Readings for Sunday, June 19/ 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1
Earlier this week I sat down and decided to look through our parish directory from the early 90’s. I looked through every page and every family, recognizing many faces and knowing that there are others not pictures and many who have gone to their eternal reward. It was neat to see everyone 20+ years ago – and not just because of the hairstyles! – because it helped me to remember that there is still much about you and this community that I don’t know.
When we get to know another person or place, we only know it from our first encounter onward and the past is but a story and not something we can experience firsthand. It can be easy to forget about all of the past things and simply see the person as the one we’ve come to know, but in doing so we necessarily miss some things. This is exactly what the Lord is helping the disciples to realize today in the Gospel passage we just heard. The disciples knew Jesus from His ministry and saw Him largely in that light. The people from His hometown, on the opposite end, would struggle to see the great wonder-worker because they only saw Him as the regular guy from their hometown. And the Lord has to provide to all of them the fuller picture. He asks who people say that He is and they respond with the answers of various great prophetic figures. Without even acknowledge the responses, He asks who the disciples say that He is. This is something every one of us must give thought to at points in our life, who is the Jesus we claim to know and serve? Peter’s response wins him a rebuke and in other Gospel accounts the note that he received this knowledge from the Father and not simply early wisdom. Not to stop there, the Lord continues with the rest of the story. The disciples would have no problem accepting the Lord as a miraculous person, a wonder-worker of the highest order who did things that none had ever seen before. They could accept Him as a great ruler, meant to save the Israelites from the opposing nations. But what they struggled to accept was the very truth of what followed: the necessity of the suffering to come. The proclamation that the Lord would soon be rejected by the rulers of the land, crucified, and be then raised from the dead was a hard pill to swallow. And what’s more, the Lord said they would have to pick up their cross daily to follow in His path.
No innocent man was meant to carry a cross. It was the condemned who carried the wood to their place of crucifixion and so the Lord invites us to see ourselves as already condemned, as already dead to this world. If we submit to this reality, then we can truly be raised up in a sense to a new life in this world that is marked by the virtues and life of Christ. And so we pick up our cross. Daily. Each day has it’s cross and the biggest of crosses that each of us has to bear is other people. And for those other people, the cross is you and me.
Last week’s tragic violence in Orlando has given our world one more opportunity among others to reject the cross and to seek shelter in our ‘safe places’. It’s a natural tendency of the human person to seek others with whom we find similarities – the people who have similar interests, similar histories, who speak the same, and believe the same things. We find what is comfortable in our circles, which is not bad in itself. The problem is that so often these differences are used to build walls around ourselves so that we become various groups of ‘us versus them’ and the difference are used to assert superiority. This is what St. Paul is writing about to the Galatians. They are beginning to squabble over groups – male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free. These would traditionally be understood as one being superior and the other inferior. In response St. Paul writes to remind them that in Christ all are one and that there is not male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free. He isn’t saying that those difference don’t exist, indeed they do, but that the differences don’t matter when it comes to equality and the charity toward others. And the same applies to us in our society today. There are so many groups that are different from one another, but we find ourselves on shaky ground when we begin to use those as indicators of superiority or as the limits of our charity. That because someone is in the group of ‘them’ regarding LGBT, muslims, guns, Trump, Hillary, or whatever that we have no obligation to love them or show kindness. And this is the cross – the obligation to love our neighbors even when we don’t agree, especially on very important things. In this we follow the example of Jesus that we heard recently as He at in the house of Simon the Pharisee – that the woman was weeping at His feet and Simon thought to himself “If he knew who and what sort of woman that this is, he wouldn’t let her do this!” ‘She’s one of the THEM!’ he thinks to himself and in doing so shows his lack of charity toward her, as well as toward the Lord. The Lord loved her, despite her sinfulness and ‘otherness’ and in doing so, drew her to Himself.
I came across a quote from St. John Bosco earlier this week that has resonated with me through these recent days: “This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized and still others to hope for God’s mercy. And so He bade us to be gentle and humble of heart.”
The Lord loved everyone before Him from the sinful woman to the hard-hearted Simon and in doing so gave every person the chance to follow after Him. He acknowledged differences, but chose to love the other still. In doing so there is a great ease in ruffling feathers and causing controversy. He knew this and it was because of His humility that these things did not matter; He simply bore the daily cross, which culminated in the greatest of humiliations on Calvary. Are we willing to do the same? To recognize divisions, yet to see ‘them’ as worth loving and liking. To forgive when the other isn’t sorry. To accept harsh words and to bite our tongue instead of spouting harsh words back. When someone hurts us somehow the temptation can be to assume the worst, but it is the call of the Christian to go out of our way to make excuses for ‘them.’ “They know not what they do” the Lord pleaded to the Father in the midst of crucifixion. And so we have the joy daily of picking up our cross and following the Christ by showing love to each person before us, even to the point of death.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine.