14th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-20
We must die to live, must empty ourselves in order to be filled.
About a week ago a group of us were on pilgrimage in Rome, in St. Peter’s Square, and Pope Francis went by in his Pope-mobile not more than ten feet away, smiling and waving. It was a wonderful moment. The trip was full of wonderful moments. We got to have masses in all these great churches, and we got to see all this great art—Michelangelo’s and Caravaggio’s—and there was pasta and gelato and the light on the stones.
And then it was over. We had to come home. Stupid with jet lag. Ten pounds heavier. And there were lawns to mow and laundry to do, and maybe the internet goes out at the house and we have to spend hours on the phone with tech support and it still isn’t fixed and where or where are all those moments in the sun? Did Rome even happen?
And this is how it is. This is how the readings are today.
We got to have masses in all these great churches, and we got to see all this great art—Michelangelo’s and Caravaggio’s—and there was pasta and gelato and the light on the stones.
In the reading from Isaiah we have this beautiful image of God the mother holding us in her arms and comforting us, and we are told to rejoice, and again to rejoice, because our bodies will flourish like the grass and we will be filled with delight. And the Psalm tells us to shout with our joy, not to hold back at all, because the works of God are tremendous.
But in Galatians Paul is talking about being crucified to the world and how he bears the marks of Jesus in his body, and the whole letter to the Galatians is angry and tense because the people in that place have failed to get the point Paul was making when he was there. And in Luke Jesus is preparing his followers for struggle and persecution as they go out into the world to evangelize, preparing them to have the door slammed in their faces again and again. They are lambs among wolves, he says.
Life is up and life is down and that’s a good thing finally because it shows us that the joy when it comes isn’t a fantasy, isn’t an illusion, because if it were, we’d be feeling it all the time, we’d be manufacturing it. But it comes and it goes because it’s a gift from God, not an achievement of ours, not a prize we earn, so that even in the dark times we can rejoice, knowing that the Lord will come again and is with us even in the darkness, even in our sadness.
So what do we do? We accept. We accept it all. We “eat what is set before us,” as Jesus tells his disciples, taking what comes, the good with the bad, and not trying to change it or presume that we can.
Walter Burghardt’s definition of prayer: “a long, loving look at the real.”
Life is up and life is down and that’s a good thing finally because it shows us that the joy when it comes isn’t a fantasy, isn’t an illusion, because if it were, we’d be feeling it all the time, we’d be manufacturing it.
He also says, “the real I look at. I do not analyze it or argue it, describe or deny it. I do not move around it. I enter into it.”
When we enter a house we wish it peace, and if the person who lives there accepts this peace, great, terrific. It will stay there. But if we enter a house and the person who lives there says no, says I don’t want your peace and your goodwill, we move on. We shake the dust from our feet. We don’t argue and push, we don’t try to control the person’s life, and we don’t take it personally, either, don’t let it get into us. We just leave. We just let it go.
Most of us pack a lot more for our journeys than Jesus says the disciples should pack. We take all our assumptions, all our preconceived notions, all our selfish expectations. But Jesus says, leave all that behind. Have no expectations. Be in the moment, accept the moment, rejoice in the moment.
In Assisi, in the Church of Saint Clare, we saw the habit of St. Clare, and some of her hair, and the shoes that St. Francis wore, thin and papery, like slippers—St. Francis, the one who stripped off all his finery and walked out in the hills to be with God among the birds and the trees.
But this isn’t exactly right either. It’s not just that there’s darkness and there’s light but that for us as Christians the darkness and the light are necessarily related.
To the extent that any of us for a minute conform even a little bit to the heart of Jesus, are even just a little bit Christ-like, we will be persecuted. Have you experienced this? The moment we become like lambs, the wolves attack: with a cutting remark, a snub, a cold shoulder. It’s hard in this world to be kind to others and to give up ambition and in fact it inevitably leads to a kind of suffering. We are on the way of the Cross. We are in our own small terms experiencing the Passion.
And that leads to the joy. That leads to the resurrection. We must die to live, must empty ourselves in order to be filled.
And it’s not just that. It’s not just that we have to endure the darkness when it comes but that even then we can rejoice.
The day after we saw Pope Francis we got have mass at St. Peter’s, in the chapel of the tomb of St. Pope John Paul, right next to Michelangelo’s Pieta. St. John Paul’s body, in its coffin, was actually inside the altar itself, and I was really aware of that as I served.
I think what I admired the most about John Paul was the way he let us watch him grow old and frail, and not gently but brutally, with his Parkinson’s and how it devastated him. He too, bore the marks of Jesus on his body, and that’s what I admired, not his power but his powerlessness, not his charisma but his weakness, because I think he was showing us what really matters after all.
The moment we become like lambs, the wolves attack: with a cutting remark, a snub, a cold shoulder. It’s hard in this world to be kind to others and to give up ambition and in fact it inevitably leads to a kind of suffering. We are on the way of the Cross.
The Pieta: the body of our crucified Lord, limp in his mother’s lap.
“Do not rejoice,” Jesus tells us, “because the spirits are subject to you”—because sometimes things go well, because sometimes the light pours down—“but rejoice because your names are written in heaven”—because however things go, we have Jesus, we are one with him.
“For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncirumcision,” Paul says, “but only a new creation.”
And while the mass was going on, in the chapel of the tomb of John Paul, there was this really loud noise outside of us, like some kind of machinery, and it was getting louder and louder, closer and closer. It was a man on a floor polisher, riding it, like a kind of Zamboni—not the Pope on his Pope-mobile but a janitor on a floor polisher, and I thought, here it is, here’s life, both light and dark, the dignified and the ridiculous, both at the same time, all at once.
Rejoice, rejoice, I say it again rejoice. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirits, brothers and sisters, Amen.