Homily for the Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Given at Saint Aloysius Parish, Pewee Valley
August 17 & 18, 2013
It is nice to be home, it is nice to be home and it is even nicer to be here doing this, proclaiming the Word of God for you and expounding upon that Word in a homily. Dreams, anxieties, anticipation, and many many years of work and prayer have gone into the formation that I received in preparation to be right here, right now. That fact, like these readings for today, might frighten you a little, but we’ll get back to that.
First I want to reflect for a moment on that word nice. I used it there at the very beginning… it’s nice to be home; please don’t get me wrong, that is true and all, but the word nice just doesn’t really indicate that which I fully mean. I remember it vividly, my sister once told me – in the way that only younger sisters can – that I should be nice because I’m a seminarian. I was probably poking fun at her or something… imagine! Anyways, I responded with “if by nice you mean I should lie, then forget all of this.” The truth is that nice is often used to do two things: to say that the thing in question is good enough and/or to sugarcoat the truth of the matter by accentuating the limited but true positive qualities that the subject does possess. Take Christians for example… they’re nice Christians. What do you think of when you think of nice Christians in this context? Are you a nice Christian, am I a nice Christian? All the while Christ himself is saying to us how I wish it were already blazing!
How I wish it were already blazing! Now if you ask me that’s not nice, oh no, that’s real! That’s Christ talking about true disciples, not nice disciples, not nice Christians, but rather that is Christ talking about true Christians, true Christians willing to get into the mess and filth of a broken and sometimes blazing world. I warned you this might be a little frightening! And if you’re not frightened, frightened at least a little, then you’re probably either stuck on being nice, or you’re in a nice sleep right now. Either way it’s right there in our Gospel: Christ coming to set the world on fire and cause division instead of peace. Jesus! You should be nicer! You are a Christian after all! A nice Christian!
It is all throughout our readings, this insistence the world has for followers of God to be nice. The Jews wanted Jeremiah to be nice, believe me Jeremiah was not nice: Jeremiah spoke the truth and caused division. So what did they do with this troublemaker? They threw Jeremiah into a cistern. Now a cistern could have been a well from which clean drinking water came, but why throw a man into your clean water? Instead I imagine them throwing Jeremiah into a sewer. Now that is not nice at all! If that is what it might take to be a true disciple them I tell you that scares me! I have a little OCD, and by a little I mean a lot, and the thought of being in a sewer, nope I could not deal. This cuts both ways you see, true discipleship is scary for all who are called to follow God’s way. Paul too is talking about running the race to win it, to win the race against the opposition from sinners. A nice Christian may want to stop and make sure that the opposition is smoothed over, at least a bit; Paul here is saying to run right past them and let your joy in Christ challenge them to run the race as well. A true disciple is a runner, not someone who just makes their way eventually.
I was speaking with a friend of mine recently, she makes jewelry, nice jewelry let’s say. I think she would agree that it can always get better, so we’ll say nice jewelry. Anyway she was talking about how many people would assume that jewelry comes out of a nice clean process. Instead she described a process of fire, heat, shaping of metals, dust, dirt, and even the use of acid to clean the metal after all of this upheaval has taken place. We don’t see all of that do we? We just see the beautiful jewelry that comes out of this tumultuous process. The formation of Christian disciples is a lot like that, except the end product is our eternity in heaven; that is when we get to fully shine. We may see, and others may see, a glimpse every now and again of that beauty while on earth. The true glory, however, is waiting for us and I pray we can hardly recognize one another when we get there, after the dust and ash of this life are finally cleaned away.
Our readings, our Gospel message, for weeks now have been about building discipleship. Today’s Gospel especially warns us that this is not an easy process. Discipleship is not something where everyone will get along as a nice big happy family. Instead, at times, there will be division. Sometimes that division will be among friends, sometimes among coworkers, sometimes even among families. This is not to say that personal salvation is the only thing we are to be concerned about, we’re Catholic and the community means too much for us to take such an individualistic path. Our example is the key; instead of trying to force someone into becoming a disciple, we invite discipleship. Returning to the running analogy of Paul, to stop running is to stop being a disciple; to stop and try to convince a bystander to run would be to stop running. Paul, as the coach, is instead yelling at us to “keep running!” Believe me this race is too long to only pass a bystander once, this race is on a circular track and you’ll pass by people who are close to you numerous times; eventually they may get bored of simply standing there and decide to run the race as well. It may not be nice to pass people like that but if you are burning with the fire of discipleship that fire may catch in their hearts as well.
Bear with me for a moment, I’ve always wanted to add a certain visual quality to a homily and I can think of no better occasion than my first time preaching back home.
[Go get the crucifix and return to ambo]
This is it folks. This is what it is all about. It is through this that we have our salvation. It is through this that we have the Eucharist and the Church; and this is not nice. This is anything but nice! This is blood, tears, pain; this is standing on the edge of despair. This is the reality of discipleship! And this is what Paul says we should be running toward! Filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit all of us young and old, all of us woman and man, all of us nice and not so nice! We are all called to run this race keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus on the cross, keeping our eyes fix on Jesus raised from the dead, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus in the Eucharist and, through the Eucharist, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ found in each and every one of us. My sisters and brothers I wish to expound upon what I said at the beginning. It is nice to be home; it is also good and true that I am home. It is good that I am home where I first learned what discipleship is all about. I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!