Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 9, 2017, Year A

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 9, 2017, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S./ bigccatholics.com

When you hear the expression “sins of the flesh,” what kind of sins do you think of?

That’s what I thought.

Do you suppose that was all St. Paul had on his mind when he wrote to the Romans, “We are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh”? Remember what he wrote to the Galatians about what he calls the “works” of the flesh. The list is impressive, fifteen sins. Yes, it includes impurity and licentiousness, but also idolatry, rivalry, factions, outbursts of fury, and selfishness, to name only half of them.

What these all have in common is that they take what is good and honest in our nature and then twist them and distort them. Let me give a few examples to explain what I mean.

Impurity and licentiousness are a distortion of the natural and beautiful mutual attraction between men and women.

Selfishness is a distortion of appropriate self-esteem.

Factions are a distortion of the need for community and cooperation.

Outbursts of fury are a distortion of a proper sense of self-preservation.

Why does this happen? Because of our fallen nature, also known as our tendency to want what we want when we want it.

Nothing could be further from the way Jesus describes himself in the Gospel. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” he says, “for I am meek and humble of heart.”

When you hear the word “meek,” what image comes to mind? Self-effacing? Jesus wasn’t self-effacing. Timid? Quiet? Shy? Passive? None of those, obviously.

The first reading, from the prophet Zechariah, gives us a clue. There we read, “See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass.” No chariots, no warrior’s bow. In fact, he will banish them, along with the horse. He rides a donkey, not an animal associated with battle. He will proclaim peace. No military hero he. Meek is the opposite of warlike.

The dominant image of a hero has been, in most of human history and not surprisingly, a military one. Exceptional bravery, above and beyond the call of duty, has always been recognized and admired. Even in the Bible, most of the “heroes” are found in the Book of Judges, the most famous being Gideon and Samson. They saved the Hebrews from their oppressors. They were saviors.

Sometimes people who do something exceptional to help others are called “heroes.” There is no reason to begrudge them the honor, especially when it comes from the persons they have helped. They themselves, however, are often meek in the face of the attention they get, insisting they just did what anyone might have done. A good example is Louis Zamperini, who died at the age of 97. He was called a hero because he survived, incredibly, against impossible odds in World War II. His response: “They gave me three medals. What for?”

Jesus was no Samson. Nevertheless, he is the Savior, the great hero. He fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy not only in a literal sense with his solemn entry intro Jerusalem before his passion, but also in many ways throughout his life and ministry.

And yet, he calls himself meek, perhaps because the last thing he wants is for us to fear him. “Come to me,” he says, “I will give you rest.”

So we have in Jesus a “meek hero”—oxymoronic as that might sound.

If we look back at St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we find that he speaks of neither meekness nor courage. But his call “not to be debtors to the flesh” actually requires both. It takes courage not to live “by the flesh;” it takes meekness, too, the honest recognition that we are too easily tempted.

Meekness and courage, therefore, are not opposites. In fact, it can require a lot of courage to remain meek in certain circumstances, as Jesus himself demonstrated. And Jesus, here as always, is our model.

Sometimes we need courage. Sometimes we need meekness. Most times we need both.

Sun, 07/09/2017 - 10:25
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