Homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 23, 2002
St. Martin dePorres, Cincinnati
(Based on Jeremiah 20:10-13; Ps. 69:8-10,14,17,33-35; Romans 5:12-15;
"You have seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced." You tricked me, God, and I let myself be tricked.
Isn't that a terrible way to talk to God, to accuse God of being devious and deceitful? Who prays like that? Can that be prayer? Well, it is the prayer of one of the greatest prophets and saints, that's who.
It's the beginning of the passage we just heard from the Old Testament. Let me read it for you:
You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.
I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in,
I cannot endure it.
We are being let in on a time of deep depression for Jeremiah, a severe conflict in his spirit.
He is in prison. And by whom? By the high priest, the religious leader of the people. Why? Be cause he has been led by God to preach a message the people didn't want to hear. Those who had been his friends have turned against him. They proclaim "Terror on every side!" The message he had to declare was that it wasn't going to turn out the way they expected: the Babylonians were going to drive them into exile.
It was the false prophets who were assuring them that everything would be all right. "Peace, peace, peace!" they were crying. We have these alliances with other enemies of the Babylonians and together we will win.
Remember, this is a man who didn't want to be a prophet in the first place. In chapter 1 we read God saying,
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
And Jeremiah says, "Ah, Lord God, I know not how to speak; I am too young."
To which God says, "Don't give me that 'I'm too young'.
To whomever I send you, you shall go;
whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you.
And the Lord touched his mouth, and said:
"This day I set you over nations and over kingdoms,
to root up and tear down, to destroy and demolish,
to build and to plant."
He's angry at God. He hasn't been able to build anything, he is only the bearer of the bad news that turns people from him.
"I had thought it was going to be different." They are the most natural words we all utter, our most natural response. It's so painful. We had been led to expect . . . We never thought it would turn out like this. We are disillusioned -- and isn't that a most revealing expression: we were living off illusions and reality has destroyed them. We set up expectations and God allows them to be dashed.
You tricked me, God.
I found myself thinking this weekend about the professional golfer you might have heard or read about. His name is Jeff Julian. He wasn't one of the big names, but he made it to the tour and that's something.
He's just about scraping along, trying to raise two children after a failed marriage. When totally unexpectedly he meets a wonderful woman who herself is raising two kids. They fall in love and are married. It's a wonderful turnaround.
And then she begins to notice that he is slurring his speech. It gets worse and they go to Johns Hopkins, where they are dealt the devastating news that he has ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. He will become progressively more crippled and then die. Not what they expected from their story-book marriage.
I think also of all the good priests around our country thinking of their ordination and "I didn't become a priests expecting this." They could be thinking, "I gave up having kids of my own in the belief that by being a priest I could be a father to many more children -- and now I am being told that should be afraid to put my arm around a child lest someone accuse me. Parents are putting their kids on guard, not making them just careful but actually instilling fear in them."
You tricked me, God!
And what about you, the laity? Maybe you are saying, "I never thought this is what my Baptism was about, that I am expected to go against the cultural grain of our country, or neighborhood, or even my family! (In the Gospel of Matthew immediately following today's reading, Jesus says, "Don't think I have come to bring peace. I came to bring the sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother."
I never thought that I am expected to act prophetically, to speak out against wrong and injustice in our society -- and our church. To risk alienating my friends.
You know, even to speak about death puts you at odds with our American ethos. We're supposed to be positive! The power of positive thinking; put that negative stuff out of your mind. We live in a cheer-leader society: Rah! Rah! Rah! for our team!
Even to raise a question about our government makes you 'unpatriotic'; to even begin to wonder about our share of responsibility to the rest of the world. Just this week, the rest of the countries of the world signed a treaty that everyone -- including our country -- had been working to create for years. It is on the rights of women around the world. And at the end we just say arrogantly we're not going to sign that! And what is the reason given? Because it's all really the work of some radical feminists! For God's sake, it's about women and girls being sold into slavery and mutilated, not some feel-good equal rights stuff. But we won't sign it.
We are called by our Baptism to be a prophetic people. Not because we in the church are perfect but because we are sinners just like everyone else -- whether priest or laity -- but sinners who have been blessed with God's continuing grace and forgiveness.
You know, in the past you as laity may have bought into the illusion that priests and sisters and bishops and popes were some sort of unreal plaster-cast saints. You hear it when laity say to a priest, "You've got the inside track to God, Father." It was an illusion and it did violence to your own dignity and holiness through Baptism. Now we have to watch that we don't make the same mistake the other way, by teaching kids that priests are demons.
A crisis like the one we are experiencing is an opportunity, a gift from God, because it can compel us to look at the illusions was were holding up to avoid reality. It's a chance to dig down inside ourselves and ask ourselves what's really central to our faith.
Let me tell you about a friend of mine. She is a lovely, gracious woman I've known for over 30 years. She's now 77 years old. She loves the church and has given of herself as a religious educator for many years. She lives up in the Boston area and when the scandal broke I thought to myself that this has to be very hard for her. So I gave her a call. I said, "How are you doing?" And she said, "Oh, I'm fine. All this stuff doesn't touch what my faith is all about. Our faith was never all about priests and hierarchy and popes. It's about a God who loves us without condition and who stands beside us and walks with us every step of our journey." It's not about flight from reality but confronting it. And we are promised that we have nothing to fear from the truth; the truth will make us free.
Jeremiah is depressed, yes. And he's not afraid to tell God about it. But in the middle of his monologue he breaks in and declares "Sing to the Lord! Praise the Lord. For he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!"
I want to end by telling you what happened to that golfer. His wife was interviewed on public radio and she told how devastated they were as they left Johns Hopkins after that terrible news. She said they couldn't bring themselves to say anything in the car. And then suddenly they turned to each other and said "We refuse to become victims! We are going to live our lives." And on the putting green during this week's tournament some of the other golfers came over to Jeff and offered their sympathy for his tough break. And in his slurred speech he said simply, "I am alive!"
God says to us:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
You, and I, and this old church of ours, are worth more than many, many sparrows.