Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Non-Institutional Institution

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, 2013

Imagine, if you will, a modern board room where the Board of Apostles is sitting down for the first meeting with Jesus to kick off their new endeavor, the salvation of the world.  They are batting around ideas as to how to kick things off.  Perhaps one suggests that Jesus should work the transfiguration miracle first: that would really demonstrate his glory and majesty.  “What about feeding of the 5000?” someone asks.  That would certainly impress people and show his impartiality and kindness.  Or raising Lazarus – show the people his power over death.  Maybe, someone suggests, Christ could journey to Rome, to the center of influence and commerce and there, in the Roman Forum, preach the Beatitudes, demonstrating the depth of his wisdom and his knowledge of the kingdom of God.

“No,” we can imagine Jesus saying, “I think for my first miracle I am going to invite you all home to a family wedding.  And after my mother asks me, I’m going to change water into wine.  That’s going to be my first miracle.”  A miracle performed as a favor for friends of the family that is completely unnecessary for anyone’s salvation.

How many times, as we reflect on the Gospels, are we reminded that God’s ways are not our ways and that his thoughts are not our thoughts?

We live in an era when even the most basic of human activities are increasingly becoming institutionalized and depersonalized.  We could speculate for a long time as to why this is the case, but everywhere around us we see that our lives involve less person to person interaction and more person to policy or person to institution interaction.  We hear often things like “I really sympathize with you, and if it were up to me, I would change things.  But there is this policy…  I can’t treat you any differently than anyone else… what if we did this for everyone?”

How many times people hide behind policies and institutions and organizational objectives and justify actions that they know are harming or making it impossible to help a person standing right in front of them?  The perceived good of the institution or the mission is placed ahead of the good of the person.  And how many of us fear not evil and violent men and women, but the cold impartiality of an institution that decides, that our job is no longer needed, that a medical procedure should not be covered, or that we have failed to meet requirements needed to move forward in our studies or career?

Now, some might ask, "Isn’t this the pot calling the kettle black?  After all, isn’t the Church a massive institution?"  And this is true in a sense – the Church does have many of the same characteristics as other earthly institutions.  But the Church has always fought against institutionalism, against making individual persons a means to a collective end.

Look at what St. Paul teaches in our second reading today:  two things: the Holy Spirit gives gifts to people, not institutions.  And the Holy Spirit does not give out the same gifts according to the same measure.  He chooses different people to do different things according to different degrees.  All of these choices, says St. Paul, are not made by God in view of fairness, to make sure that everyone gets the same.
St. Paul does not say “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same amount is given to each.”  He says “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit.”  He does not say “There are different workings but they are of equal importance.”  He says “There are different workings but the same God who produces them in everyone.”  And why?  Because when God gives us gifts, St. Paul tells us, he does so in an entirely personal and generous way according to some benefit that he knows is needed,  not comparing one of us to the other.  He looks at each of us, he looks at how he made us, our choices, he looks at what we need, he looks at the whole matrix of relationships around us and at his whole plan of salvation and he knows what he will give us to accomplish his plan of salvation.  He doesn’t measure us one against another, trying to figure out who is more deserving.  No one is deserving.  Instead he builds us up together so that we complement one another and together are able to respond to his grace.  Think of how often Jesus makes this point in the Gospels: workers are all paid the same amount at the end of the day regardless of when they arrived at work, he tells us that to those to whom much is given more will be added, and that to those who have little even what they have will be taken away.

Christ insists again and again that God does not act according to some worldly and arbitrary measure of fairness, according to heavenly policies and norms, but according to each of us and how he wishes to love us and help us respond to his gift of salvation.

Jesus demonstrated this kind of love and goodness in his lifetime and in his first miracle.  He did not put out forms and conduct interviews to see who were the most needy or who were the most in error, who were being tormented by demons the most.  Nor did he collect resumes for the Apostles and compare them, selecting the most qualified.  He already knew all the people in front of him and he responded to who they were, who he had made them, giving them what was needed in order for them to respond to his plan of salvation.

And in the case of that first miracle, apparently what they needed was wine.  And lots of it.  Maybe we can hear a detractor saying “Do you know how many poor people hardly have enough to eat and here he is making wine out of water, and not just any old wine, but really good wine.”  Why?  Because that’s what was needed and that’s where he was and he loved those people.  His mother told him “They are out of wine.”  Well, what are you going to do, say no?  Talk about how ‘What if I did this for everyone, mom?’  No.  That’s what was needed, that’s what he could give and that’s what he gave.  And then he moved on to help others.

We all should take a lesson from this first miracle.  If God does not ration out his love, if he does not disdain to provide for the simple needs of those around him, if he is willing to be especially generous to those who are his family and friends and who ask him for favors – why shouldn’t we?   Is the sense that there needs to be impartiality and objectivity in all things so that we do not show favoritism keeping us from loving the person in front of us?  Is the idea that we need to be strategic and efficient in the efforts that we make so that we achieve the greatest result for the amount of resources that we commit keeping us from being generous in the opportunities that present themselves daily?

If Jesus was not impartial, why should we hold ourselves to the standard of impartiality?  No, we should not.  We should hold ourselves to the standard of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul tells us, to the Spirit who through prayer guides us and shows us how to respond to the people and circumstances of daily life with generosity and love.  How to love those who God has placed before us: our wives and husbands, our children and parents, our neighbors and friends, and friends of the family.  These were the people who Christ chose to bless with his first miracle, his friends and family.  Christ shows us that our efforts to follow him must begin in the same way: by generously giving ourselves to the personal and intimate circumstances of daily life.

No comments:

Post a Comment