HOMILY – JUNE 28
“I came that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). These words of Jesus from St. John’s 10th chapter are not in the Gospel today, but the Gospel really does illustrate them. Because she reaches out and touches his clothing with purpose, power goes out from Jesus and heals the woman who has been sick for years. He raises to life the young girl who has died. We know there are many other miracle stories in the Gospels. These two illustrate something very significant, not only about Jesus’ power but about the whole plan of God revealing himself in and through his Son.
With examples like this, how is it that so many continue to make the mistake of thinking that God is against them, that God is an adversary, that when we suffer trials of some kind, it’s a sign of God’s displeasure, or of his lack of care for us? The very fact of God’s becoming flesh in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, should correct such notions. The further fact of Christ’s fulfilling all the Old Testament prophecies by being the innocent Passover Lamb of God who sacrifices himself for our sins should correct such notions. And the further fact of the witness of untold thousands of faithful Christians who have followed in Christ’s steps and lived and died, often in terrible sufferings, out of love for him, should correct such notions. How often has it happened, even this past week, that while we whine about our little misfortunes and inconveniences, in the Middle East our fellow Christians are being crucified, burned alive, drowned, beheaded, and dismembered? This often happens before the very eyes of their children, if in fact their children are not put to death before the parents’ eyes first. Kind of makes a lot of our own whining look pretty self-centered and self-serving, doesn’t it?
And the eight parishioners who died with their pastor at the church in Charleston? They were at Bible study! As good Christians, they welcomed a guest, a stranger, into their midst for a full hour before he opened fire and killed all but two of them, stopping several times to reload. And in his twisted mind, HE was the hero! My friends, we’re not recalling these things to scare us into inaction and paralysis, but to show how our fellow believers are being called on every day to put their lives on the line. They didn’t WANT to die, any more than Jesus himself did. Human nature gives us an instinct for self-preservation, and Jesus shared our human nature. His sweat was like drops of blood in the Garden of Olives as in agony he prayerfully pondered his impending death. But he did it out of love. FOR US. How can we ever doubt that God cares about us like no one else?
Let’s strive to avoid knee-jerk reactions in our relationship with God. It’s an all-too-common fault, one to which I frequently adhere. Lots of times, I can deal with the big stuff better than the small stuff. My larger trials might bring me moments of fear of the unknown, even tears of frustration at times. But that’s nothing compared to when the garage door opener doesn’t work, or some inbred so-and-so cuts me off in traffic. I’ve had fellow priests sit in stunned silence at my rants, not realizing that my blood pressure would shoot even higher if I DIDN’T break out in a string of language not yet found in urban graffiti. And so I’ve had to train myself to be calm. My rage is a vice, not only unbecoming of a Christian, but truly needing the restraint of Christian witness. Christ’s most valued lessons were the love we should manifest for one another, and even for our enemies; and the way we should join him in his redemptive work by offering our own sufferings, carrying our own crosses each day, WITH him. How quickly we forget! And how often we have to return to Square One and start all over again. We might get tired of doing that, and imagine that Christ gets tired of US, too. Never. Sharing our human nature, he was like us in all things but sin. He knows the urges that push us over the edge. He knows how often we live our lives on that edge, the thin line between virtue and vice. And he is oh, so anxious to forgive us and restore a baptismal beauty and calm to our souls.
“I came that they might have life, and have it to the full.” Sufferings are part and parcel of every life. Embracing them with and for Jesus, like the woman who reached out to touch his garments with deliberation and purpose, is what gives life its fullness. What that means in your life and mine is different only in the details, in the things that get under our particular skin, in the day-to-day challenges that we face. Let’s remember that anytime we hear an inner voice saying we’re not worthy, we’ll never improve, we’re hopeless, we’re too insignificant for God to care, that THAT voice is NOT the voice of the Savior who shed his precious Blood for us. The voice of the evil one can be cleverly disguised to sound like an invitation to humility or to reasonable thinking or to what is due to us in justice. But if we can’t answer with a “YES!!” the question, “Is this the BEST I can do as a Christian witness?” perhaps the Lord himself is giving us the opportunity for a better response.