Our readings today provide a rich passage into God’s life,... living together with God. Although the Gospel tells of... Homily for Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sept. 27-28, 2014)

Homily for Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sept. 27-28, 2014)
Our readings today provide a rich passage into God’s life, into our lives and into our
living together with God. Although the Gospel tells of a son’s change of mind, the
readings, taken together focus far more on change in God and change in us. St.
Paul’s letter reminds us of the central truth of our Christian faith, that God so loved
the world that he sent his son to become human with us. But his embrace of the
Incarnation is quite a change for God, isn’t it? Recall what happened to Adam and
Eve and how God banished them from his sight in the garden of Paradise. Out they
went to suffer and die and there was no sense that God wanted to become like them!
And then later, in disgust with humanity, God opened the heavens and called forth
the flood that would wipe out almost all life on the earth. Our first reading from
Ezekiel today captures a less angry but still a very argumentative God as we can
hear in his tone: “Hear now, House of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are
not your ways unfair?” What the Scriptures enable us to see is remarkable, God’s
growth into a fully human response to us, taking on human life itself in Jesus.
One of the most beautiful paintings that I have seen, that tries to capture God’s
incarnation, is Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna,” which he painted almost exactly five
hundred years ago. It shows Mary holding the infant Jesus in her arms but neither
of them appears very joyful. In fact, Jesus looks confused, puzzled, as if he is
wondering about what his Father has assigned him, at what it means to become
human. And could you and I who have some experience in becoming human, could
we possibly be surprised by Jesus’s bewilderment in entering human life? If you
have ever spoken to non-Christians about our faith, you know the most difficult
thing for them to grasp about us is our belief that God has become fully human in
Jesus Christ. But isn’t that doubting also true of us, that we too, deep within
ourselves, find it very difficult to feel that God is human. We need great artists to do
that, as Raphael has done, to convey that God is puzzled by us, that God is puzzled by
what it means to become human but he does not shy away from that burden.
You and I must confess though that we are also confused by what it means to
become human, that we are also puzzled by what God intended in his creation of
man and woman. Why must humans suffer so much? Among all the laws that the
Bible contains, what is the greatest of the commandments? Who is our neighbor?
What is a good Samaritan? Why must we be afflicted with disease and death? Why
is it so difficult to express and find love in our lives? Last week in “The New York
Times,” the editorial writer David Brooks proposed establishing adult camps where
groups of 20 or so adults would live together secluded in the country for some
weeks and begin to build friendships. He sees this as a necessity because so many of
our lives have become so deprived of friends. I have to admit that I would like to see
the other members before I sign up for such a camp but Brooks does have a point.
The world and life that God has created for us is very puzzling. For me, one of the
best examples of God’s own confusion is his dialogue with Abraham in the Book of
Genesis (18:23) about the destruction of Sodom. Abraham says: “Will you sweep
away the innocent with the guilty? Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the
city, would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of fifty innocent
people within it?” God replies: “If I find fifty innocent people in the city, I will spare
the whole place for their sake.” Then Abraham says, what if there were five less?
Would you destroy the city for those five?” God answers: “I will not destroy it if I
find forty-five innocent.” Abraham persists and says to God, What if there are only
forty righteous people in the city. God responds that he will not destroy it if there
are forty. And Abraham asks again, what if there are only thirty and God responds
he will not destroy it if there are thirty. Abraham continues to pester God with his
questions and they finally settle on only ten just people needed to prevent the
destruction of the city. It seems to me that our Gospel today goes beyond this when
Jesus points out that one does not even have to be a recognizable, innocent and just
person: even repentant tax collectors and prostitutes can be favorites in God’s eyes.
We touch something important here about the life of God: from the very beginning
of Creation in the Book of Genesis the movement of God is always reaching out to
human beings even when God is puzzled by the human. God becoming human did
not just take place in the nativity in Bethlehem but throughout Jesus’s life in the
Holy Land as he learned the joys, difficulties and challenges of human living, of
becoming flesh and blood. What enabled God to live with the perplexity of our
condition and still reach out is that He was free of stereotypes: even tax collectors
and prostitutes are beloved. And that is the great lesson: what allows us to live with
the enigmas of becoming human is that we are always reaching out to others and
allowing others to reach out to us because we too have abolished stereotypes and
recognized that we are only brothers and sisters. Did I say “only”?
James Bernauer, S.J.
Church of St. Ignatius Loyola
Chestnut Hill, MA