Sunday, October 01, 2017

Sunday word, 01 Oct 17

Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year A (01 Oct 2017)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Transforming Our Hearts
Acceptance and rejection; transfer of God’s reign to others; and for those receiving the gift of God’s reign a daily effort to live by Jesus’ ways and words: Sunday gospels present those as liturgical years wind down. Matthew’s gospel has been our Sunday focus. Five themes from it: forgiveness; first and last are reversed in God’s heart; two ways of two sons sound the transfer of God’s reign; those who think they deserve it violently cling to it; those who receive it—you and me—live it or lose it. Those five themes belong to two Sundays ago, today and two Sundays ahead of us.

The parable of two sons sounds the transfer of God’s reign. One said he would do—live—as his father said; he did not. The other defied his father; he later changed his mind and did—lived—as he said. The moral Jesus made clear: public sinners changed their minds and hearts and entered the kingdom of God before the religious professionals to whom Jesus spoke his parable.

Parables provoke; they don’t explain. The shock value of this one lay in the low esteem observant people held public sinners: prostitutes as well as those who collected tribute to enrich the Roman oppressors. I can hear Jesus’ first hearers seize the voice of the prophet: Not fair! In our honest moments we silently echo the same when someone is taken ahead of us; or when someone not as deserving to get a break as us gets one. Yet are not we parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and godparents quick to tell our young ones that life is not fair? We are correct: life is not fair; yet we do our best.

The life of faith turns not on fairness but on a gift. That gift indeed is a marvellous exchange—begun by Jesus and freely given each of us. That marvellous exchange was sung by early Christians—perhaps before St. Paul ceased persecuting Christ Jesus in his church and became his great apostle. He may have heard it often: a person with no sympathy for Christians observed they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.1 Whenever Paul heard it, it stayed with him. He used its words in a letter to sketch Christian living: serving is the heart of community.

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves: that is the core of Paul’s principle of Christian living; he offered Jesus as the first of five examples of it. Jesus did not cling to his divinity as his advantage;  he emptied himself for the sake of everyone. He model-led humility: strong and clearly knowing his purpose, I lay down my life to take it up again.2 Dispossessed of life by his cruel death, Jesus rose to possess all things as our living Messiah.

The impact of that on early Christians was powerful: Jesus’ emptied himself and rose to possess life in God. It is the strong current of the running river we name our Christian tradition: our living tradition because Jesus lives. Parish life helps us enter Jesus’ flow of living: Christian fellowship nourished by worship actively witnesseses to Jesus. Joining Jesus’ way of living lets faithful people do their best in an unfair world.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with Jesus: praise him for dying and rising for us; thank Jesus for sharing his life and identity as one of us.
  • Ask Jesus to increase our courage to stay close to him and to let us be shaped more by his humble compassion.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Speaking his words reassures us we are intimately related to him; like him we rely on his Father and ours to shape us more like our brother, Messiah Jesus.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Pliny, Letters 10.96-97.
  2. John 10.17.

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