who are they? It’s hard to imagine that — in the scripture we had last week, it said that sin, evil didn’t come from God but came from some angels who refused to accept the plan of God, who just said, “I’m not going to go with this thing about human beings becoming conscious beings that can choose to love God.” Somehow God wants and longs for someone to love him, not because he’s telling them, “If you don’t, I’ll punish you,” or not telling them that there’s something that, if they don’t do it, “I will make you do it.” No, it’s like God wanted people to freely choose to love him because they want to, and that’s the only thing that God has created in the world that has that power. Some of the angels were really — they were envious, jealous. Even though angels are higher beings than we are, we have something that nothing else in creation has — the freedom to love God or not. Nature is in perfect harmony with God. Trees don’t want to be anything but trees. A cherry tree doesn’t want to grow bananas, but human beings have been given something that enables us to choose. “I don’t like what I do. I want to be somebody else. I want to be what people want me to be. I want to be what the world wants me to be or what my parents want me to be or whatever.” It’s so frightening, that thing in human beings that feels that they have to be something for someone else, or even more devastating, they have to be something for themselves, meaning they have an image of themselves that is less than what it really is. Therefore they have to try to have something that makes them more valuable.
I would say the greatest thing that separates people from the world, from each other, from God, is this feeling that we are not enough. We’re not enough. We’re not good enough. We’re not holy enough. We’re not religious enough, but how can it be that we’re not enough when we’ve been given this incredible gift? How can we not see that gift if we understand how unique we are in all of God’s creation? What a privilege it is to be the ones who are called to be these sources of affirmation. It sounds strange that God needs affirmation, but if he is a lover, he needs to be loved. And if we choose to love him, that must be so wonderful because it’s wonderful for us. Nothing is better than somebody loving us, not because we want them to, not because we need them to, not because they need to — because they want to. It’s the thing that connects us. It’s the thing that makes us one. So that is the challenge. How do you enter into a world that is one, that is there for me, where everything is connected? It is the source of everything, and it is an act of faith.
Father, your love for us, your goodness, your beauty is beyond our imagining, and how sad it is that we somehow are blinded from seeing you as you truly are, seeing you as the God who is there to minister to us. Most especially to give us the gifts that we long for, most especially the gift of being able to love and to give it and to receive it. So bless us with the wisdom that is always in your message so, as we digest it, as we integrate it into our lives, it will become the source of joy that it’s intended to be, and we’ll find the peace that is our inheritance. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.