A Cycle – 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time 23
Watching the NFL playoff games this past weekend brought to my mind the lengths we humans will go through to win. Players with significant injuries play through pain or try to play through pain because they do not want to let down their teammates. Often telling their coach they are ok and ready to play.
We are like that with God, we pretend we are ok, but we know where our hurts are and where we have failed to live up to what we believe is God’s standard. The truth is we are or have been hurt by life, by our failures, by the failures of others and we hide that hurt very well. But do we understand God does not expect perfection from us, but He does desire honesty.
I remember a consecrated brother who came to me for spiritual guidance because he did not believe his life was pleasing to God. His issue was he was so scrupulous about his belief about what sin was everything he did was sinful. He could not see any way God could approve of his life. With all his training in theology, scripture and doctrine he had never had an encounter with the mercy of God. He was bound up in doing religious exercises but never experienced or received the embrace of the Father. In one sense, he was the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. He was trying hard to please God and never could see how he was already pleasing to God.
How could he miss hearing the message of Isaiah in today’s first reading revealing to us what God requires of us. We are to be Christ to others. It is not about us trying to be as holy as we can or being as sinless as possible all the while knowing we will fail. It is not in our doing something religious to make up for our failures. It is all about us allowing God to work through us to reveal Christ to others. Paul, in the second reading echoes that desire of God when he says, he did not speak to the people of Corinth with “…sublimity of words or of wisdom.” If anyone could elaborate on the scriptures powerfully to convey who Jesus was it would be the Pharisee – Saul of Tarsus. But instead, he writes how he went to them with trepidation and fear, humbly relying on God to touch their hearts.
Isaiah tells us we are to do exactly what Jesus said to us in Matthew’s gospel. We are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned (Mt. 25:34-36). We need to do more than serve. We can do that by sheer willpower. Instead, we first need to experience what every sinful saint experienced and that is the embrace of the Fathers forgiveness. We need Christ to show us the Fathers heart and then we can grasp the truth about our sinfulness. Our sin is not a barrier to allowing God to love us, but it is a barrier we put up because we feel we are not worthy. preventing us from reaching out to him. Brother John could never get past his own sin to feel the love of God. Isaiah is telling our brokenness and sinfulness should not us from Christ to others. Being forgiven gives us that perspective about who we are, sinners saved by grace.
Jesus is telling us in the gospel today to be light and salt to others. We are the disciples who like Paul can show how our brokenness was healed by God. How our sinfulness did not prevent God from embracing us just as Jesus did not let the leprosy prevent him from touching the lepers. But the law prevented that from happening and that should tell us something about why Brother John never felt forgiveness. Did you notice how the law was not an obstacle preventing Jesus from bringing healing to others. He healed on the sabbath, he went into the homes of gentiles, he did not chastise the disciples when they ate without purifying themselves as required by that law.
He shows us what mercy looks like and how He is not only willing to heal those wounds that hold us in bondage, but He desires to heal them. What will it take for us to get past our sense of “unworthiness” to allow the grace of God to change us. Paul understood grace because he denied Christ was the Messiah. Everything Paul learned as a Pharisee told him Jesus was an imposter and a blasphemer. That is until Christ came to him and posed a simple question to him, “why.”
Why do we withhold mercy from those who wounded us, who oppress us, who reject us and refuse us their friendship. Because we think they do not deserve our forgiveness or because we are the older brother and think they do not deserve anything resembling forgiveness. If we are to be salt and light to others, we need to have our own moment of understanding of forgiveness changed. We do not earn forgiveness for our sins, nor do we deserve it. We must be the dispensers of grace in all we do and with all we encounter. Just this week I was in the drive through line at a fast food restaurant. It took 13 minutes from the moment I put in my order to receive what I ordered. I waited at the window, with no cars in front of me and was not being the salt of the earth as I waited.
Why do we believe we must be the ones who receive instead of being the ones who give? Today’s gospel is a reminder of the call to discipleship is a call to die to self and to live for others. Brother John had responded to the call to the consecrated life and yet he could not free himself of his own belief he was sinful. It hindered his ability to give to others because all his giving was an attempt to make amends for his sinfulness. He was not serving from his heart; he was serving to appease God.
It is a lesson every follower of Jesus must learn and begin to live the life of a disciple. We are followers, destined to conform to the image of Jesus and to bring his love to others. The only way we can become salt is to allow the Spirit to transform us.