January 30, 2022 Homily: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

During my time as the Financial Administrator of my home Diocese, there were some people I just couldn’t stand.  I hope you’re not surprised?  And you probably shouldn’t be.  After all, I’m just like many of you, and struggle with all of the same sorts of things.  Sometimes you find people in this category of mine whose personalities simply rub you the wrong way, and you have no desire to be around them.  You probably feel the same about some people you know.  Some I couldn’t stand because of the degree to which they demand an unreasonable amount of my time, people who call me constantly and stay on the phone for what seems like forever, people who always seem to be asking for favors, people who send text after text after text without thinking that they might be annoying me or disturbing me, and even people who keep on rehashing the same problems with me over and over again.  It can all be a little too much, and can drive me crazy if I let it.

And these days some of the people I can’t stand are people I don’t even know personally, people in the news doing terrible things around the world, certain politicians who seem to only say what they think we want to hear, people who commit crime after crime after crime, you name it.  Lots of people leave a pretty bad impression on some of us.  Maybe it surprises you that I feel this way, or that I would admit it.  I can assure you, I am not proud of it.  I try to resist these sorts of feelings, but it’s not that easy.  Maybe you feel exactly the same way.  What I’m trying to say is that human as I’m there are some people I really don’t like.

But can I LOVE them?

Maybe Jesus in the passage we just heard from Luke was wondering about this or maybe already knew the answer regarding those listening to him in the synagogue, not whether or not HE loved them, but whether or not THEY could truly love others.  And specifically, not people in their circle, in their group, people just like them.  No, he wanted to expose how they felt about outsiders, felt about people not in their community, felt about people different from themselves.  And so, he tells them a couple of stories. The stories of Elijah and the Widow at Zarephath and the cleansing of Naaman the Syrian army officer of his leprosy. These stories show good things happening to non-Jews while those same good things were not happening to those in the Jewish community.

It was a brilliant way to make his point.  You see, by telling these stories he was implying that God loved these outsiders as much (or maybe more) than the Jewish people, the Chosen people, the people God called his own.  And Jesus got an immediate response from them that he probably expected, but almost certainly didn’t want.  The people that heard him that day were so furious that they drove him out of town and were dead-set on tossing him headfirst off a cliff.  Apparently (and sadly) they couldn’t conceive of a God who loved everyone the same.   Can we?

It’s unreasonable to assume that we should “like” everyone the same.  And we don’t even need to presume that God is asking or demanding that of us.  I don’t think that’s it at all.  Certain personalities just seem to clash.  Certain behaviors can be off-putting or annoying.  Some behaviors demand our disappointment or rebuke or outrage, and most importantly, demand these things when these behaviors are our own.  Remember, a better world doesn’t start with other people changing, or other people being better.  It starts with each of us being better, each of us being willing to change.

So how do we do this?  How do we love people we don’t like?

Well, there is no exact way, no precise blueprint that will absolutely assure us of the outcome we desire.  But one thing seems to be clear: We will never be able to authentically love others if we don’t truly believe that God loves them just as He loves you and me, that God wants good things for them just as much as us, that God forgives them just as much as us, and even that God dwells in them as he does in us.

You see, once we start wanting a God who doesn’t love us all the same, a God who picks and chooses who he wants to love or not love, help or not help, forgive or not forgive, we are in a very dangerous place, spiritually – for that type of self-serving attitude comes with the presumption that we would be in the “lovable” category, that we would be the people God favors, that we would be the ones he is happy with.

And those are very much the only people Jesus has a problem with in the Scripture, those people who are convinced of their own goodness.  “Lord, thank you that I am not like other people . . .”  I think we can all see the ridiculousness and danger of embracing that sort of understanding, that sort of attitude.

Beloved in Christ, we can only love others, only want good things for every single person, if we honestly see them as God sees them, as truly “lovable”, as God’s own children, as persons as important to God as every other person in every time and place.  But if we can’t or refuse to see others as God sees them, we will probably find ourselves continuing to create a world in which everyone gets placed into a category, everyone gets judged by each other, everyone is suspicious of those outside their own group, indifferent (or maybe even hostile) toward those different from themselves.  And that’s a world we can’t afford to live in.  That’s a world we can’t afford to continue creating.  That’s a world which will never be at peace.

Who can’t you stand?   Who can’t I stand?   Let’s start loving them today.

Father Boat

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