Nov 12, 2016

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Where is our heart right now?

Malachi 3:19-20, Luke 21:5-19

The words of Scriptures that the Church has given to us today, as we fast approach the end of the year, might provoke in our hearts to a sense of “gloom and doom” regarding the future. On the other hand, one might take delight with “out with the old and in with the new”. Depending where you stand, one might be optimistic or pessimistic.

The first might say “Everything is good, and I am happy for change”.  The pessimist might say everything is bad, and I am angry because of change”. But everything is not all good even though many rejoice. Not everything is all bad either, even though many despair.

Some will say that all the ills and conflicts we see are the result of sin and greed and that the guilty should be held accountable. Others will say that it is simply a test of our endurance, keep calm and carry on, it will all work out!  However, the glee of optimism or the gloom of pessimism betray and obscure us from our most important obligation - each of us, all of us, live in a common home, share a common land, and live our lives according to a common law of the land. We may agree or disagree about interpretation. But we have a common responsibility to each other and to everyone’s happiness and salvation so that “God’s Kingdom will come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

At the same time, our uniqueness, our ingenuity, our industry and our idealism are deeply rooted in a shared, common belonging to a bold experiment begun by our founding fathers. The gift of freedom and the pursuit of happiness enshrined into our nation’s soul,  was not to be the exclusive possession of only those who lived in the original thirteen colonies. It was a gift to be passed on to all who would come after them - including generations of immigrants, exiles and refugees. We owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who made tremendous sacrifices before we even lifted a finger - to the countless individuals and their families who worked the land, bent the metal, poured the concrete, built up our nation brick by brick - from the farmer, the engineer, those in uniform to those in shorts and tshirts.

Regardless of challenges and opportunities, setbacks and even wars, the American dream always looks forward with hope.  We do so, not simply for ourselves, not out of pride so that our nation would be the envy of the world. Like those who came before us, we do so because we are loyal to a great and wonderful ideal of what a free man can truly accomplish.

Given our present circumstances, it is of no service to our brothers and sisters when we are crudely pessimistic or unrealistically idealistic. The point is, that when you commit yourself to the wellbeing of another person, a spouse, a family or even a nation, it is not enough to simply approve of them. You have to love them too, along with all their virtues and their vices, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer - “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

Does God not do likewise with us? His love does not paper over our sins. God does not spray-paint a sinner with mercy. He loves the sinner, transforming you and me from the very core of our being, not only making us loveable, but also beautiful - pleasing even to the eye.  An example in front of us - we have turned a wooden table from two thousand years ago, into a beautiful marble altar - not because we wanted to improve it or show it off. We transformed the table of the Lord’s Last Supper into a work of art. Because we loved that old wooden table, we honored it, and cherished it. Our love and our efforts transformed it into something incredibly beautiful.

Christians, after the manner of Christ, can never be content with a philosophy of live and let live. God’s grace has us embrace a theology of love - loving the God-given beauty and dignity that belongs, not only to creation but also to every single person, whatever race, creed or background. This love and our passion has the power to transform and reimagine. It demands of us, not simply civility and good manners, but also a profound respect and honor to be given to each other as common brothers and sisters made in the image and likeness of God. Is this not the common rule-  “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, written by God into the hearts of everyone? This is why joyous gloating and rebellious anger are so evil - Neither attitude is able to love one's neighbor, they are too busy loving themselves - but that is not love -it’s instead selfishness, regardless of the rhetoric or excuse.

But does this mean that we must be eternal optimists? No. For we are rational human beings.  Is there and should there be a place for criticism? Of course there is. Christ Himself criticized many in His day, as He saw the persistent injustices against the poor by the rich, the mighty against the disenfranchised, between one race of people against another. He expressed His anger many times; He even took it to the temple and onto the streets!   But He did so out of love, not out of ridicule, revenge or rage. His motive was not to punish or exile the sinner, but to save them.  And it showed. For the love of Christ that we must imitate cannot be carefully measured or even rational. Like the love of God expressed in the Gospel today, our love, lit by the fire of God’s passion, can be as earth-shattering as it can be creative - a love which breaks down barriers, builds bridges, heals wounds and restores sinners for the sake of Kingdom of God.  Because His love and mercy threatened the established order, Our Lord was condemned and crucified by the rich and poor alike, while at the same time He offered His passionate love to saint and sinner, to Jew and Gentile, and to friend and foe alike.  

Therefore our love for God, for our nation, for our neighbor and for the stranger, cannot be simply political, intellectual, erratic or emotional. Our love has to be as revolutionary as the Cross of Christ and as powerfully beautiful as His resurrection from the dead.

So how can I pledge an eternal allegiance to God or a lifetime allegiance to the flag and at the same time my heart is hardened or stubborn, or is being tossed about by fear or uncertainty?

Every Sunday before we stand to profess our common faith through the words of the Creed we have to first call to mind our failings. We place our hand over our heart acknowledging three times we are sinners in need of God’s mercy. The next time we pledge our allegiance to our flag, do likewise. But this time, do so with a hand placed upon a compassionate and humble heart that has allowed itself to be moulded and shaped like Christ’s. Yes, it has been pierced through with the strategic thrust of a sword and punctured by an angry swarm of thorns, but it is a heart on fire with God's merciful love that endures forever and for everyone. Our tender heart must reflect His.

Psalm 95: "Oh that today you would listen to his voice, harden not your hearts."

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