C Cycle – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time 22
There is no doubt that individuals seeking membership in a church or parish are prone to join one that is vibrant. Vibrancy is one indicator of the church being able to satisfy an individual’s longings or desires. One aspect of a vibrant parish is excellent music which inspires worship and engages the congregation in lifting their voices to God. Another would be excellent preaching where the Word of God is made real to us and moves within us causing us to want or desire what God desires to lavish upon us. Another would be programs for spiritual growth for all ages which not only inform us but also challenges us to want to become better people and provides us with opportunities to use our gifts.
I could go on listing the attributes of a vibrant church, but time is limited. There are books out there highlighting how Catholic parishes have become vibrant by their responding to the plan of God to change us. Today’s gospel reminded me of how hard it is for us to change course and open ourselves to have God fill us with his mercy, his love, and his desire to open the treasure houses of heaven for us. There is something within each of us that desires to feel loved by God, affirmed by God and to know how God delights in us.
What holds us back from opening ourselves to feel his embrace? The Sanitarians Jesus desired to visit in Luke’s gospel did not welcome him in their town. They turned him away. They failed to understand his reason for coming to them and they did not want what they believed challenged by him. Their faith was formed, and they were not open to any challenge to their beliefs. We know from John’s gospel about the woman at the well how deeply Samaritans believed they had the truth on their side.
Don’t you find it interesting that Luke did not record the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in his gospel? John’s gospel records that event but John does not include this encounter with the people of this town in Samaria. Those differences should cause us to at a minimum stop and take the time to earnestly seek to understand what God is trying to say to us in this rejection of Jesus by the Samaritan.
What we hear today is not only the Samaritans rejection of an encounter with Jesus, but their determination not to even consider what he desires to reveal to them. Surely, they have heard of him by now. He has been preaching and performing miracles. There were large crowds of people gathering to listen to him and following him. Don’t you think at a minimum they would be curious? Yet, I remember my own reluctance to consider how I desired the faith I could see in vibrant churches and how hard it was for me to change and embrace a new way of expression my faith.
Resistance and reluctance to embrace what God desires to give us is deeply rooted in us from an early age. We are taught and formed by parents, teachers and yes those who form our faith in parochial schools or in parish schools of religion. We have been sacramentalized, but we have not been evangelized in the process. Jesus came to show us the Father and we are reluctant to embrace the God he reveals to us.
The few verses we heard today from the ninth chapter of Luke shows us how easily we come up with excuses not to change what we are doing to encounter God. The Samaritans refuse to let him enter their town. Then as Jesus bypasses the town someone says to Jesus how they will “follow him wherever he goes.” Jesus responds by saying that person is unaware of the hardships of following Jesus is not being in control. There is the uncertainty at every step of discipleship of where we will go or what we will do.
The gospel continues as Jesus says to another, “follow me.” The response by that person is to say, “let me to bury my father.” To which Jesus says let the dead bury the dead. Seems harsh but the reality of the statement is there are some who are dead to the reality of Christ, and we need to focus on those who are living and seeking to live.
We can only do that if we have encountered Christ just as the woman at well of Samaria did that day Jesus waited for her to appear before him. Jesus is waiting to speak to us, right now, today not tomorrow. He is speaking to us in this gospel to stop making excuses, to stop refusing to allow ourselves to experience the transforming power of the Spirit as it animates our worship.
Our nature is to hold ono the faith we are comfortable with and do not want to be challenged by Jesus. We hear the call to become new creations but are uncertain what that even means. Christ desires to come to us and speak to our hearts. He is telling us how to experience the power of forgiveness and how it frees us to join in the celebration of Christ victory over sin and death.
Can we experience the freedom of worshiping with holy hands lifted high? Can we join the hosts of heaven giving praise with gladness and joy? Can we at a minimum clap and enter the songs designed to move us to respond?
The invitation of Jesus is to come, to follow him and allow ourselves to be changed. Do we dare accept the invitation? It is and RSVP invitation we cannot ignore.