You're not the boss of me now!

 Homily for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
 (Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

Even if you don’t remember or never watched the TV sitcom,
Malcom in the Middle,
you’re probably familiar with the refrain from the show’s theme song:
“You’re not the boss of me, now!”

“You’re not the boss of me...”

It’s a phrase that speaks to us because it so concisely captures
a prevailing attitude in our culture.
“You’re not the boss of me…”
Of course, in one way or another,
this is what younger brothers and sisters
have said to their older siblings and what teenagers say to their parents
in every generation.

But in our own times,
we have only to look at the front page of a newspaper
to see in how many ways, in how many situations,
in how many relationships we assert,
“You’re not the boss of me!” to just about any authority
infringing on our freedom to do what we want, to do as we please.
We live in a time of great personal autonomy
accompanied by a mistrust and suspicion of authority
that’s often well deserved.

But what happens when I, as an individual,
become my own and my only authority?
- What happens when I make no room
for the advice and admonitions of others?
- What’s the result when, collectively and politically correctly,
we enter a social contract by which we subtly pledge
to make no moral or ethical demands of one another - and no judgments?
- What sort of society is shaped
when individual choice overrides the common good?
- What develops when each says to each, “You’re not the boss of me”?
- What happens when we say the same to the law? to the state?
   to the Church? to the scriptures? to a tradition of moral teaching?
- And most critically, what happens when we tell God,
   “You’re not the boss of me”?

It’s in just such a moral environment,
against just such a cultural background that we hear today’s readings.

In Ezekiel, the Lord asserts himself as the Boss
who not only determines what’s good and what’s wicked
but also gives specific instructions
for admonishing others when they are found acting wrongly.
That’s what the Boss says.
Is the Lord the Boss of us -- or not?

In the second lesson,
St. Paul reminds us of the Boss’ rules, the commandments,
the greatest of which is for us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

But then in the gospel, the Boss himself, Jesus, gives us a protocol
for how to love when our neighbor offends us,
when our neighbor decides not to be “bossed around”
by the commandments.
And that protocol includes our responsibility
to call in others, even the whole community,
to demonstrate our neighbor’s faults.
That’s what the Boss is telling us.
Is the Lord the Boss of us? or not?

These are hard sayings in any age.
And harder still to hear in our own times.
What these scriptures call us to is an acknowledgement that:
- the Lord is God - and we are not;
- that the Lord made us - and we are his creatures;
- that the Lord speaks the truth - and we are called to live it;
- that God knows more than we do - even when we’re sure
that we know more than God.

This morning’s scriptures ask the basic question:
Who’s the Boss? God - or us?
Who’s the Boss of us in our family lives?
in our work lives? in our lives at school?
in our parish life? in our community life?
Who’s the Boss of the secret life of our hearts and minds
our desires, fantasies and imaginations?

Who’s the Boss?

I don’t use this image to suggest
that God just wants to “boss us around,”
but rather to remind us that God calls us
to lead lives of a particular kind, lives:
- shaped by the needs of others and the common good,
- lives molded by a commonly accepted moral code,
- lives instructed and informed by the scriptures
and thousands of years of wisdom
- lives graced by accepting God’s will as greater than our own
- lives marked by a spirit of generous selflessness and sacrifice.

If our lives resemble that description,
then the Lord is the Boss of us
and we are working at living according God’s plan for us.

Here’s something we might all try in the week ahead
to take a little personal inventory.
When you get home, write down two questions on a piece of paper,
one question for the morning and one for the evening:
The morning question is this: “Who will be the Boss of me today?”
And the evening question: “Who was the Boss of me today?”
Put the paper some place where you’ll find it easily
and remember to ask yourself the questions.

For now, we rejoice
that in spite of our offenses, our failings and our willfulness,
the Boss of us all still invites us to join him in the Supper of his table.

Our Boss gave his life for us, once, on the Cross,
to show us what it means
to live the commandment that we love one another.
He now gives us his life, his Body and Blood,
in the sacrifice of the Eucharist.

Come and be nourished by so great a love, so great a lover.


Subscribe to A Concord Pastor Comments 


  1. what is the difference between boss and authority?

  2. Depending on how you define the words, there would be many differences. "Boss," of course, is a colloquial term and might refer to someone who has authority only in a limited sphere. "Authority" is a word that carries more, well... authority!

    As used in my homily, both words are meant to point us away from autonomous authority, surrendering to the Authority beyond all other authorities, from whom all other authorities derive any legitimate power they have.

    Does that help?


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