Sunday, August 26, 2018

You Must Remember! - Homily for the 21st Sunday in OT

One of the reasons why I believe that the Gospels are true is that they sometimes give us details that are unflattering and messy. This morning, we hear that many of the disciples left Jesus. That's an unflattering and messy truth-- because isn't He the Messiah? Why would people leave Him? Yes, it's that our Gospels speak these very real and perennial truths (even when they are messy) that I believe them.

So the question remains: Why? Why did many of the disciples leave? And, as a follow up, why didn't Jesus go after them?

Let's answer that first question: why did they leave? The disciples leave for two reasons [and a third here added].

First, what Jesus said was scandalous. Imagine you are going into Panera Bread Co and someone approaches you and says, "Hey, if you want to get into heaven, you have to eat my flesh." How would you react? I know how I would: I would say, get away from me. Weirdo.

But here's the thing: what if that person was known for healing people and for raising the dead? What if he had some... credibility?

Didn't Jesus have some credibility? Hadn't He just performed two of His most iconic miracles on just the day before?-- namely, the walking on water and the multiplication of the loaves? Sure, Jesus may have sounded weird, but what about those miracles?

This is the second reason why the disciples left: they forgot about the miracles and did not credit it to Jesus' credibility. Had they remembered, they may have been slower to leave and quicker to stay.

[[[A third reason-- and it's a historical one. At the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus is announced by John the Baptist. John points to Jesus and says, "Behold, the Lamb of God..." John is alluding to the Lamb of the Passover Supper (that's when Moses, at God's direction, instructed the people to take a lamb, kill it, smear its blood on the doorposts, and eat it. The reason for this was that, if this sacrifice was offered and followed, the people would be saved from the Angel of Death and delivered from Egypt). John points to Jesus and says, "Behold the Lamb of God... who takes away the sins of the world"-- in essence, He who frees us from this spiritual Pharaoh (the devil) and his slavery (namely, sin).

The people see the connection between this and when Jesus says that they must eat Him (one of the requirements of the Passover Lamb) and they put two and two together: if Jesus is the New Passover Lamb, that means that He must also be killed (for that was another requirement of the Passover Lamb).

This is too much for the people. They came out to follow a Messiah that would overthrow the Romans and give the people power and riches. They didn't come out to follow someone who was going to be killed. They didn't want to follow a loser-- they wanted a winner. So they left.]]]

And notice: this wasn't about a hard teaching on marriage or some matter of morality. The people were leaving because of the New Passover-- which we call the Eucharist.

***

This brings us to the second question: Why didn't Jesus go after them?

First, it's because they understood correctly. They may have judged Jesus incorrectly, but they understood the teaching correctly. Jesus didn't have to run after them and say, "Hey, you misunderstood!"

Second, it's because He had already given them everything necessary to stay with Him. He had given them the miracles. And not just the walking on water. He had healed their sick and expelled the demons and even raised their dead. What more did they need?

Here's an aside: many people think that Christians are just supposed to have "blind faith"-- a faith that just blindly follows. That's not Christianity. Jesus calls us to faith, but He gives us reasons. This is important. If we don't have reasons-- if we forget the miracles and the graces, for example-- we will fall away. Remember how I started this homily: I told you one of the reasons why I believe. You should have reasons, too.

This is important because Jesus turns to Peter and asks Peter a poignant question-- a question that every Christian must answer: "Do you want to leave as well?" Or, in other words: "Do you have a reason to stay?"

Imagine it: Peter has just heard the same things the crowd has heard. He has seen the same things. And he has seen half of them leave. Can you imagine his thoughts, the scandal, the struggle to believe?

Peter's faced with the same razor's edge that Joshua posed to the people in our first reading when Joshua said "Decide! ... Decide today whom you will serve."

***

Peter responds quite honestly and in a way that I often find myself responding these days. Peter says "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life." 

In other words:
Lord, I don't understand how you are going to give us your flesh to eat and what this whole New Passover Lamb thing means. But, Lord, in the past-- in fact, just last night-- I saw your grace at work, "great miracles before [my] very eyes." You have "protected [me] along [my] entire [life's] journey"; you "brought [me]... out of slavery." And when you called me, something resonated in my heart such that I left everything so as to follow you. I have nothing else to go to. So, Lord, it's a choice between you or nothing. I choose you.

Notice: Peter is able to accept the hard teaching because he remembers the miracles and, from that, Peter gives Jesus his trust.

***

Are there any other hard teachings that we encounter today? I can think of two.

Firstly, the second reading has that line, "Wives, be subordinate to your husbands."

Let me simply say that if your husband elbowed you in the ribs at that line, he misunderstood it.

What is this passage about? Is it about men and women? Look closer. Paul says, "I tell you a great mystery and I speak in reference to Christ and His Church."

In other words, Paul isn't firstly talking about your marriage. Paul's talking about His-- Jesus'-- marriage. Jesus is the groom; the Church is the bride.

And what Paul is getting at is: if we don't understand how Jesus treats the Church and how the Church is to treat Jesus, then we will not understand how husbands and wives are to treat each other.

Or, to put it another way: Paul knows his scripture and he knows that, in the beginning, the battle of the sexes and the domination over women came not as God's plan, but as the result of sin. So why would Paul, a saint who rails against sin and who follows Jesus (Jesus who upheld women to the scandal of that day's culture)-- why would Paul encourage a structure of sin?

The fact is: Paul does not encourage such sin. Rather, he proposes something revolutionary. "Look at Jesus," he is saying. "See how Jesus lowered Himself even to the point of washing Peter's feet (for those who have power must use it to serve)." This is the scandal of God: that He so lowered Himself and became subordinate to humanity.

And to what purpose? Jesus's goal is to bring His bride, the Church, to heaven. He will do this by laying down His life.

Therefore, "husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church."

To the ladies, Paul then says, "Wives, is the bride of Christ called to love and follow Him?" Of course-- every Christian is called to follow Jesus. Paul then says, "Wives, would you follow Jesus-- knowing that His whole purpose is to bring you to heaven and that He will lay down His life for you to see it through?" What woman wouldn't?

Then Paul says, "Be subordinate to your husbands as to the Lord." In other words, if your husband is sitting at the feet of Jesus, if your husband's goal is to bring you to heaven, if he is laying down his life for you, then why wouldn't you go where he goes?"

The problem is, of course, is two-fold: one, that many husbands don't sit at the feet of Jesus and take on His ways; and two, many husbands who do take on His ways are not loved-- just like many in the Church don't love Jesus even though He loves them.

So, what are we to do?

Remember the graces.

Remember the graces of your marriage. Remember the miracles that have happened together. Remember what Jesus has done for you. "And be subordinate to each other out of reverence to Christ" who has been subordinate to you!

Help each other to remember. Build each other up. Wives, look for those reasons to believe in your husband again; husbands, look for ways to deepen the reasons for your wife to believe in you again!

***

That was the first hard teaching. The second hard teaching is much, much briefer. And it comes from the last two lines of the Sixth Chapter of John. For some reason, they are omitted from today's Gospel reading (you can find them in your Bible at home, however). Anyway. After Peter remembers the miracles and makes his statement of faith, Jesus responds:
Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.
What's going on here? Jesus is saying: 
Ok, Peter, good. You remember and you are with me. But this is not the only time you will not understand. This is not the only time that you will be scandalized. One of your own-- not the crowds, not the people in the pews-- but one of your own, an Apostle and a bishop like you, will betray me. One of your own is going to be the cause of scandal.

And what will you do then? Will you remember the miracles? Will you remember the graces? Will you proclaim a living faith then?




I think such words are important in our times. I addressed the clergy scandals at length in my previous homily and noted many things that we as a church must do, from support of victims, to holding people accountable, and so on (and you can find that homily on my webpage).

But I think another thing we must do during these times-- the mission that we have-- is twofold:

One: remember. Remember the miracles; remember the graces. God is with us; His Eucharist, His Presence is here. And He gave that on the very night He was betrayed by an Apostle, a bishop. Jesus foresaw what would happen and He gave us all the reasons to keep on believing.

Two: go out and help people remember. Help a scandalized and unbelieving world to remember that there are miracles and graces and reasons to believe.

This is our faith. This is our hope. Let us proclaim that now and ask our Lord to strengthen us in it.

St. Theodore, pray for us! +

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