Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 17, 2000
At St. Martin dePorres Parish
(Based on Mark 8:27-35)
This weekend our God places us in-between two very dramatic and powerful proclamations.
The first was proclaimed before upwards of four billion people at the Olympics in Sydney, Australia. It was a proclamation of life, of joy, of the possibility for peace.
Did you connect it with God's revelation?
Those 10,000 athletes are a wonder created by our God. Only an infinitely creative God could have imagined them. They speak to us of courage and grace and commitment and hope.
They mingle with people of every color and culture. I don't know about you, but I just love it when the participants from one of those tiny nations -- from places we can't even identify on a globe, with maybe 2 or 3 people in their contingent -- go marching along with all the big-shots of the world. Their pride in their country and its unique identity is palpable, and it enriches us all.
And when all the nations had marched in and gathered in the infield, the shot from above made it look like nothing so much as a lovely flower-garden of colors. And I think every one of us must wonder for a second: why can't we live together like that as one world in peace -- all the time?
Now don't get me wrong. The Olympics are not that "new heaven and new earth" that John promises us in the Apocalypse. Sin will be at work there. Some of the athletes will lie and cheat and use illegal substances to get an edge in their effort to win a medal. Judges will intrude nationalistic biases in their weighting of different performances. Other adults will exploit these good young people for their own false gods. Commercial interests will use the occasion only to make yet more money.
And of course the Olympics are only for two weeks. It's a honeymoon -- and all of us are old and wise enough to know that honeymoons are notoriously unreliable for predicting long-range love.
And yet, and yet. For all those blemishes, these young men and women, and the events themselves, are a sign of God's creativity and we should allow ourselves to rejoice and praise God for it all.
The second proclamation comes to us in today's Gospel, and it's also about life and joy. Jesus, after all, said "I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly." And he prayed, "Father, may my joy be in them, that their joy may be complete." But the proclamation invites us to a deeper life, a more lasting joy.
It tells us how to live so that our life and joy may be richer and more lasting -- by dying to ourselves. If we are really to save our life we must give it away, lose it, lay it down for a sister or brother.
It's a hard message, to take up the crosses that come to us.
And we need to be clear: the cross in itself is not a value; death is alien to us. No one wants the cross of discovering that their child has some incurable disease or disabling impairment. No one wants the cross of caring for a loved one as he or she wastes away with Alzheimer's disease. No one wants the cross of losing one's job and wondering how to feed a family. And none of us wants the cross involved in recognizing all the ways we put each other on the cross -- in big ways like Auschwitz and Ruanda and Soweto and all our big wars, and in the small wars we carry on in our homes and neighborhoods.
The message calls us to lay down our arms and defenses, to become vulnerable and caring, to try to understand and even love our enemies. It tells us that genuine life only comes out of death: death to our selfishness and vanity and the need to gain our own small perch in this world by putting someone else down.
Perhaps you saw some of the people this past week on Bill Moyers' special on the processes of death and dying. What incredibly rich, awesome human beings! They were fully alive and concerned for others, fully joyful in the face of their impending death. I would venture to say that they were so fully alive because they had confronted death and were fully aware that they were learning on the spot how to die with grace and dignity.
So we have two proclamations. Different to be sure. But we need to be careful about falling into the position that would place them in opposition to one another, as if the one is 'spiritual' and the other 'worldly'. They are both revelations from the one God, both about life and joy.
We all want the exciting God of youth and spontaneity and imagination -- and fun! There's nothing wrong with that, it's the way we are made.
But in order to reach that joy more fully, we must also reach down inside ourselves for the fuller truth the Lord has also bred into us.
Death, and suffering, and loss will remain alien. And it's OK to fear the cost of it all, to ask God to take it away, to say we don't understand or are too weak. Jesus never rebuked those who admitted their weakness in the face of his message. He looked out over the multitudes in pity because they were like sheep without a shepherd; he looked kindly on the man who said, "Lord, I believe -- help my unbelief."
There is only one response to his proclamation that is rejected, that is unacceptable. It is the response of Peter when he took Jesus aside and told him "this will never happen to you; this is not the way!"
It is the way. And the truth. And the fullness of life.