Homilies by Fr. Greg Kimm, Pastor4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 21 January 2009
Many Americans can tell stories about immigrant forbears who went to great lengths to blend in with their native-born neighbors. They abandoned the wearing of certain clothes, the eating of certain foods, or the observance of certain customs. They simplified their family names or changed them all together. They insisted that their children speak only English.
Jesus was never worried about blending in. He was not afraid to stand out, as he shows in our gospel passage, where the people recognize that his way of teaching is not like that of the scholars with whom they are familiar.
It's tempting to try to blend in: there's safety in numbers and nobody wants any trouble. But the fact of the matter is that so many aspects of our faith, from the necessity of forgiveness to respect for the sanctity of human life--as well as faith itself--already set us apart from our neighbors. Like Jesus, we should not be afraid to stand out. We should stand out as examples for others, as beacons guiding them to a place that is beautiful but as yet unknown to them. Only if we show them another way--a way of welcome rather than hostility and distrust; a way of peace rather than violence; a way of self-sacrifice rather than selfishness--will they then realize that another way is indeed possible.
Who among us wouldn't wish to blend in, to avoid being the target of insults and ridicule, to avoid dealing with conflict? But if God is to succeed in making his Kingdom more of a reality on this earth, he needs us to dare to be different, to dare to be who we really are. When you think about it, the only person we have to be like is Jesus, who proved that while standing out can be difficult, it can also bring great reward.
see Mark 1: 21-28 [Top]
Sometimes God doesn't seem very nice.
The story of Abraham and Isaac is a case in point. It's hard to believe that the God we've come to know--a God of compassion and love--would command someone to kill his own son. The fact that God puts a stop to the sacrifice and makes clear that it's only a test just makes God seem more cruel.
But as unflattering as the picture of God in this story may be, the story is really about Abraham's extraordinary trust. Abraham trusted when there was no reason to trust, when trust was absurd. Abraham trusted when God himself seemed untrustworthy.
It's hard to believe that a compassionate God would allow the devastation caused by warfare, famine, and disasters. It's likewise hard to believe that a loving God would allow people with mouths to feed to lose their jobs; those who are innocent to become victims of hatred and injustice; our family members and friends to wither away because of some terrible disease. But it is precisely at times of great suffering that God calls us to the same extraordinary trust displayed by Abraham. When there is no reason to trust, when trust is absurd, when God himself seems untrustworthy, he calls us to trust that he is still a God of compassion and love. He offers as proof of his trustworthiness the story of his own beloved Son, who had to suffer and die before rising to a glory we only glimpse on the holy mountain of his transfiguration.
see Genesis 22: 1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Mark 9: 2-10 [Top]
An unmarried girl carries her baby to full-term with the support of her family, then allows the child to be adopted. Where I am, there also will my servant be.
A young man with the potential to have a successful and financially lucrative career decides to enter the seminary. Where I am, there also will my servant be.
A husband who himself carries the burden of old age gently and lovingly cares for his much sicker wife. Where I am, there also will my servant be.
A father works hard at two menial jobs in order to support his family. Where I am, there also will my servant be.
A mother seems to spend all her waking moments cooking, driving, doing laundry, and helping with homework. Where I am, there also will my servant be.
Someone who has been deeply hurt overcomes the need for retribution and learns to forgive. Where I am, there also will my servant be.
Parishioners with busy schedules find time to hang banners in church, serve food at social events, lead others in song, and teach kids about God. Where I am, there also will my servant be.
Brave souls endure the abuse and contempt of others by defending the rights of those who are oppressed and marginalized in our society. Where I am, there also will my servant be.
Enemies swallow their pride and walk away from a fight, realizing that violence solves nothing. Where I am, there also will my servant be.
When the opportunity comes for us to be with Jesus in his dying, to give of ourselves as he gave himself for us, where will we be?
see John 12: 20-33 [Top]