10th Sunday in Ordinary Time
10th Sunday / Ordinary / C
June 4-5, 2016
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
Friday afternoon I left the office and went home to work on the homily. I had been struggling all week with the readings, and then my prayers were answered. I opened my email and a friend had sent me a excerpt of a blog of a woman she knows. And it captures the message of the Gospel well.
The blog is by a woman named Lori Harris, who with her eight children have deliberately chosen to live in a tough neighborhood in North Carolina. Her goal is to plant evangelical churches, be a witness to Jesus, and in her words, to be an intentional neighbor. In her blog she talks about the struggle in her heart to raise children with Christian values while drug deals and domestic violence happen right outside their door. She is convinced that God has called her to live with the poor and witness to Jesus. Yet as a mother she wants to protect her children and keep them safe.
She says: "If I could narrow down all the hard things about following Jesus into one hard thing, it would have to be this: To love like Jesus, then I must choose to be where Jesus would be, and trust His goodness there.
But here's the rub: I am a mama and as a mama, I am prone to want to hole up and hide out. Keep safe. Stay secure. Preserve self and family. I'm prone to want to believe that my primary job in this life is to launch Jesus followers into this world, one Harris kid at a time.
But that's a lie.
Being a good mother means that I give my children to Jesus. Being a good mother means that I make our home where Jesus is and invite my children to join Him there. Being a good mother means that I make wide open spaces for my children to see Jesus building His Kingdom among people who are not clean or neat or pretty. Or safe. And being a good mother means that when I want to choose my family over my neighbors, I lean on Jesus and trust Him to show me how to love both, even when I don't know now."
Now that is a woman of great faith, and who shows a message of today's Gospel. In a commentary on today's Gospel, the Scripture scholar Jeff Cavins says that Jesus reveals a God unlike the gods of the Romans and Greeks of the time, who float above the clouds. Jesus' God enters into all of human experience, including death, and he gets messy.
Jesus contrasts withi the religious leaders of the time, the Pharisees, the term which means the separated ones. The Pharisees defined themselves by what they would not do. Judaism of the time was afraid of interacting with the world, which is why so many laws were accumulated through the centuries that were meant to separate them from their neighbors. Many things were declared unclean, so you could not touch them, so as not to be tainted by evil.
But Jesus defines himself not be what he would not do, but by what he does do. In the Gospel, he touches the coffin, which would have made him unclean. No Pharisee would ever have done that. He does this so he can raise the dead man back to life and gives him to his mother. Cavins concludes that like Jesus, yes we are separated from the world in a certain sense. But the difference is that we are separated precisely to do the work of God, which means entering into the messiness and dirtiness of this world.
Jesus motivation is not to display his divine power, but to reveal divine compassion. The Gospel explicitly tells us that this woman was a widow, and this was her only son. In that society, women became beggars without a husband or son to support her. The death of her only son doomed her into being homeless and desperate. So while she is crying for her son, she is also crying for herself because in his death, she has lost all her social security. But God hears the cry of the poor and he gets involved.
This is really what Pope Francis is asking of our church, to do the same and not be separate or aloof. He often talks about the church as a field hospital after a battle, where we get our hands dirty and bloody. Where there is pain and suffering, there the church should be, meaning you and me.
It is remarkable to learn about people like Lori Harris. Very few of us will be called to choose to live in a tough neighborhood, but perhaps we just need to pay attention to those God has already put into our lives. Perhaps we need to rise above our self-absorption and simply pay attention to those around us. God hears the cry of the poor, and so must we. We cannot be aloof from the poor and addicted, from the lonely and rejected, from the little people and brokenhearted.
Jesus reveals a God much different from the Roman and Greek gods who float above the clouds. Jesus himself was not like the Pharisees, obsessed by being separate from this world. He broke the rules, he himself became unclean, so that he could bring life to a dead man. Jesus entered into the messiness of life. Where he has gone, we must follow.