Sunday, June 30, 2019

"All In" - Homily Notes for the 13th Sunday in OT (C)

Have you ever heard the phrase “All in”? 

Related imageI first heard the phrase long ago and in connection with a game of cards. The card game was Poker—specifically, Texas Hold Em. And the phrase, “All in,” was used when one of the players bet everything he had. Typically, among buddies, “All in” doesn’t amount to much. But in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas—well, I have seen a card player bet over $100,000 “All in.” What that means is that he is risking $100,000 on one set of cards. If he loses, he loses everything. If he wins-- what an exciting win. Either way, there’s no going back. “All in.”

That’s the theme of today’s readings.

* * *

In the first reading, Elijah the prophet approaches Elisha and calls him to be his successor. This was an amazing moment. (Elijah is one of the biggest “names” in the prophet world—we even see him at Jesus’ Transfiguration). When Elisha realizes that this “big name” is calling him, Elisha embraces the invitation and follows him.

But, before Elisha follows him, Elisha kills all of the oxen that he has, burns the yokes and farming equipment, and says goodbye to his parents. Why does Elisha do this?

Because there is a temptation in the past: that is, once you choose a certain “way” in life, it is so easy to turn back around and ask “what if?" Nostalgia, the-grass-is-greener moments—temptations like that happen when times inevitably become difficult. Today, it's Facebook to reignite past flames. The past can haunt us. So, Elisha kills the oxen and burns the yokes. He goes “All in,” risking it all, no turning back.

(And please note: Elisha is not poor. When it says he has “twelve yoke of oxen,” the ancients would have heard “rich man.” Elisha is not a poor man who borrows an ox. No, Elisha has twelve yoke of oxen! In other words, Elisha’s bet on Elijah is huge).

In a way, by giving up his inheritance, Elisha is turning to God and echoing the Psalm: “You are my inheritance, O Lord.”

* * *

Fast-forward to the Gospel.

In the Gospel, we see Jesus calling people to follow him. One man responds, saying: “Lord, let me first bury my father.”

This is not a flippant request by the man. The man’s father just died. In fact, what the man is asking to do is a good thing. Burying one’s father is one of the corporal works of mercy (ie, “bury the dead”) and it fulfills the Mosaic law (“Honor your father and your mother”).

But Jesus says to him: “Let the dead bury their dead.” 

What does this mean? And why does Jesus say this? I mean, it almost sounds cold-hearted. So, what’s going on here?

Jesus is showing the man the importance of the moment—and not just of the moment, but of the One who is inviting him to “follow me.” Here’s what Jesus is saying:

I know that your father has died. But I am the One who made him and who can raise him from the dead. In fact, I am the One who gave you the Law that you know, that Law that says to honor him. I want you to know, therefore, that I am God. The most important One right now is the One who is speaking to you. Follow me and trust that your father will be taken care of. So follow me.

Go "all in."

* * *

But how is this any different than the first reading? Isn’t this just a repetition?

Actually, there is something new going on here. To get to that, we must take a brief detour into history….

When a person would die in Jesus’ day, the faithful Jewish person would wrap the deceased’s body in linen and place the body in a cave—much like what we saw when Jesus died. The body would be left there for a year to decompose and, after a year, the family would return to the cave and collect the bones to be buried in a niche nearby—so, in a year, there would be a “second burial.”

Therefore, when the man says, “Let me bury my father,” the man is saying, “Jesus, look, I have some important family things going on right now. I get your invitation, but it’s going to have to wait a year. How about I follow you … then.”

This is why Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their dead.” He’s saying to the man:

Look, you honored him in the first burial. But you need to follow me now. This is urgent and we can’t wait for a year. If you believe that I am the Messiah, you need to go all in and you need to do so now.

* * *

I don’t know about you, but this is challenging.

What comforts me is the next thing that Jesus says. He says:

Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head.

In other words:

I already have bet everything. I risked it all—even my home, my bed—I have nothing left because I have gone all in for love of you and my Father.

We see the crucifix all the time, but see it anew: the crucifix is the ultimate “risk.” On the Cross, Jesus is saying, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” He is giving it all—pushing in even His life.

And here’s the thing: Jesus’ bet is riskier than ours. When we bet on Jesus, we are betting on a God who is going to take care of us. Ours is a certain and therefore easy bet when we think about it. But Jesus—Jesus is betting on humans that are changeable and moody and faithless and emotional and greedy…

His bet is riskier than ours. And yet He loves us so much that he makes the bet anyway.

* * *

So, we come to the challenge: are you all in?

* * *

Gut check: you’re already all in.

You are already betting your life on something. The question is: on what are you all in?

For many, we are all in for our job. Or our family. Or our schedules. Or for comfort. We are spending—betting—our entire lives on something. But is it worth it?

Jesus is coming to us today and says, “I want you to bet your life on me.”

And we might say, “Well, Lord, I am betting on you already.”

But, if we are honest, we often hedge our bets. We’re say: “Lord, let me take care of my family first, then I’ll pray to you.” Or, “Lord, let me finish this project, and then we will spend some time.” We give those parts of our life our first and best energies—and we find ourselves giving God our leftovers.

Jesus is saying: “Give me your first. Take the risk. Bet on me.”

When we do that, He assures us like He does the man who just lost his father. Jesus says to us: “I’m going to take care of him. Bet on me here and I will take care of the other stuff you are worried about. Your family, your job—come to me first and you will find that all of the other things will go a lot better than when you were doing it all yourself.”

* * *

If you are intimidated by this or wonder what the next step is, I have two helps for you.

First: our Lord Jesus is coming to you in the Eucharist today. He will help you. Ask Him to help you!

Second: if you don’t know how to go “all in,” let’s take the first step of “upping the ante.” In other words, if you are not an every-single-Sunday-Mass goer, let’s up the ante. Take the next step and make the time for another Mass per month. If you are going every single Sunday, consider adding a daily Mass. (We will be starting a Wednesday evening Mass here at Saint Theodore in the school year). Consider daily prayer if you don’t do so already. If you haven’t been to confession since Lent, let’s get right with God this summer. Maybe the next step is being open to the next step....

These are small steps, “upping the ante,” but as we keep doing them, we will find ourselves all in.

Let us as God for that grace. That we may love Him as He loves us: with a love that risky and total and worth it—a love that is “all in.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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