Hi everyone. Here's my homily for the 20 th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 18, 2013. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/081813.cfm . Thanks as always for reading, sharing and your feedback! God Bless, Fr Jim
Two words I never imagined saying, but there we are. Alex Rodriguez has been on both the front and back covers of every News tabloid, the subject of many articles in local papers, and the punch lines to late night comedians for as long as I can remember him first arriving in New York as a member of the Yankees. But now more than ever as allegations emerged that he was found to once again have used illegal steroids the press has been even more vicious than usual.
In the interest of full disclosure, I can't say that I've been very sympathetic. In fact those opening words of my homily are somewhat sarcastic. But only somewhat. Because when I separate the "Yankee fan" part of myself who is just disgusted by yet another over-paid; celebrity/athlete who seems to go around more interested in calling attention to himself than simply playing the game (for a ridiculous amount of money) there is a part of me that genuinely feels bad for the guy. Just as a human being - to see your name in headlines mocking you. To stand in your own stadium and wonder how many are booing and how many are cheering for you... Thats gotta be tough.
And the thing that has been somewhat bizarre to watch is how much division among fans and players has resulted over this one man. In fact reporters were attempting to determine what percentage of fans at a game are actually booing or cheering (no kidding, there was an article about that) Players and coaches in press conferences go from saying what sounds like prepared talking points of support but at least body language wise it appears pretty half-hearted. You get the sense, no matter whether you support him or can't stand the guy, that A-rod has caused great division. He's even being blamed for the fact that the Yankees are in second to last place. (Again, my own fan-dom causes me to go back and forth from agreeing with that to realizing that's a bit of a stretch)
A-rod seemed to be the most recent, high profile example I could think of in terms of a "divisive figure" (or at least the only one I was willing to use as an example!) And just reflecting on this somewhat meaningless example (yes, even though I'm a yankee fan, I realize life will go on whether they are in first or last place at the end of the season... call that growth for me:) ) But just to recognize the extremes of feelings that people have in regards to this one person is interesting. Imaging how players in the locker room must be frustrated by how distracting this is for the team, the game... We can go on and on exploring how destructive "division" can be just in this one instance.
Which is why when reading today's Gospel, it's so jarring to hear how Jesus talks about bringing division. And not just among nameless, faceless groups of people that don't matter to us. He talks about it in much more personal, direct, intimate terms -- FATHER against SON; MOTHER against DAUGHTER... Using examples that touch on the closest relationships human beings experience. Why would Jesus want that? Why would we want to participate in that?
The more I've reflected on it, the more I come to the realization that Jesus isn't saying every family will be torn apart because of Him, but he puts that dramatic example out there as a possibility. Because what Jesus wants us to realize is that following Him, loving Him requires a complete and total choice on our parts that will ultimately separate us from those who don't follow Him. There's no middle ground when it comes to being a follower of Jesus Christ.
Because when we take into account the totality of his teachings - we realize he's more than just a great teacher we can pick and choose what to listen to. As C.S. Lewis once said - either Jesus Christ is who he says He is, or he's simply a mad man, who got what he deserved (death on a cross) for claiming to be what he called himself the son of God.
And for those of us who do believe He is what He says He is... we have to realize that impacts all aspects of who we are, what we do. Yes it does have to have an impact on the entertainment we allow to amuse ourselves. Yes it does need to cause us to reflect on how we -- each of us individually -- take care of the poor, the needy, the sick. Yes it does have to guide our daily relationships and interactions from our families to even those people I can't stand at work, or in the dorm or in the classroom... Yes, it even has to impact my politics, who I vote for, how I get involved in the decisions that affect the community, the state, the country that I find myself in.
And those things can be, to put it mildly, extremely unpleasant. But in order for Jesus to truly set the world "on fire" with the power that His Love holds within - the power to heal, and transform and reconcile and make new -- in order for that to happen Jesus can't tolerate (and doesn't expect his disciples to tolerate) things that temper that, diminish Him and His message, jeopardize His pathways of freedom and redemption.
The writer in the Second Reading of the Letter to the Hebrews recognized the depth of what Jesus is talking about, which is why his words to us are so important where he reminds us that we are to "rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus."
May you and I discover as we do just that not the pain of the division we experience with a world trying to tempt and sway us into being distracted from that singular focus, but the utter joy of being His, and His alone.