September 12,2021: Homily- 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Every once in a while I’ll do something that makes me pause and brings a smile to my face.  Sometimes that “thing” is a gesture.  Sometimes it’s something I just said.  Sometimes it’s the way I’m sitting, or laughing, or doing some house chores.

It’s funny how we grow more and more like our parents as we get older, once we get out of that “Mom and Dad know nothing” adolescent stage.  We often find ourselves rooting for the same sports teams.  We often wind up voting the same way.  We often keep our houses the same (messy vs. neat), like the exact same kinds of foods, and enjoy the same kinds of activities (indoor vs. outdoor).   Of course, this doesn’t happen to all of us, nor is our accidental imitation of them perfect or exact.  But it is uncanny how much our parents (and the home environment they created) shape the person we become.

And it’s not just external sorts of things.  Often, it’s our whole worldview, the whole way we see and interpret everything around us, particularly, how we see and understand and value others.  Parents are like an ever-present force, forging us into the people we eventually become.  And of course, that can be for good or for bad depending on what sort of parents we have.

“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

These words from the mouth of Jesus can be interpreted in two different ways.  The first is the easy way, the one that allows us to see this sentence in isolation and come to the conclusion that Jesus is essentially telling us, “So don’t even try.”  And if that’s the interpretation we want to embrace, then our spiritual lives, our spiritual journeys as Christians, will pretty much come to a screeching halt.  If we truly believe that we can’t possibly know anything about God or what he might want from us, then there really is no point.  If it’s impossible to know, then there is no value in trying.

But there is another way to interpret these words, another way of understanding what Jesus is saying.  And this is one that is consistent with our faith, consistent with what we believe as Church, what we believe as people who call Jesus Lord and God.  And this interpretation is one in which we can imagine Jesus following up his statement by telling us, “But that’s precisely what you need to try to do – think as God does.”

In other words, we are to become (as best as we can) just like God,  think as he thinks, see as he sees, want what he wants, love as he has (and does) love us.  Just like our earthly parents have shaped us, so should our heavenly one do the same, help mold us into the beautiful person he created us to be.  The best version of ourselves.  There is one big difference, of course.  In many ways, our moms and dads shaped us without our full consent, shaped us simply because of the environment they created for us,  that is, what they did and what they said and how they treated us, as we were growing up.

But in a very real sense, God hardly (if ever) works in us without our consent.  And not because he can’t.  That’s not it at all.  Rather, God chooses to act this way because he completely respects our freedom, respects our ability to choose or not choose to be open to his grace, respects our ability to choose or not choose to say “yes” to him. – And that means to a large extent that WE have the ability and responsibility to choose the kind of person we become.

“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

It’s true that trying to understand what God might be “thinking” (if I can use that sort of language), or trying to figure out how God sees us, or what he wants from us, seems to be an impossible task.  After all, God is God and we are not.  And so, it takes self-revelation on God’s part, a deep desire on his part to have himself known.  In faith, we believe that’s precisely what has happened throughout all of human history, and continues to this day, in every human heart open to him.

And so, we have had countless men and women from the dawn of time who have pondered the great mysteries of life and who with the help of God,  have helped shed light on who God is.  We have had prophets who have challenged us with authority and truth and wisdom and warning.  We have had our Jewish ancestors who revealed to us how they saw God at work in them as a people – in and through their very history.  And we have had sacred writings handed down to us – inspired expressions of a community of faith doing their best to express the seemingly inexpressible.

But that’s not all.  We have something beyond all of that.  We have something that is the game-changer above all game-changers.  We have something that illuminates the mind of God in ways it has never been shown before.  Of course, it’s not a “something” at all.  It’s a “someone”-  JESUS.

If we want to “know” what might be in the mind of God, we simply need to try to understand and “get inside” the mind of Jesus.  If we want to know what God expects of us, we simply need to understand what Jesus asked of his followers.  If we want to see as God sees, we simply need to try to look at the world through the eyes of Jesus.  And if we want to know how God wants us to act, we only need look at Jesus and what he did, what he said, what was important to him, and even what disappointed him.

Jesus.  God in the flesh.  God visiting his people.  God showing us both who God is, and who we are called to be – human beings “fully alive” – people fully embracing the dignity with which we were created.

That, my dear people of God, is the power of the Incarnation – God revealing himself to us in a perfect way.  And so, we don’t have to try to understand God from a distance, from a vantage-point that keeps God (to a large extent) “hidden” from us.  The things that are important to God, the way he sees every human person, the way he wants us to live, the things he values – they’re all on display in the person of Jesus.  It’s right in front of us – in these sacred texts, in Jesus’ words and actions and the stories he told, in the traditions and teachings of the Church – even in the understandings and convictions that come to us in the silence of our hearts, each time we open ourselves up to God’s grace – each time we open ourselves up to being more than we are today.

My friends, it would be so wonderful if God could look down on each of us and think to himself,

“You’re just like him.  You’re just like my Son Jesus.”


Father Boat

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