Sunday, January 24, 2016

Homily – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Love and Mercy

NEH 8:2-4a,5-6,8-10
1 COR 12:12-14,27
LUKE 1:1-4, 4:14-21

            Boy do we have a lot of ground to cover with this weekend’s deep and provocative readings.
Today we are getting a snapshot of mercy in our salvation history, and God’s hand in it. These are shocking and beautiful images of God’s love and mercy for us all.
First, from the book of Nehemiah, we follow the Israelites out of their Babylonian exile with the help of their Persian liberators who are called by God to help with the restoration of Israel.  This all happened around 5 BC; 25-hundred years ago.
As the Jews return from exile to their homeland, the people ask their priest and scribe Ezra to read for them the scroll of the Law of Moses.

As they hear the law, they are reminded of what each is called by God to do: put aside our human instincts for selfishness, self-destruction, anger and hatred and replace them with God’s command to love.
In their tears, the Israelite people realize that God’s law was never designed to condemn people, but to teach and lead them to a better way to live. Their tears come from the Word of God convicting their hardened hearts as they are made new again.
The covenant renewing Jubilees in Judaism and in our own Catholic faith come from this special moment in Salvation History.
After Ezra’s reading the people brought out their best food and drink to celebrate renewing their covenant with God and shared them with the needy.
Aren’t we all asked to have this same conversion each time we come to Mass? Aren’t we all supposed to be renewed -- made new again -- by the Eucharist each time we receive it? As people of God, shouldn’t our behavior toward others (especially the marginalized) reflect God’s love and mercy for us all?
            I love the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. We hear portions of it at many weddings: "Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interest, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."
     Today’s reading is the preamble to this important passage in First Corinthians 13. It’s all a letter of love and mercy to a community that was failing to do what St. Paul had originally instructed them to do. They were acting out of selfishness and arrogance toward each other, especially the have-nots, in the up-and-coming port city of Corinth.
Paul finds out how this community is marching down the wrong path with its division and rancor. He writes them a letter soaked in love to scold this bad behavior (I always chuckle about that fact when it’s being read at a wedding).
St. Paul is using the analogy of the body to promote the importance of unity and diversity in the Corinthian community.
Today Paul is reminding us that every Disciple of Christ has a place at the table. Every Disciple of Christ has a gift to be shared by his or her community. We are all a part of the Body of Christ. There are no lesser Christians.
How apropos for today’s Catholic, Christian or larger world faith community, especially for people who try to stake out ground as living as perfect followers of God, condemning others for not living or worshipping the way they do.
God and St. Paul are reminding us today to never fall into this trap, because this trap is not of God.
Disharmony, discord, rancor are not of the Lord. Only love, harmony and peace are.
Do we sometimes fall into this trap in how we act as Catholics? Do we sometimes think we are living perfect Christian lives by condemning others we think are not? Do we promote unity or disunity?  Do we honor the unique diversity found in the body of Christ here in Everett? (PAUSE)
Then we come to my favorite Gospel writer Luke. Yes, we are in the Year of Luke in our Catholic Church lectionary, the Gospel of Mercy, in THIS the Jubilee Year of Mercy as declared by Pope Francis.
Pope Francis’ actions since being elevated to Pope in 2013 are cause of alarm for some Catholics. They worry he’s going to ruin the Church.
Take as a case in point this week’s action to change the Roman Missal to officially allow the washing of women’s feet on Holy Thursday (We’ve done that in our parish community for years!).
If you want to see rancor, disharmony and discord by Catholics opposed to this change just log on to the comment sections of articles about the move.
You would think we are a faith at war.
This war has many sides, including ardent supporters of Pope Francis who would use his words and actions as tool to beat those who disagree with the Holy Father. 

At times, we all forget the words from St. Paul, “[love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude…”
This is exactly Jesus’ point in today’s Gospel. Jesus is reminding  us pious sanctimony at the exclusion of those marginalized in the world is not what God commands. In coming out of exile, Ezra did the same thing by sharing the Law of Moses.
Jesus returns home to Nazareth, a place he’s known simply as a carpenter’s son to the townspeople, and shocks them with his words.
Jesus is announcing good news to the poor, blind, in captivity, oppressed and marginalized – the outcasts of the people.

In quoting the prophetic words of Isaiah, he officially launches his ministry by proclaiming the Scripture passage fulfilled in their hearing.
Boy, to be a fly on the wall of that synagogue?
I’m sure all heck broke out after he said that and sat down.
What’s left out of today’s Gospel reading is the reaction of the people of God, the rejection Jesus faced from family, friends and fellow residents of his home town.
His words provoke ire and turn the townspeople’s initial welcome of their hometown boy into hostile rejection. They decide to drive the messiah out of town and were even prepared to throw him off a cliff, but Jesus escapes through the angry crowds.
As one bible scholar puts it: “Some speak highly of Jesus, while others are filled with resentment.
Isn’t that what Pope Francis’ actions are doing to some in our Catholic faith – causing rejection to the Pontiff’s call to all Catholics to lead with love and mercy?

As a people of faith, we are called to adhere to the command of love, no matter how we feel about Pope Francis and his actions or each other. We need to lead with love and mercy with everyone we encounter. Even those whose opinions we disagree with.
Afterall, “Jesus forgave even those who crucified and scorned him.”
As we reflect and pray on these readings this weekend, I ask that we all shine the light of Christ on our hardened hearts. Ask God for healing to the bitterness and discord we feel toward our fellow members of faith, or our Holy Father, or toward people in our society who we may look down upon: the captive, the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless; all those God calls us to be present to in showing our love and our mercy to a broken, dysfunctional world as we build up God’s Kingdom here on earth.
On a side note, I announced last week I’m leaving my fulltime position at Archbishop Murphy High School at the end of the school year to run a non-profit based in Everett that will provide street ministry to the most marginalized people in our society today: men, women and children living in homelessness on the streets.
I will continue to pastorally serve the AMHS community as their deacon, but will put most my time and energy into this important initiative God’s been calling my heart to since ordination.
If you’re heart calls you to join us, we’ll be taking names in the vestibule after Mass to launch this ecumenical effort called MercyWatch.
I pray you’ll join us.  If you’re unable to join us, please pray for our efforts.
May God continue to bless each and every one of us as we step out of the captivity of the sin of division, magnify our gifts as members of the Body of Christ and live as a people of love and mercy as WE “proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Amen.