Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday word, 23 Feb 2014

Divine Scandal
Seventh Sunday of the Year A (23 February 2014)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
During the conclave that elected Archbishop Bergolio Bishop of Rome cardinals stayed in a guest house. After his election Pope Francis went to the front desk and paid his bill. His action surprised, stunned and even “charmed”1 many. Paying his bill had layers of meaning. A fellow occupant distilled one by saying, “I don’t think he needs to worry about the bill…[the guest] house is part of the Church, and it’s his Church now.”2 The pope deepened the contrast that day by riding a Volkswagen and not the “papal Mercedes” to the guest house from a noted church in Rome.3

Feeling the effects of that contrast or recalling how other contrasts caused us to feel helps us hear with fresh ears today’s gospel. The selection is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we have been hearing the past weeks. Throughout it Jesus offered contrast and mismatch. A phrase on Jesus’ lips signaled them: but I say to you. The last two of six times we heard today. You have heard…it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil; and, You have heard…it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Jesus went deeper than scripture’s teaching. Our quick reaction focuses on our difficulty to live the way and example of Jesus.

The contrast between the way of Jesus and our instinctive human way is not the contrast underpinning the teaching of Jesus. The fundamental, even scandalous, contrast is about God not us. Hear Jesus again: I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. Two essential things are at work in his words.

The sun shines on the bad and the good and the rain falls on the just and the unjust: both are true. Steeped in his Jewish tradition, Jesus recognized his Father created sun and rain as gifts for everyone: your heavenly Father…makes his sun rise and…rain to fall with no partiality. God does not prefer good people over bad and just ones over the unjust. Jesus revealed God does not enforce justice among people by withholding sun or rain from bad and unjust people. If God did, God would favor the just and the good. God does not play favorites. God loves the just and the good and their enemies and persecutors. That is difficult to swallow. It is more difficult when we are convinced God is on our side.

Only to be on God’s side is not Jesus’ teaching. Jesus revealed a second thing. By imitating God’s equal treatment of the bad and the good we become children of his Father. Desiring no harm on enemies is how we begin to love them. To pray for persecutors is also how we become children of God. To pray for persecutors offers them an opportunity to learn God’s lavish, unjust love. The learning is personal: as Jesus taught by his person God’s scandalous, lavish, unjust love, so do the children of God.

Living as children of God we give flesh to the gospel. We invite people to enjoy a relationship with Jesus. When we and other Christians live the lavish, unjust love of God we “proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone”4: words of the pope who paid his bill and road a Volkswagen.

Living God’s love is ever challenging; it is more challenging than living our brand of love. It challenges because Jesus announced God’s reign not a human one: the kingdom of heaven is at hand.5 The measure of the kingdom of heaven is God. To live the kingdom is no human project we can complete. It is God’s project, and God is the measure of it. We follow God’s lavish, unjust love revealed by Jesus to measure how closely we are living God’s kingdom. That is the meaning of the word translated as perfect; it means reaching toward a goal, a standard. It is God’s standard not ours: You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. As God’s children we are to grow more lavish and unjust in our love as God is to us and to all. We near our goal the more we desire it and let our actions match the intentions of our desire.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask the disciples to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with Jesus: Praise him for revealing God’s heart and desires.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to live by his teaching more closely.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Each time we live as Jesus taught us by his example we hallow the name of his Father and ours. We also “proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone.”

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Nicole Winfield used the word “charmed” in her report following his election as Bishop of Rome.
  2. Reported in Time magazine.
  3. Rocco Palmo noted those details.
  4. Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 15.
  5. The phrase appears 33 times in Matthew’s gospel and 6 times in the Sermon on the Mount.

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