Sunday, August 4, 2013
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Friend, who has set me up as your judge and arbitrator?” These words of Jesus are strikingly similar to the words of Pope Francis as he returned to Rome after being with 3 million young people for Word Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. “Who am I to judge?” the Pope asked, of someone searching for the Lord and who has good will. “Who am I to judge?”
Jesus seldom offered a blatant judgment of another person. Rather, he most often did what he did in the event described in today’s Gospel reading. Demurring, he went on to give a parable. He helped people to understand right from wrong, led their minds and souls to think, reflect, and distinguish right from wrong. No one went away from this event without a judgment having been made. Jesus taught; He didn’t judge. He taught others to make judgments for themselves.
Walk the aisles of any grocery store. They are filled from top to bottom with instant food: no preparation necessary, just open and eat. A generation ago, “instant food” meant opening a package, putting the contents into a pot, adding water, and boiling. Today that’s too much trouble. We want to open the package and consume the product immediately, then toss it away and move on with life. It matters little that the nutritional value of the food has been sucked away by all the processing and homogenizing that goes into that little box: we just want to pop open the container, eat the contents, toss it aside, and walk away.
The crowds repeatedly asked Jesus for instant answers to their questions and instant solutions to their problems. I suspect some of us do that today as well. I know I do. “Lord, give me a quick answer and let me get along with my life.” But Jesus has a way of grabbing your thoughts and heart and conscience, and stopping you from acting instantly.
When the question was put to Jesus, he was being asked to provide instant food: yes or no, black or white, right or wrong, up or down. Jesus refused. Now, to be sure, there was a right and a wrong in this case, as in most cases presented to Jesus. He just wasn’t going to provide the easy answer. Instead, He led His listeners to think for themselves and reach their own conclusion, their own judgment. You see, He doesn’t want our obedience or agreement as much as He wants our hearts.
A reporter asked Pope Francis why he hadn’t used the occasion of World Youth Day to preach on individual topics of Catholic doctrine. He had three million young people in one spot — 3 million — why didn’t he preach against the evils of modern society, or teach the moral doctrine of the Church about specific issues. His answer was simple: you already know well what the Church teaches on these issues, such as abortion or homosexual marriage, immigration reform, social justice, artificial contraception, and the just progress of peoples. Pope Francis said he preferred to speak of the positive actions of God’s grace that will lead to spiritual growth and trust in how God works through the Church. The rest will fall into place.
A very effective preacher and retreat director was asked a number of years ago what his secret was. His answer: “I paint in bold, broad strokes, and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to the individual about the particulars.”
It is unlikely that a 6 minute homily could do justice to the richness of the Church’s doctrine on any particular issue. Doctrine does not lend itself to instant food. A homily does no service to God or man if it allows the listener to pop open the box, consume the contents, then toss it away and get on with life.
Oh, to be sure, you can find churches and pseudo-churches where instant answers are the norm, but here the work of Jesus continues: to teach, to guide, to shepherd, to lead, to form, not to give quick answers. Discipline is easy; discipleship is rigorous.
Walk through the entrances of our parish church and find books and CDs and DVDs. They are there without charge as part of our parish stewardship. I’d like to see the shelves empty after every Sunday! Read through the parish bulletin and find classes and workshops and retreats and Bible studies and times for prayer and fellowship. Tune into Catholic radio and television. Our parishioner Joe Bahret even has an entire religious goods store in the West Shore Farmers’ Market where richer, deeper, longer answers can be found to questions.
Jesus could have offered quick and easy answers, but that’s what the Pharisees did. That would have prolonged the legalism and minimalism so rampant in the religion of His world, and in ours as well. On the contrary, the work of Jesus is to give us the tools to make our own decisions in life, to render our own judgments, to be formed in right and wrong so as to know the difference. Let Jesus be your teacher; let Jesus feed you: not instant food, but food that lasts for eternal life, the bread of life itself.
August 4, 2013
Msgr. William J. King