Monday, September 17, 2012

Throwing the Baker in the Batter

Homily for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

(Note: after giving this homily, I had a few other thoughts and tweaks that have been added to this online version)

“Who do you say that I am?”
Quite a question that Jesus asks of his disciples today.  We might rephrase it for ourselves in our day:  “What does faith mean to us?  How does being Catholic affect my life?  What does it mean to be a member of the Church?  What does it mean to have a Christian home, to live a Christian life?”

In our Gospel today, at first it seems that St. Peter gives the right answer: “You are the Christ.” But it doesn’t take long before he demonstrates by his resistance to Jesus’ prediction about the future that his thinking is horribly flawed.  We have to conclude that when Peter said that Jesus was the Christ, he had a very different understanding of what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, the promised one.   It seems clear that Peter thought that Jesus would be successful in this world – that he would bring happiness and peace to those who followed him.  Maybe that he would reward his disciples for their labors and would grant blessings to those he had chosen.  That being a follower of Christ could be a peaceful and blessed kind of life.  In short, when St. Peter answered “You are the Christ,” it seems that what he meant was “You are the one who will make us successful in life.”  And boy did he find out that was the wrong answer.

Now, unfortunately, it seems that we all are prone to the same error that St. Peter fell in to when responding to the gift of faith in our daily lives.  Like Peter, we can begin to think that faith in God is supposed to make us successful, or at least help us to be successful – to have God at your side so that you will be able to conquer whatever challenges are placed before you.
I think this is a common understanding in our world today –
to treat religion as a kind of leg up, like a good education or a healthy lifestyle.  We might hear it even in anecdotal statistics that are sometimes thrown around – “You know, people who believe in God are happier.”  “They are more able to handle life’s troubles.”
“People who are religious are less likely to be criminals and are more likely to volunteer and give to charities.”  When Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am?” in our world today, it seems that many people respond in one way or another “You are one of the things that is important to have in a successful life.”  Kind of like the ads “Got milk?”, “Got faith.”  One gives you strong bones, the other gives you a strong spirit.  If you want your children to be successful, you should make sure that they get to church and get their sacraments – they can decide later on what they want to do with it, but at least they’ll get a good start.

What does Jesus say to all of this?  “Get behind me, Satan.”  “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  Human beings see their lives in terms of worldly success.
Human beings so often try to use religion as a way to achieve their goals, to get what they want out of life.  Human beings are always tempted to think of God as one more ingredient in the recipe for a successful earthly life.  As one ingredient among many that can be added to life along with others to improve the taste of things.

How vehemently Jesus rejects this notion of faith, this notion of who he is for us, of what he brings to us.  No, Jesus Christ is not an ingredient in the recipe for a successful life.  His life is the bowl that all of the ingredients must be mixed inside, his love is the oven that purifies and prepares us and his pierced hands are the hands that serve us to the Father.  Without him, not a single ingredient makes sense.  Without him, life is just a bunch of meaningless stuff all thrown together with no binding purpose.

When we see how Christ emptied himself, forsaking all earthly success in order to carry out his loving plan of salvation, when  we look upon the cross, we realize that Christ did not come to grant us earthly success, but salvation.  That is why, after Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Christ, Jesus speaks of the cross.  The specter of the cross, foreshadowed by Christ, exposed the inadequacy of Peter’s understanding of Jesus and revealed the true Christ: Christ who takes up his cross out of love for us and who dies in order to give us new life.  Christ who calls us to spend ourselves loving God and others even when such love jeopardizes our earthly success.

The cross shows us that following Christ is a love story, not a success story.  Our relationship with Christ, together as members of his body, his plan for us, is so much more profound and beautiful than mere earthly success that only lasts for the few short days that we wander around on this planet.

The cross makes it clear that we cannot treat Christ as just one more ingredient in a successful earthly life.  No, that is like asking the baker to jump into the batter.  Absurd!  Christ did not come to be an ingredient in our earthly success, but instead to call each of us to be the ingredients in his plan of salvation.

When Christ reveals his cross to us in our daily lives, how do we respond?  When he shows us that we must follow him by our willingness to forsake earthly success in pursuit of his plan of salvation, do we listen?  Or do we, like Peter, rebuke him, insisting that his plan of salvation fit into our plan for earthly success?  That he jump into our mix, instead of us jumping into his?  He asked St. Peter, and he asks each of us “Who do you say that I am?”

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