Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)
Adapted from a homily by Fr. Chris Wadelton
Can you imagine? One moment, Jesus is saying you’re “the rock on which I will build my church” and the next moment he’s calling you “a stumbling block.” That’s not just great wordplay – from cornerstone to stumbling block – but such an abrupt change had to be incredibly painful for Peter to hear. Can you imagine? And perhaps that’s the difficulty…Peter couldn’t imagine. He couldn’t imagine that Jesus had come not just to bring comfort to the people, but to free them. Comforting isn’t that hard – just give people a little more of what they want and tell them it will be all right. But freedom is different. Freedom requires that we recognize that what we have isn’t always life-giving and that it’s not always going to be alright. It’s not going to be all right if North Korea launched a nuclear missal toward California. It’s not going to be all right if we continue to abort nearly a million babies each year here in the US. It’s not going to be all right if we continue to say and do nothing as angry mobs of anarchists burn down buildings and assault and kill people. Giving people a little more of the same thing is not always going to be all right.
Returning to today’s Gospel, the common understanding with this Gospel passage is that when Peter made his statement of Faith that Jesus is the Messiah – the son of the living God, he had in mind a warrior-king like David. A King who would drive out the Roman occupiers and liberate the Israelites. When you stop to think about it, that’s pretty understandable. It is a reasonable hope. The Romans were foreign occupiers, not only imposing their pagan laws but taxing the people to support their oppression. They maintained their occupation by violence. The problem with Peter’s expectation is not that it’s unreasonable, but that it doesn’t change anything. If Jesus were the warrior-king and used an even greater force and violence to drive out the Romans, it’s more of the same thing. Eventually, someone with even more force, or willing to do greater violence, will take over again. The cycle of violence keeps revolving. Jesus knows this. He knows He has to introduce a different logic, one that is based on forgiveness, mercy, and love, rather than violence, hate, and division. At the same time, he knows that the cycle of violence will not tolerate this new logic and that he will be killed. And Peter just couldn’t imagine this. It isn’t surprising that Jesus was killed when you stop to think about it. From the moment of his birth, he was such a threat to the cycle of violence, that Herod was willing to slaughter all children under the age of two in the hopes of destroying him. So, it’s no surprise that Jesus was killed. What surprised the world is that God raised Jesus from the dead. The Resurrection reinforces, in fact, establishes that forgiveness, mercy, and love are ultimately what will prevail.
I know this is hard to imagine given how prevalent force and violence are in the world. But it is exactly what Jesus invites us to: lives shaped by forgiveness, mercy, and hope…actions shaped by compassion and love. When we imagine force and violence as the answer, then Church teachings become a stumbling block for people. When we imagine Love and forgiveness, compassion and hope as the answer, then we can stand tall upon the Cornerstone. But like Peter, what most of us want is a little more of what the world already offers – wealth, health and happiness, security, and comfort. But Jesus didn’t come to comfort us with a little more, instead, He came to free us. And freedom means seeing things the way God sees them. It means realizing that some of the things we’ve settled for, and even legislated and codified into our way of life, are not life-giving at all. And so, it’s hard to even imagine something different. People hide behind the excuse that it’s too complicated to change – or that it’s just the way we’ve always done it. This isn’t anything new. All we have to do is look around and see the things that are not right with the world. I’m not trying to point out what’s wrong with the world but to simply ask the question of whether we are ready for something different.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine that God is really at work in and through your life for the good of the world? Can you imagine that this community has something of value to offer those who don’t think like us? Can you imagine that, even though afraid, we stand up to those who spew hate and violence and insults…and don’t respond in-kind? Can you imagine that even small acts of love and generosity challenge the cycle of violence and introduce a different reality? Can you imagine that love is more powerful than hate? Can you imagine that maybe our trials, our crosses, are actually opportunities to build virtue, strength, and understanding? Can you imagine? In closing, I would like to share a very short story that I feel is relevant to us today, especially with us enduring this COVID journey that we have all been traveling, and with so much varied emotion attached to it. The story is of a very zealous person who once wrote these words: “When I was young, I was a revolutionary. My prayer to God was: ‘Lord, give me the energy to change the world.’ As I approached middle-age and realized that my life was half-gone without my changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come into contact with me. Just my family and friends and I shall be satisfied.’ Now that I am old and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’ If I had prayed for this from the start, I would not have wasted my life.” Can we imagine ourselves standing tall upon the cornerstone, praying “Lord give me the imagination to see, taste, and believe the life-giving promises of a Messiah who came not to give us what we want, but what we need.
Maybe this COVID Virus, the fires, the economic hardships, the civil unrest, our fears and anxieties, and all the other things we are currently enduring are just what we need at this time in life to bring us back toward God in a meaningful and soul-saving way. Back to His loving embrace. Back to His friendship. Back to His peacefulness. United Back, to the One.. who is Everything! Amen