14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
(At St. Agnes Church, Bond Hill)
(Based on Ezechiel 2:2-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Mk 6:1-6)
We began our liturgy today by singing "Oh, How I Love Jesus".
And I think that at some time in our lives many of us have had the thought: "If I could only have seen Jesus!" In our imagination we see ourselves meeting him and being so attracted we'd easily give up everything and go follow him wherever he wanted us to go. Just think: there is that wonderful halo, and those rays coming out from him; his voice would be so sweet and soothing; and that beard --- I mean, that's really cool!
There's something in all of us that is drawn to a magical God, a God who works wonders and signs and sweeps us off our feet. A God that makes it all so easy.
Just look at all the excitement over --- the secret in the third envelope at Fatima! Wow, you can't anything much more exciting and mysterious than that. Or all the people caught up in watching "Touched by an Angel". All of the mystery of life put together in a neat package, with a happy (tearful?) ending --- in an hour. Then we can get on with other things. (Of course, while we watch we also receive the benefit from zillions of ads telling us what's important in life: how we ought to dress and look, how our hair should swish and how we should smell; all the things we just must consume in order to be 'in' in our world. They even sell us pills and medications for all the stress and headaches we got from worrying about all the other things we just had to have.)
Don't get me wrong. It's fun, it's entertainment and that's fine. But let's not confuse it with religion, with what our God is all about in our world. (There are times when I think it just might be our most prevalent modern heresy. It's called Disneyism.)
The picture we get in today's Gospel is very different.
You see, the people in the synagogue really did see Jesus; they heard him speak. And the Gospel uses a very harsh expression to report their reaction: "They took offense at him." They were 'scandalized'. (A skandalon in Greek was a block they threw in front of people's feet to make them stumble and fall, a stumbling block.)
And what offended them? What was their stumbling block?
It turns out he was so ordinary. So local, so down-the-street, so everyday, so humdrum.
We can hear them talking among themselves: "What's he doing up there? Why, I used to hang out in his dad's shop. I helped him unload stuff off the oxcart." In today's world it might be: "I played hoops with him at the rec center --- and you know what? he couldn't dribble worth a nickel." Or "she used to sit at our table in the cafeteria" or "she sat next to me on the bus everyday and you couldn't get two words out of her."
No halo, no rays. And his speech was like everybody else's in Nazareth. "You know those Nazareth kids, you can tell them right off, from the funny way they talk." And as for that beard --- well, you can bet it was pretty sweaty a lot of times.
They took offense at him. And so do I, and so do you. Every day. Every time we look at one of our sisters or brothers and fail to see the presence of our God, the revelation of our God, the call of our God, the questioning of our God.
It's not fair. You mean I'm supposed to see Jesus in some young punk who's doing drugs, or some arrogant idiot who thinks the world revolves around her, or some deadbeat father who spends his money on himself instead of supporting the child he brought into the world?
The reality is that the scandal is not that God is so remote from us, so far we can't reach God. The scandal is rather that in Jesus God has chosen to become so close that we can't even see or hear where God is actually present. The hard thing is that I might just see; because if I see, then I might be questioned by what I see; I become implicated, I become responsible, I might be called to have to participate in life instead of just being a spectator. If I really see the dilapidated state of the schools in our city and then watch our leaders wanting to throw tax money at some boutique store downtown, I just might have to speak out at the injustice.
When I ride the 45-Bond Hill bus downtown to work every day, I get off at 7th and Walnut. And each day sitting there on the steps at St. Louis Church there is the same old guy begging and asking if I can give him a quarter. The wiser people tell me that it's not good to give him money. He'll probably just blow it on booze. And maybe he's a con artist in the first place; he could probably work if he really wanted to. So I listen to them and I don't give him anything. And maybe they're right, maybe my money would just feed his dependence. But when I walk on, I know one thing: that I don't do all I should to work for the poor, to speak out against injustice. I take offence, for sure, because I am questioned.
Let me tell you a story. My grand-nieces live in a pretty up-scale town in Connecticut. Two weeks ago they went with a high-school group on a service project down in the hollers of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. You know the routine: they slept in blanket-rolls on the floor of the gym in the small local school, had cold water for showers. They were putting up siding and painting the poor trailers of people who didn't even have indoor plumbing (but they did have call-forwarding!). I asked one of my nieces afterward what she had learned from the experience. Her first answer was "I learned how much we have that they don't". Not a bad answer, but really, one that even a good materialist might easily make. But then she said, "I also learned another thing: I learned what they have that we don't" "What was that?" "They have a sense of family, of caring for one another and looking out for one another." And I thought: that's God-seeing kind of stuff, that takes spiritual sensitivity. She was confronted with a new question, a jumbling of her values, a moment of conversion: so what is really important in life?
The people in the synagogue missed their moment of grace because they couldn't see; it was all too ordinary. If we want to see Jesus, we need to be prepared to be offended, to be shocked. God just might be in front of us in forms we never thought God could take. So ordinary. No soupy music, no halo, no hazy glow. No secret in the envelope.
As we receive Eucharist today, let's ask that we be given those kinds of eyes, those kinds of ears, to recognize the God who is sitting next to us. Let's ask that besides Our Lady of Fatima we become able to notice Our Lady of Bond Hill, or Our Lady of Lockland, or Our Lady of Woodlawn, or Our Lady of Pleasant Ridge.
And if we really are given the gift of God-sight, we just might be able to recognize the angels who hang out down the street at the corner of California Avenue and Reading Road.