In this beautiful homily for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly reminds us that the Messiah is not only in heaven calling us all to eternal life, he is down on the earth trying to teach us how to change this world.
First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-9
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: Romans 13:8-10
Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
You might wonder why fraternal charity and fraternal correction is the very first thing that our gospel has today.
And why it is there seems just a little bit funny, because remember now, from last week and the week before, Jesus has led his disciples up the mountain and up to the highest regions of Palestine and there he has said to Peter that, “You are the rock and upon you I will build my community,” because Peter, through God’s help, recognised him to be as the Messiah.
And then, of course, last week, just the very next step, what Jesus says he must now show them the way of the Messiah, so listen carefully. The way of the Messiah is to turn to Jerusalem to go there to be arrested, mocked, scourged, nailed on the cross and die and then to rise again.
Well, the part about rising again meant nothing to them. Peter jumps forward, as he’s the head of the disciples now, and he says to Jesus, “I’m sorry but that’s not going to happen to you.” And Jesus got very mad and he says those words that make your blood cringe: “Get behind me for you are Satan. You are preventing me from doing what I am called to do by my Father’s will, my Father’s love.” So then he comes and he begins taking them all the way down the journey home and in Jerusalem till his death.
Now, the first thing he talks to them on that journey home — remember from now on he’s not going to be speaking to the crowds, although many people will come and follow him, he is speaking only to his disciples — he is telling them that if you want to belong to this community, these are the rules and these are the way we go, and it would have been quite different and quite startling.
And, of course, the first one is: just because you’re walking with me does not mean that you have risen up to heaven. It means that you’re going to work among the people to let them know that the Messiah is not only in heaven calling you all to eternal life, he is down on the earth trying to teach you how to change this world.
He has come for mankind and not to choose a few people that are going to feel very happy sitting together and singing hymns together and being together. He has come for the world.
And this is a very important concept. We are here not to go to heaven, we are here to work in this world. And this is a tough world. It’s not a world of wonder and love and all of these things, although it has all these elements in it.
It’s a world where you yourself have to change first.
And how will you have to change?
Well, you have to learn to forgive, you have to learn to care, you have to learn that strangers are no longer strangers, they are your brothers and sisters.
You have to learn that you will only learn through pain and suffering and sorrow and misery. You’ll learn nothing from wonder and happiness and all of these wonderful things that are comfortable around you.
And why is that?
Because pain makes man think, and thought makes man wise, and wisdom makes life endurable.
You are to walk the walk of every human being. It’s a mixture of joy and happiness, but also do not run away from the pain, for the pain is where you’re going to learn what it means to love. You cannot love without pain, no matter how you try to surround it, no matter how you try to (inaudible word) it.
You can only learn pain through sorrow, because it is the empty feeling that you have within you that turns you to God and turns you to understanding that now your heart has been empty and now He is ready to fill it and He is ready to fill it with Himself.
And God is a god of the people. And God is a god who loves us and wants us to know you do not run away and hide from reality, you do not run away and hide from people, you do not set up your little own places all for yourself and your friends and ignore the world before you.
The only way is the way of Jesus. You walk, and the first thing you learn, the first thing you learn is that the way can be very hard and the way can be very tough.
But the second thing that Jesus himself says in today’s gospel: “Yes, hard and tough, but remember I am always with you, I am with you to the end of time.”
And this is the lesson. For with God, if God is with us, who can be against us? If God walks with us, there is no pain that we do not share from His pain, and His pain becomes our pain.
And what happens? What happens is the new understanding, the new world where such people are not ashamed, they’re not ashamed to be human: they have mistakes.
We are the Roman Catholic Church. This is not a place to hide in. The Roman Catholic Church says we are in need of love, we are in need of forgiveness, because the good man falls seven times a day, and this is what it is to be a human being.
We are not looking forward to a world where everybody is happy, happy, happy, because the world that we know is where we will find God. And He is with the poor and He is with the needy and He is with the troubled and He is the one who wipes tears.
And if we want to find Him in this world, we must find Him in those areas as well as the great moments when we feel His presence within our heart, for feeling the presence of God in our heart, walking with Jesus, knowing that his spirit drives us on, all of these other great values that God gives to us so that we might understand that the Lord has become flesh and has dwelt among us and moved in with us and will be with us always.
Are we supposed to be perfect?
Of course not. We’re supposed to be vulnerable, because out of vulnerability comes the possibility of love.
Are we supposed to be the all-stars of the universe?
The trouble with all-stars is they darken too quickly and disappear into the emptiness of the universe.
We’re supposed to have both feet on the ground and we’re supposed to take reality as it comes, day by day.
And we’re supposed to cry and we’re supposed to weep.
And why is that?
Because God counts the tears. Jesus cried. Jesus wept. Jesus knew what it was to be a human being, to be disappointed, to be constantly without a place that we can count totally and completely on.
But he also was one who said, “We will do this together. You will never be alone.”
Sometimes when we get very, very lonely, sometimes we feel that the whole world is against us. Sometimes we feel even our best friend is no longer happy with us and annoyed with us.
It is times like that when we know that this is what Jesus felt on his very difficult climb of Calvary and onto the cross. And he knew that out of that comes a great, great, great joy where we have become one with him in sacrificing ourselves as he sacrifices himself.
So do not be afraid of pain. Be afraid of selfishness. Selfishness has no future. Selfishness might take your attention for a while, but then it’s like a puff of nothing in the air and you’re back to just yourself, alone.
Christianity is a religion that is telling us the more the merrier. The more the merrier means the more people, the more groups, the more of those who come together and rejoice and embrace humanity, the healthier is our life.
Don’t hide in groups. Don’t just be satisfied with what’s in front of you. The world belongs to you. Jesus gives you the world. He consecrates you. He has made you whole. He has made it possible for you to live in a much wider world.
We all know people when we’re growing up, especially in little villages, it’s a very small world they have, very small world. If you bring in foreigners or people that they’ve never met before or different races and religions and all of that, they get a little frightened and then they kind of huddle together afraid something is going to happen.
Jesus is different. Jesus says the world is your oyster. The world is yours. Do not be afraid for you will go out into that strange world and what will you do? You will meet me for I am there and I have been there before you.
I remember when I was sent to Taiwan. Now in those days Taiwan was like it was one hundred, two hundred years before. It hadn’t changed yet. And I wondered, my goodness, I am going to be walking around in this place where nobody speaks English, and just me, wondering what’s going to happen.
And then I found out what happens. You turn to people that perhaps you would never turn to in your own little town and village. You turn to people and you begin to see that Jesus has been there long before you. The Holy Spirit has been working long before you.
And so when I went home to Brooklyn people would say, “Not those who are Hong Kong but those who are Taiwan people, did you convert any of them?” And I could say, truly, “They converted me.”
For this is where you are going to find Jesus who has blessed us. He will carry you to different places, new things, and allow you to understand what it means to be a human being and what it means to love.
For he has promised us, and he is true to his promise. He’s not giving you heaven. He’s not worried about heaven. Heaven is something that you get when you begin to love the people in front of you and then you will experience heaven, for it is hidden in the body and the blood and the expression of Jesus who is God’s (inaudible word) in this world.
And so it is today when he takes his people aside and he says, “You must learn to forgive. You must learn to be one with them. You must learn to understand them.”
To understand is to know. When the Jews said “know” they meant “to love.” You cannot know someone unless you love them, and you cannot love them unless you know them.
And this is what Jesus tells us, that as we go through the world we will find him in the people we know and care for and reach out to: the new friends, the old friends, the ones that confidently we sit in peace and the ones who challenge us, the ones who challenge us to learn how to love them. And in learning how to love them, we learn the immensity of God’s love.
And so it is today, if there’s one thing that we should remember about today is we begin as human beings. We are human. We feel pain, but he feels pain. We feel lost, but he felt lost. We feel that sometimes it’s not even worth getting up, but he felt the same way.
But the response is reach out, for he is there to take you through another day, another few hours, another week, another year, another lifetime.
But if he is with you, you will never, never be alone again.