Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Gap - Homily for the 23rd Sunday in OT (C)

Did He get your attention?

Here we are, just another Sunday, a group of disciples following the Lord, and our Lord turns and says:

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife … children, brothers … sisters, … his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.

Did I hear that right? Did Jesus just tell us to hate? … Does He have your attention?

Jesus wants your attention. No, He doesn’t want you to hate. He upholds the Ten Commandments and tells us to honor our father and mother, after all. And to love our enemies.

So what is going on here?

Well, I think of a young woman who has decided to enter a religious order. And her parents aren’t happy about this. And they say, “Daughter, why are you doing this to us? Why are you leaving us? Do you…. hate us?”

The daughter doesn’t hate them. She loves them. But she simply loves Jesus more—He’s her everything. And He is.

The same thing happens so often when people convert to Christianity. So often, the other family members say, “Why are you converting to the Catholic Church? What did we do wrong? Why do you… hate us?” There’s no hate here—just total love for Jesus. He’s the One Thing—next to which everything else pales.

That’s what Jesus is talking about here. He wants to be the One Thing. That’s why He says that we have to carry our Cross, else we cannot be His disciple. He wants us to love Him more than we love our comforts. The Cross, after all, is a Cross—not a couch.

It’s why Jesus finishes by saying that if we cannot renounce all of our possessions, we cannot be His disciple—that is, if we love our stuff more than we love Him, then He’s not the One Thing in our life. And He doesn’t want to be Number Two. He wants to be Numero Uno. But we often place Him at Number Two—and often we don’t even know it. So, He startles us today. If I'm not your Number One, you cannot be my disciple.

Does He have your attention?

*          *          *

Recently, I listened to a phenomenal CD by Matthew Kelly entitled The Jesus Question. In his talk, Kelly asks a very pointed question, namely:

if I just lived this one gospel reading 100%—not all of Sacred Scripture, not all of Church teaching—just this one reading, 100%, how much would my life change?

For me, if I lived out today’s Sunday Gospel 100%, my life would see a radical change. I will admit that, while I have given up much to be a priest (and I’d happily do it again), I realize that my decision to love God is not a full 100%.

And that teaches me that there’s a gap between my life and the Gospel. And it’s a big gap. And I’m not the only one, right? I mean, as we heard today’s Gospel, we all realized that there’s a big gap between our lives and the Gospel.

What’s strange to me, however, is that when I pray, I don’t pray as though there were a big gap.

I think I’m kind of alright—like I just need… tweaking. I pray, “Lord, help me be patient—but don’t do anything that would give me superhero patience, because, I mean, wow, that would require some serious work. So, Lord, give me … a little more patience.” Tweak me a little, Lord, but that’s all, ok?

But God is not interested in tweaking! He’s interested in transformation! Did He simply tweak Peter’s life? No! He radically transformed it!

The Cross is not here to tweak us. It’s here to transform us.

Jesus is interested in radical transformation precisely because He is radically in love with us. He radically loves us and wants us to love radically—because that’s where true freedom and joy are found.

When I’m a people-pleaser or when I’m constantly seeking out comforts or when I’m jealous or living life for the pursuits of material stuff—when we’re constantly seeking that stuff, we’re not free; we’re slaves! But Jesus came to free us! And when we are freed from all that and put the First Thing first, we become more joyful.

And that’s going to involve a radical transformation.

But how often do I pray for this?—for this radical transformation?—to say to Jesus, “Ok, God, everything is on the table. My family, my career, my health, my finances, my life… everythingit’s all on the table. Do with it as you wish, Lord. You’re in control.”—How often do we make such prayers?

*          *          *

I don’t pray like that because, beyond the obvious exercise in being vulnerable, praying for radical transformation involves a decision about who we think Jesus is.

When I pray to Him as though He can radically transform me and I’ve given Him permission to do so—when I pray to Him like that, I am admitting that He is God and my Savior and that I am not.

But that’s a tough step to take, because—let’s be honest—it’s a lot easier to simply ignore Jesus. It’s a lot easier (at least at first) to ignore how much He radically loves us. And so we are tempted to explain away His hard teachings as relics of the past or, at best, polite suggestions about how we can become nice people—instead of the brutal, brutal Truth: He loves us so, so much!

What’s more, that frightens me. I’m afraid because I don’t know how it is all going to work. Not that it won’t end well (I have hope it will). But I don’t know what the journey is going to look like—that whole going from “here” to “there”; from where I am to where God is calling me.

I have a degree from WashU and other post-graduate degrees, but I find that I’m often not smart enough to see through the jungle of life that is between me and heaven. (I can’t even see my way through this political election!) I hear the first reading again:

Who can know God’s counsel,
or who can conceive what the LORD intends?

For the deliberations of mortals are timid,

and unsure are our plans.
what is within our grasp we find with difficulty…

This is precisely where I have to let God be God—where I have to let Him be my Savior. And notice: transformation is "within our grasp." I find it with difficulty, however, because I think I have to become become holy and have to do life all by myself. We all do that, right?-- go it alone, thinking we got this, I don't need anyone....

Do you remember the Tower of Babel?—it's that Old Testament tower which men built in their pride as an attempt to reach heaven without God’s help It didn't work out too well for them. (And did you notice how Jesus talks about a tower in today's Gospel?). He's saying: Don't make that mistake of trying to go it alone. We need God. He's within our grasp.

*          *          *

This is why He wants to get our attention. He wants to alert us that we can't be His disciples on our own. We require something more than tweaking. We require transformation. And this comes by the Holy Spirit. This is what He wants to give you today. But He needs your permission.

So, what in your life do you need to give to God for transformation? Where is the gap between you and the Gospel? Is there a place in your life where you are ignoring Jesus? Where do you need to let God be God?—He who loves you and died for you and is your Savior and your king.

Let us ask for the grace and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Let us give Him permission to come upon us today and to help us.

Come, Holy Spirit! Come and transform us. You have our permission. Everything is on the table: our families, our careers, our finances, our health…. our entire life. Transform us. Close the gap. Fill us with your glory. Bring us to heaven! Everything is yours!

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