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I remember when I was probably 12 or 13, I had been out playing, and I came into the house by the back door, and I guess my parents didn’t know that I was there, for I heard my father say to my mother, “Well, there’s no doubt about it, he should be taught a lesson, and I’m the one to do it!” I froze, then back up quietly, and ran to a neighbor’s house, and shot hoops for an hour, wondering what it was that I had done. I saw my Dad’s car drive by as we were shooting hoops, and he waved, and kept going. So, I said good-bye, and went back home, and Mom acted like she always did. So, after some small talk, I asked, “Is anything the matter?” “No, not that I know of,” she replied. I never found out who needed to be taught a lesson, but I knew it wasn’t me! What had happened was that I had walked in on a conversation that wasn’t about me at all, but with the guilt that EVERY teenager carries with him all the time, I SUPPOSED it was about me.
Today’s Gospel is taken from a conversation. We are interlopers into a conversation between Jesus and a few of His disciples.
The entire Gospel reading, this morning, was a response to a question asked by one of the apostles--Judas--not Judas the Iscariot, but the other Judas--we call him, St. Jude, today. He had asked Jesus, “What happened that You are revealing Yourself to us, but not to the rest of the world?” And today’s Gospel was Jesus’ reply. But there doesn’t seem, at least at first glance, to be an answer.
Like all half-heard conversations, we are baffled. Judas wants to know why Jesus doesn’t reveal Himself as Messiah, and why He doesn’t call on the Divine Armies of angels, and conquer the Romans and set Israel free. That way, ALL THE WORLD will know that God is with Israel, and with Jesus, and with those who follow Him. So, Jesus answers with wisdom about what it means to actually “FOLLOW” the Messiah--and it has nothing to do with conquering anyone but oneself--the hardest battle any human being ever has. “Whoever loves me will keep my Word...my commandments:” the love of God and of others--especially one’s enemies. Jesus’ “way” isn’t about conquering the enemy, it’s about conquering the hate in our hearts that turns the “Other” into an enemy in the first place.
He goes on to say, that when a follower does that “The Father and Christ will come and dwell within him.” Jesus is saying, “You want the world to know God is with you? Then, love the world, and the world will see the Divine in you!” The question of the Bible and of every human being is, “Is God with us?” That question is made up of several other questions--Is there a God? Does He care about the world? Does He love ME? Is He with me? And we are never satisfied. That, too, is the nature of the human heart. We are small in a vast uiverse, and we are uneasy. It’s so easy to explain everything materially. Maybe, since science says we don’t need God, there is no God? So we set up “tests” for God--sort of asking, “Are you out there?” But the only convincing answer comes from within when God says, “I’m in here!” But, the assurance doesn’t last long--a day? a week? And then, we’re second-guessing ourselves, wondering if we “tricked ourselves.” And other “tests” of God follow. That’s who we are. Judas asks Jesus to be less subtle. “Put it out there, man!”
But Jesus says, “No. You put it ‘in here!” When it changes you, you’ll know what you need to know, and the only way to let it change you is to live it--so go love that enemy! I could be wrong, but I’ve come to believe that the only proof of God’s existence is our own transformation, and the transformation of those we love...
I think He would say the same thing to you or to me, here, this morning. We pray to be transformed into more loving people. We say, “Lord change me, make me kinder.” But, the wisdom of today’s Gospel is that it is in being kind that we grow kinder...so find someone you don’t mind being kind to, and get busy! There is no law in the universe that says you have to start out by loving your worst enemy! You don’t have to begin with Adolph Hitler! (Well, he’s dead, but you get the point!) Start with what you can do, and do it well.
It is in the doing of charity that we become charitable. It is in the loving of the neighbor that we learn to love God--and feel that God deep within us, uniting us to all humanity.
When I was working in the Maryland House of Correction as a chaplain, I had an interesting Sunday crowd of worshippers. We had about 20 guys who would come. I said to them, “Maryland is a Catholic state, surely there are more than 20 Catholics here.” “Well,” they said, “they don’t like Church much.” I said, “I don’t particularly like it either, but I do it because it’s a commandment. Tell them I want to see them.” Well, that went around like wildfire on a prairie in a wind storm! The Warden saw me one day and said, “You’re the priest that hates goint to Church!” I tried to explain, “It’s not that I hate it, but, but, but...” There was no way out of the mess. BUT, interestingly enough, more people were coming to Mass.
And we would get readings like we got today, so I’d do a discussion sermon with them. “What does being good to your neighbor look like in here?” And, if no one would respond, I would call on someone. One man said to me, “Father, there are mean “so and so’s” in here, and you don’t dare be nice to them. It’s interpreted as weakness.” I said, “Do you think it’s any different anywhere else?” “What do you mean,” he asked. I said, “Do you think that if a Republican tries to be open to a Democrat’s point of view in Washington, that he isn’t seen as ‘soft?’” Same in business. I’ve been a teacher all my life, and when I try to be understanding with homework and class assignments, it’s tricky. If I don’t walk a fine line, my students will decide I don’t care about assignments, and they won’t do a thing!” EVERYplace is like this place. “So,” he says, “is it impossible what Christ asks of us?” I said, “It is until you try it.” I said, “I dare you...pick someone--not the meanest guy on the cellblock, but someone you know you could be better to, and work at it this week--we’ll talk about it next week.”
It was like teaching a Sunday School class of 10 year olds, but I watched the men begin to transform. I soon realized that they were changing in ways I wasn’t. I, myself, was spurred to greater kindness, by watching what occurred with them.
Will you be perfect? No. Will you have failures? Yes. So what? The point of the spiritual life is to draw closer to God, and that only happens as we draw closer to each other.
My prayer for each of us this week, is that as we each try to put into practice the commandments of the Christ, that we will lift ourselves and all the earth a little higher. And may God bless you all. +