Archive for the ‘20th Sunday’ Category

Human Beings Get Tired! 8-20-2017

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

There are so many great stories about Jesus. Jesus curing the blind; Jesus feeding the multitude; Jesus embracing children; Jesus the consummate contemplative in prayer; Jesus sensitive to the point of knowing when someone in a crowd touches his garment; Jesus reading people’s hearts like a book. Jesus giving his life away like bread and wine.
And then we have today. How many preachers have profoundly wished this story wasn’t here. And maybe skipped it, or tried to explain it away by saying Jesus was really just joking with the lady. But when a child is sick, you don’t joke with a mother. Or when he used the word dogs, he meant “little puppies”. Or he was just pretending to be blunt and grumpy, but really that was just to elicit deeper faith and deeper seeking from the woman, or maybe from the apostles.
Possible….but it sounds like rationalization. And maybe the true sense of the scripture is the plain sense. But if that’s so, what in here is edifying or saving?
First, a detail. The Gospel doesn’t say Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. He withdrew. Withdraw is what people do when they’re tired, spent, drained. Withdraw mentally, withdraw emotionally, even downright physical withdraw. And Jesus had his reasons to withdraw. In the previous chapter, Herod beheaded John the Baptizer. The apostles reported that the Pharisees were getting shocked by Jesus’ teachings. Jesus is getting a clearer picture of what lies ahead. And he needed to withdraw, to some anonymous place so God could restore him.
Human beings get tired. Jesus’ divine nature was unlimited, but his human nature was limited. So he needed to withdraw. For us – a question. Do you have enough sense to withdraw when you’re spent? A little blue? A little tired? Let the world turn without you. Can you humbly admit it when there’s nothing more you can do right now? Do you notice when people around you are spent? Do you give them permission to withdraw? Do you help them if necessary, with some mad money, or an offer to baby-sit, or make a meal?
But there’s more here than just that. Jesus once told a story about two sons. The father says to the first son—go to the fields and work. “Yes I will”, comes the answer, but he doesn’t. So the father says to the second son, “You go to the field and work”. “No, I won’t”, comes the spontaneous first response, but after mulling it over, the second son goes and toils. Who is doing the will of his father, Jesus asks? The one who ended up doing right. It’s not your first response that counts; it’s your last and final response.
Even Jesus got tired, spent, blue…even Jesus had to struggle to make the most godly loving tender response and had to change his response when he could, to come from a deeper more loving part of him…then that’s a great lesson of challenge and hope for us.
Sometimes our first responses to a request, a situation, and unattractive person, like the response of Jesus, aren’t our best response. But we don’t have to leave things there. We can lighten up on others and on ourselves. We can give grace time to work. We can be humble enough and free of stubbornness enough, to say…well, that’s my first response. But, I’m capable, in God, of something better.
What would happen if parents always stuck with their first response to a nagging kid, in the middle of anger? We can change responses. And today, that’s what Jesus himself does.
So we can ask, “Is my response to people I’m upset at, sometimes over a long stretch of time, really my best response, my deepest response, from Christ in my heart? Is my reaction to the immigrants who come to fill our city streets and use our services really my best reaction – my most Christian reaction? Is my aversion to people who question me, contradict me, or stymie my desire for a simple uncomplicated life, really my best reply – my Christian reply? Am I so stubborn that I haven’t changed, deepened, and matured my response to things for a long time?
Jesus wasn’t like that. We don’t have to be either.

Division 8-14-2016

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

My initial response to today’s Gospel reading is to resist it. I find it very difficult to think of Jesus as a divisive person. It is much easier for me to regard him as a healer of human relationships. I have seen too many fragmented families and felt their pain. When fathers and sons cannot even be civil to one another, it is very sad. And when mothers and daughters stop speaking to each other, it is heartbreaking. How can we believe that Jesus is the source of such division?
In most cases, it is clear that he is not. Something else is ripping the family apart. My sense is that, if given the chance, Jesus would heal the alienation in such a home. And I am sure that he is not pleased with the division of the people involved. A little three-year-old girl, who could not yet pronounce her “r” sounds, said to a friend, “My mommy and daddy ah sepawated.” Do you think our Lord caused that? Do you think he is pleased with that? Not a chance in the world. I have no doubt that he weeps with that child.
Still the words of today’s Reading cannot be denied. Jesus clearly said: “Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? I assure you the contrary is true. I have come for division.”
What then, is the meaning of these strange words about division?
It is obvious that Jesus did not get along with everybody. He did not walk around with a smile plastered on his face, spreading the good will everywhere. Otherwise, how did he manage to get himself crucified? Why did he tell his disciples that the world would hate them, just as it had hated him?
He was often in conflict. And almost always, the dividing line was the sacredness of human person. The people of his own home town wanted to kill him. What was the source of that conflict? It was his insistence that God cared for Gentiles just as he did for Jews. He often clashed with the Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath. The issue that drove them apart was his conviction that helping people was more important than keeping the law. He came to the rescue of a woman who had been caught in adultery. The guardians of public morality were ready to stone her to death. Again, the issue was keeping the law or helping people. And he always came down on the side of helping people.
Jesus resisted abuse of others with all the intensity of his soul. He even died for it. Robert Louis Stevenson put it like this: “It is our cheek that we are to turn. But when another’s face is struck, perhaps a bit of the lion would become us best.”
You and I have no right to stand by and watch the strong trample on the weak. We are to take a stand, even if the abuser is a member of our own family. People have done that. And it has driven a wedge between them and the ones they love. A young man was making a determined effort to live out his Christian faith. His father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The son confronted him and said: “What you are doing is wrong. And I must resist it.” His father ordered him out of the house and never spoke to him again.
Something like that is what Jesus had in mind, when he said, “I have come for division.” The sacredness of the human person is the only issue I can conceive of where it is wrong to compromise.
In closing, it is easy to talk of “Jesus meek and mild,” and to portray the infant in the crib as lovable, and the Crucified One as forgiving. It is easy to criticize and oppose evildoers on the other side of the world, people like Hitler and Saddam Hussein. It is by no means so easy to take a stand on moral issues right at home which divide our society. But we cannot avoid the cutting edge of the gospel or the commitment that goes along with our baptism. We cannot accept, nor should we live by, a cushioned Christianity, a velvet cross, a vertical expression of faith concerned only with “God and myself.” Nor can we exclude those neighbors we don’t like. Christian life and witness is difficult. In fact, it would be impossible without the example of Jesus, and the grace of God.
Lord, give us the courage to follow you – even though it causes us to struggle – even though it causes us to be persecuted – even though, sometimes, it sets us in opposition to our families & friends & society – let us never forget that there is actually one thing worse than evil itself, and that is indifference to evil. Amen.