June 26,2022: Homily- 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When I was in grade school I would often get the same “command” from my teacher over and over and over again.  And it wasn’t because I was a bad kid.  That wasn’t it at all.  And I certainly didn’t mean to be disrespectful. Yet, the truth is, often I would get a little bored if the teacher talked too much.  And so I would start to fidget.  Or start to daydream.  Or start to whisper to one of my classmates.  And before I knew it, the teacher would call my name and say those two words we’ve all heard at one time or another . . . .

Eyes forward (pay attention).

When I heard those words I would always immediately apologize, sit up straight, and give the teacher my full attention.  (Until the next time, of course!)  I never quite understood what the big deal was, but nevertheless, I didn’t want the teacher to think I was a bad kid or that I was trying to cause trouble.  That really wasn’t my personality.  But the teacher knew something that I either didn’t know, or didn’t believe, or didn’t care to embrace.  He or she knew that if I wasn’t looking forward, if I wasn’t paying attention, I would be the one to suffer.  But if I stayed focused, if I kept my eyes fixed on the chalkboard (and my ears on what he or she was saying), good things were almost sure to happen.

“No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks

to what was left behind

is fit for the kingdom of God.”

 Puzzling, challenging words from the mouth of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke.  And this statement from him came immediately after two requests from a couple of people who were considering following him.  One simply wanted to go home to bury his father, and the other just wanted to say farewell to his family.  Jesus doesn’t give them an emphatic “no”, but rather gives them the cryptic words above. What is Jesus saying?

It’s easy to interpret these words as being really insensitive, or possibly even cruel.  Does Jesus not care about our families?  Does Jesus not care about the relationships that are important to us?  Does Jesus not believe in duty or responsibility or basic kindness?  What’s going on here?

As we know, Jesus often uses extreme examples to make his point, or tells parables in which things are often the opposite of what we think they should be in order to force us to evaluate the depth of our belief, the depth of our commitment, the depth of our faith.  And that seems to be what he’s doing here.  And so, I believe Jesus is basically telling me the same thing my teachers told me over and over and over again . . . .

Eyes forward.

There is a kind of danger in belonging to a community of faith that is rooted in historical events.  And we are part of just such a tradition.  We have sacred texts that tell us story after story after story, texts that show us the hand of God in the lives of real people.  And we have two millennia of history that is very well-known – a history intertwined with the history of Western Civilization.  And all of it is anchored in a person, a real person, a historical person, Jesus – the foundation upon which all of it rests.

And so it’s easy to simply keep looking backward, keep believing that our faith is all about stuff that happened long ago.  Is that how we see it?  For example, is the history of the Jewish people and the prophets just a simple snapshot from long ago?  Or are the Saints just interesting men and women who lived in a different time?  And most importantly – is the death and resurrection of Jesus just something in our rearview mirror – something that WAS?  Or is Jesus (and his saving acts) someone who IS?

“No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what

was left behind

is fit for the kingdom of God.”

My dear friends in Christ, our Church does have a past, a history if you like.  Some good, and some not so good, of course.  And some incredibly important things did happen long ago.  No doubt about that.  And Jesus was a real person who lived in a particular time and place.  And his passion, death, and resurrection were two thousand years ago.  All of that is true.

But faith – true faith, deep faith – is always forward looking.  In other words, a life of faith is not about who we were yesterday.  It’s not about the mistakes and sins we have made or the hurts that were inflicted on us or the troubles that have come our way.

Rather, faith is all about making honest assessments of who we are today and imagining who we want to be tomorrow.  It’s about embracing a whole new way of thinking and seeing and acting.  And it’s about following, not someone who is BEHIND us, but rather following someone who is right in FRONT of us and WITHIN us – inviting us to love more and give more and be more. Quite demanding but that’s our call.

And we can’t do that if we are constantly stuck in the past, constantly clinging to things we need to let go of, constantly focusing only on what was and not on what can be.  That’s the power of the resurrection, a power not simply on display in a story from long ago, but a power that can change us and transform us this very day, this very moment.

But, honestly speaking, it requires something from us.  Class . . . . eyes forward!

A Short Story

Are you a Jesus Fan or Follower: A group of Christians was holding a Prayer Meeting in Russia, when such was completely forbidden. Suddenly the door was broken down by the boot of a soldier, who came into the room, faced the group, with a machine gun in hand, and commanded, “if there’s any one of you who doesn’t really believe in Jesus, then get out now, while you have a chance.” There was a rush for the door and stood in front of the remainder of the group, with machine gun in hand. He looked around the room, as the people were beginning to think that their end had come. Then he smiled and said, Actually, I too believe in Jesus, and you’re better off without those hypocrites!

Father Boat

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