Charlottesville: Are You The Answer – Or The CAUSE – Of Somebody’s Prayer? (Homily 20th Sunday Ordinary Time)
A man arrives in heaven and is greeted by St. Peter. The fisherman takes the man on a tour of heaven to let him choose where he’d like to stay.
They go past one room and they hear tremendous singing – 4 part harmonies, excellent organ music, trememdous choir. The man asks, “Who is that?” St. Peter answers, “Oh, that’s the room with the Mormons”
They go past another room and they see a huge water park – people splashing around, kids on the water slides, a massive wave machine. The man asks, “Who is that?” St. Peter answers, “Oh, that’s the room with the Baptists”
They go past another room and they hear people shouting and praising God – hallelujahs raising up to the roof. The man asks, “Who is that?” St. Peter answers, “Oh, that’s the room with the Pentecostals”
They walk further and suddenly they pass huge signs saying “SILENCE,” “NO TALKING” “QUIET ZONE.” They don’t talk until they’re well past the next room after which the man asks. “What is that all about?”
St. Peter says, “We have to be quiet passing by that room.”
The man asks “Why?”
St. Peter responds, “That’s the room with all of the Catholics.”
“So why do we have to keep quiet?” The man inquires.
St. Peter answers, “Because they think they’re the only ones up here.”
Us vs. Them. It’s like in Charlottesville. And Charlottesville is old news. We see an example of it in today’s Gospel. The Canaanite woman on one side; the Jewish disciples on the other.
Over the past several weeks we have heard Jesus say to Peter, “Why did you doubt?” In talking about the crowd, He’s said in effect, “They just don’t get it. That’s why I talk to them in parables.” He has chastised the disciples and the people saying, “If you love father or mother or son or daughter more than me, and if you don’t take up your cross and follow after me, you are not worthy of me.”
And yet, to this pagan woman, he’s nice and kind and gives her what she wants. Can you just hear the disciples saying, “You’ve been busting on us for weeks and now you’re nice to this foreigner. What is that all about?”
Is it just about persistence? Persistence is an important idea in the Bible. The woman in today’s Gospel is persistent. The woman in the parable of the unjust judge found in Luke 18 is persistent. Abraham negotiating to save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah is persistent. The key to the passage, however, is not that God is asking us to be persistent in being patient with others.
The key is that God is persistently patient with US!
The story of today’s Gospel is the epitome of “mercy.” Nothing in the passage would indicate that the Canaanite woman”deserved” favorable treatment. Nothing in our lives would indicate that we “deserve” favorable treatment. In fact, we don’t. That is the first mistake that people make. We like to line up all of the good deeds and nice things we’ve done in our life to show how “good” we are. The problem is that it doesn’t get you into heaven. Your sinful deeds and what you failed to do – earn you a one way ticket on the down elevator.
The second mistake that people make is that they go to the other extreme: They think they are totally trash. To them, this is proven by the fact that they don’t feel God’s love or warmth. Or they have had so many bad things happen to them that they feel they are a bad person. Or there are people who have had some type of religious experience at some point in their life. They don’t feel God’s consolation and think, “I did something wrong to get God mad at me. I must be a terrible person.”
Father Thomas Keating is a Trappist monk out of Spencer, MA. He shares a line that he occasionally uses in spiritual direction when people come to him and share how they used to have a warm and solid sense of God in their lives but now complain that all that warmth and confidence have disappeared. They’re left struggling with belief and struggling to pray as they used to. They feel a deep sense of loss and invariably this is their question: “What’s wrong with me?”
Keating’s answer: God is wrong with you!
The deal is this. It’s all grace. It’s all free. It’s all unearned. You can be Mother Theresa or Jack the Ripper and it doesn’t matter to God. He loves you regardless and He wants to bless you anyway NOT based on your deeds. The woman gets what she wants simply because she believes in the guy Jesus.
And if he blesses you, oh unworthy one, he wants you to bless – and not curse – others, whether they are alt right or alt left, St. Joseph or Joseph Stalin. God says, “You didn’t earn it. You don’t deserve it. I gave it to you anyway. Go give it to somebody else.”
- Today – are you an answer to someone’s prayers – or the cause of them?
- Today – are you a blessing or a lesson? (Said by Mother Theresa)
Audio version of the homily is here: