Sunday, September 16, 2012

Shared Homily Starter – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading:
Isaiah 50:5-9
Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 116
Second Reading:
James 2:14-18
Mark 8:27-35
“You are judging by human standards rather than by God’s.”   “You are judging by human standards rather than by God’s.”  This is the phrase that kept drumming within me as I was thinking about today’s homily.

We can’t possibly know the mind of God.  But we do have some clues.  The Psalm tells us that God listens, saves lives, and protects.  We hear in this reading that our God is a God of justice and mercy.  The Psalmist tells us God is gracious.  Just looking at a sampling of the synonyms for gracious informs us that God is approachable, beneficent, compassionate, kind, loving, merciful and tender.  But we like the Psalmist must walk before our God in the land of the living.

“You are judging by human standards rather than by God’s”, the first reading says that God opened my ears, and I have obeyed, I did not turn away.  Isaiah tells us that He did not hide from insults but stood firm.  He trusted that he would not be put to shame because Yahweh was at his side.  The prophet was speaking against the injustices of his day.  Then as now, those who speak out against injustice are often ridiculed and persecuted. 

One example is the student protest in Quebec.  The student protestors didn’t receive much attention in the press outside of Quebec.  When the protest did appear in the mainstream media in the rest of the country, the reporting was often less than supportive, accusing the protestors of being selfish and privileged and motivated by a sense of entitlement. 

Another example is the government treatment of Canada’s environmental groups.  Funding to the Canadian Environmental Network was cut.  The Canadian Environmental Network consists of over 640 highly diverse large and small, rural and urban organisations from coast to coast to coast. Internationally, the our government is killing the Global Environmental Monitoring System, an inexpensive project that monitors over 3,000 freshwater sites around the world for a U.N. database hosted by Canada for decades.   Lastly, funding to Environment Canada was reduced to the point that 2,100 employees were laid off.  What are we to do?

The second reading and the gospel point the way.  But first, you may wonder, why is Vikki always preaching about the environmental, economic or social justice issues.  Well, it’s because when I was teaching Catholic Social Teaching at St. Mark’s, I was asked; “Why don’t we ever hear about any of these issues from the pulpit?”   I don’t think you’ll have to ask that question. 

Now, the second reading is pretty clear.  But often when we think of the bare necessities of life, we think of food, clothing and shelter.  Yet for a human being to be healthy they need social networks, food for their souls and protection from violence.  So while “charity models”, where we just write cheques, are a necessity.  Of equal and possibly greater importance, is working with people to change the conditions that make or keep them hungry, poor and homeless─ all of which are forms of violence.   Food for the soul, like food for people, comes in diverse forms.  As children of God, we are to nurture people in expressions of faith that bring them closer to community and most of all, to God.   Because God is Love, this means we must allow people to follow God’s call to them in their own tradition if they wish and proselytize our Christianity by our love not by imposition.

In the Gospel, we hear Jesus telling the disciples, not to tell anyone that he is the messiah.  Jesus knows that if people learn that he is the messiah, they will be judging him by their political understanding of the messianic mission that was popular at the time.  Jesus doesn’t want the people to think of him or try and make him a temporal king.  He tells them that he is going to suffer and die.  Jesus is going to suffer because challenges people to question the social, political and religious status quo.  But, he also tells them that he will rise again.  Jesus wants people to know that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “All will be well.”  He calls the people of Caesarea Philippi ─and us─ to respond to his words and works with a transformation of heart and mind. 

If you wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, take up your cross and follow in my footsteps.  35If you would save your life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you’ll save it.”   Jesus is talking about more than personal piety here.  I think Jesus’ call to personal action is in the service of the wider society─ to bring forth the kingdom.  It means working for what is right and just, even if it means personal sacrifice. 

Let us look again at the students in Quebec.  Rather than being selfish and privileged and motivated by a sense of entitlement, these students sacrificed a term of education and tuition that they can never get back.  They did this for the benefit of students that will come after them.  Also, the students’ struggle grew into a much larger discussion: about democracy, about economic insecurity and about student debt loads.  The students’ struggle stimulated Quebecers into action, as evidenced in the results of the Quebec election.

Often, though, the ability to see results is like trying to reach the horizon.  We work to get closer and closer to our goals but they seem to stay out of our reach.  To take a single example from the environmental groups, we can look at David Suzuki, who resigned from the Board of the foundation he instituted.  In his open letter of resignation to the Foundation, he said, in part:

I want to speak freely ─without fear that my words will be deemed too political,─ and harm the organization of which I am so proud. I am keenly aware that some governments, industries and special interest groups are working hard to silence us. They use threats to the Foundation's charitable status in attempts to mute its powerful voice on issues that matter deeply to you and many other Canadians. This bullying demonstrates how important it is to speak out.

When Jesus tells us, “You are judging by human standards rather than by God’s,” I suggest that he is telling us that we should do what is right and just, not because we can see or control the outcome.  Rather, simply because it is right, compassionate and just.   It may call us to forego position and status.  Doing the right thing may cost us our livelihood.  

Jesus spoke out against injustice, worked against injustice, and by his compassion, he even violated religious laws.   Like the prophet, we must trust that we will not be put to shame ─because Yahweh is at our side.  We can’t possibly know the mind of God.  But we can try to stop judging what we are called to do by human standards and to start judging by God’s. 

 Please share your own thoughts on any of the readings.

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