1 Corinthians 15:54-58
|Date:||March 2-3, 2019, Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C|
All too often, I get the impression that people think practicing a religion is all about following the rules. And of course many people think this because that is what most of us were taught. So to be a practicing Catholic, you had to obey the 10 commandments and the commandments of the Church, go to Church every Sunday, know all the rules and regulations and follow them. So practicing Catholicism is more about doing Catholic things instead of being a Catholic. The outcome of this approach is that we end up either acting a certain way so we don’t go to hell, or thinking that we have to do certain things to earn God’s love. Both approaches miss the point, big time! In fact this is what Paul is talking about when he says that the power of sin is the law. Once we start getting legalistic, we get ourselves into trouble.
Being Catholic is about becoming more deeply aware of how much we are loved by God, especially in the person of Jesus Christ, and in the face of that love, loving back. It is about being a certain kind of person, not doing certain things. Here's one illustration of the difference that I learned much too late in my parenting days. When I would walk into a room where there was a fracas going on, most of the time everyone would be involved. In an effort to mete out justice (under the law!), I would start asking questions to find out who was at fault for what. Well, you parents (and kids) know what happens. Everyone starts pointing the finger: she did this, he did that, and my personal favorite: he hit me back first. I finally learned to ask just one question of each person: Did you do what you did out of love? Because if you didn't you were at fault; you hurt yourself and probably someone else. I find that a great question to ask myself anytime I have questions about how to act.
Today’s readings give us a series of wisdom sayings about the relationship between appearances and actions and word, and essence. They remind us that there are two sides to this relationship. The first is that we can’t fool people with appearances for very long. Over the long haul, our words and our actions and our effect on the world around us will indicate who we are inside. The other side of this relationship is that once we get our heart, our soul straightened out, everything else will flow naturally from that. We won’t have to try hard to be good or to do what is right. After all, an apple tree doesn’t have to try hard to bear apples does it? It doesn’t need a law to tell it not to bear the occasional pineapple or kiwi fruit.
Some people think acting out of love mean you have to condone violence or evil or even rude behavior. Nothing could be farther from the truth. True love challenges all those things. Listen to Jesus in the Gospel. He identifies the wrongdoing and is not shy about saying what is right.
The first couple of sayings that we hear from Jesus in today’s readings remind us that as Christians we are called to be leaders and teachers to the world. As leaders and teachers, we have a responsibility to learn about what we are teaching; otherwise we end up being ignored or worse yet, leading people astray. All too often in the last 2,000 years, Christians have been the blind leading the blind, or people who strain to point out the speck in other’s eyes while we ignore the beam in ours. And if the last few months are any measure, we have not made much if any progress in those 2,000 years. How can Christians teach the world that God intends us to be one big human family when we can’t even get together as one Church? How can Christians teach the world that the Good News is that God has forgiven everyone everything they have ever or will ever do when we so often seem to concentrate on making sure that sinners feel guilty? How can Christians teach the world that God has made us to love and forgive when we so often respond to evil and violence with righteous anger and justified violence? How can we be the body of Christ who incarnates our Father's, our Abba's love when so many who part of that body of Christ abuse power and harm the most vulnerable, the very ones that need a parent's nurturing love?
And what about the fruit of our collaborative tree? What would someone conclude about our essence by spending time with us at our liturgies, our social gatherings, our GIFT or Alpha sessions, our other activities? What does our spacing here at Mass say about our welcoming, and our need to be in communion with each other? What does the way we say the responses show about our understanding of who God is and how "right it is for us" to give God thanksgiving and praise? What does our singing say about the joy we have at being loved and forgiven by God, and knowing that we are called to be with God forever in paradise?
Appearances are critical to our responsibility to make God’s love real on this earth. We can’t do this by preaching or criticizing or pointing out what is right or wrong. We need to do it by the witness of our lives. Saying we are against abortion is fine, but working to reduce the burdens of poverty and violence shows that we mean that every child should be born into a loving situation. It gives us credibility. We must live as children of God, a people who understand that we are completely forgiven and unconditionally loved by God. Once we let that love transform our hearts, our essence, then the fruit of our lives will be attractive to others, individually and as a community.
People say it is hard to be a good Christian. The wisdom in today’s readings says no, it is the easiest thing in the world if we get our hearts right. What is hard is trying to be a Christian while concentrating on what is right and wrong, and trying so hard to do Christian things. What is hard is to be a Christian while still clinging to what the world preaches as success and power. That is not just hard; it is impossible to do. We need to make the initial effort to become aware of, and then to respond to God’s love and forgiveness. Once we do that, God’s love will flood our hearts and our souls. And from that storehouse, we can make this world a paradise.