September 25, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 27, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Suffer the Children, Bloch, c. 1800's
(Click here for today’s readings)

In 2012, El Alto, the second-largest city in Bolivia, enacted a law specifically for indigenous people, to the effect that anyone caught stealing with have his hand cut off. This would be done under anesthetic and doctors will be paid to perform the surgery; but there will be no prison sentence for the criminal. Believe it or not, this law was approved by the city’s indigenous community. I have not been able to discover whether it has ever been enforced.

Could this be what Jesus actually had in mind? Even the classic code of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth never imposed such an extreme punishment for theft. Jesus is not specific about what kinds of sins our hands or feet or eyes could lead us to commit. It doesn’t matter. All sin, and most especially one’s “besetting,” or dominant, sin is to be avoided, and any measures we take, however harsh, to avoid it are better than yielding to it.

A comparable but less violent solution to the problem of temptation exists in our own time, not in law but in common sense practice. It often happens that persons in recovery from addiction find that, if they hope to remain clean and sober, they have to cut themselves off from many of their friends, from the only world some of them have known for years. That requires determination and courage, as well as the support of new friends. Faith is definitely a plus.

The Letter of James is, if possible, harsher even than what we find in the Gospel reading. Martin Luther’s description of James as “an epistle of straw,” is hardly the phrase that would come to mind to anyone reading today’s text. “Epistle of bronze” or “epistle of iron” would be more like it. This diatribe against the rich is so all-encompassing, so uncompromising, that it must be quite embarrassing in some parishes to read it aloud. And yet, isn’t there a place in the Gospels where Jesus himself says that it is extremely hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God?

Moving along to the first part of the Gospel, here is another true story. In 1998, the Greek Orthodox Easter Vigil was taking place at the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. At a certain point the Patriarch enters the tomb of Jesus, and comes out with lighted candles, while all the Greek Orthodox Christians present shout for joy. Apparently some of them consider this their exclusive right, and on that evening in 1998, when an Armenian Christian dared to join in the shouting, one of the Greeks stabbed him! (He wasn’t seriously hurt.)

We see exactly the opposite attitude in the whole business of the sharing of God’s spirit—the spirit of prophecy in the first reading, and the power of Jesus’ name in the Gospel. No one is condemned. Quite to the contrary, John’s idea of a sort of exclusive franchise for the disciples is rejected by Jesus. And Moses rejoiced that the gift of prophecy was not limited only to those who were physically present at the Tent of Meeting. John’s Gospel tells us that the Spirit, like the wind, blows where it will. No one can set rules for God’s choice.

There are three very distinct ideas in today’s readings. Any or all of them can speak to us.

If you feel accused by James, then take a good look at your life. What are you going to do to change the situation?

If you feel challenged by Jesus’ hard demands, then take a good look at your life. What measures will you take to avoid your “besetting” sin?

If you feel filled with the Spirit, then take a good look at your life. What are you going to do let the Spirit live and act in and through your life?

In other words, If the shoe fits, wear it.

No comments :