Jesus and Francis

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Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

See Tim Shriver's excellent post at On FaithHis essay, though not related to this day's scriptures, helped determine my homiletic direction this weekend.

Audio for homily

Seems that Jesus was making some remarkable speeches
and getting a lot of attention on account of what he was saying.
He was known to be critical of powerful religious leaders
and he was talking about the law and the prophets in new ways.
He even says here that making peace with your neighbor
comes before your worship at the temple!

You can get a reputation saying things like this
and people might misunderstand.
They might think you’re totally anti-establishment,
that you’re lowering the bar on all that religious stuff.

But if you listen with a discerning ear,
you’ll hear something else going on.
Jesus isn’t so much anti-establishment
as he is quick to call its administration to serious accountability.
Nor is Jesus going soft on religious obligations.
In fact, he’s actually raising the bar on living according to the law.

• The old law says if you kill someone you’ll be liable to judgment.
But Jesus says,
if you even just get angry with your brother or sister,
you’ll be liable to the same judgment.

• The old law said not to commit adultery.
But Jesus says, if you so much as look at a woman or a man with lust,
you’ve already committed adultery in your heart.

• The law says, don’t take any false oaths.
But Jesus says, “Take no oath.” 
“Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no.”
In other words, don’t falsify your word           
by excusing yourself from it, by giving yourself a free pass,
by creating loopholes for yourself
when your word and promises call you to a fidelity that’s tough to keep.

No easy way out here: Jesus even speaks of the “evil one”
who hangs around, offering us counterfeit “get out of jail free” cards
to con us into thinking that “my circumstances” or “this situation”
somehow put me above God’s law or excuse me from keeping my word.

We’d be hard pressed to find in all of Jesus’ preaching any words
more counter-cultural than what we just heard in the gospel.
Jesus calls us to a new law,
and that new law is more demanding, not less exacting, than the old.

• In a nation that argues over the right to carry a gun,
Jesus advises us here to check our words,
not just our holsters, at the door.
• In a society awash in the imagery and lifestyle of gratuitous sexuality
Jesus calls us here to carefully guard every thought we have
lest our fantasy make of another person an object for our lust.
• And in a culture pathologically shy of judging anyone or any deed,
Jesus counsels us here to live ever more faithfully and carefully
by the commandments and word of God.

And of course, there’s someone else, in the news these days,
who’s also been making some remarkable speeches
and getting a lot of attention on account of what he’s saying.

His name is Francis.

• Like Jesus,
Francis has been critical of the religious establishment and its leadership.
• Like Jesus,
he seems to be taking a new approach to religious life.
• And as it was with Jesus:  you might, at first glance,
think that Francis is lowering the bar, making things easier,
but what he’s really doing
is calling all of us to a more demanding way of life.

Judging from the way people are talking about this pope
you might think that his question, “Who am I to judge?”
is the only thing he’s said since becoming pope.
That’s not the case, of course,
but it might be that those are words we like to hear
because we can so easily use them to lower the bar of expectation
for ourselves or others.
Of course Jesus himself said, “Judge not lest you be judged.”
But  we need to understand that when Jesus says that
not only murderers and adulterers
but the angry and the lusty, too, are liable to judgment,
he’s not letting killers and unfaithful spouses off the hook.
In fact, he’s making things tougher, not easier, on all of us,
on any of us who might harbor in our hearts
even the seeds of harm and infidelity.

When Francis calls us to be
a warmer, more welcoming, merciful Church
he’s inviting us to open our arms wider to all
to draw them into the embrace of Christ and his word.

Like Jesus,
Francis hasn’t come to abolish the law of Christ and his Church
but rather to fulfill it.
And he appears to be doing that
in some very gracious and promising  and wonderful ways.

By his word and example our pope is calling all of us
to a greater, not a lesser fidelity to the gospel.
• If we’re impressed by his choice to live in not in the Apostolic Palace
but in much simpler quarters,
we need to see how, by doing that,
he’s calling all of us to a simpler lifestyle.
• When he reaches out to the critically ill and disabled,
to those whose challenges challenge us,
he’s calling us to reach out to the same people
in our own lives and circumstances.
• Last Holy Thursday, when he washed the feet of a Muslim convict
he was calling us to face and break down our prejudices.
• When he comments on the world economy
he’s calling not just nations but each of us
to manage and share our personal resources
in the light of the gospel’s call to serve the poor.

The pope who asks, “Who am I to judge?”
doesn’t for a moment hesitate to critique our  first world life style;
our compassion for the sick and challenging;
our prejudices;  
and our generosity to those in need.
Francis calls us to live not just by the rules
but by a deeper and more demanding law:  the law of love.
Jesus does the same:  he doesn’t abolish the law, he fulfills it, in love.

If the pope’s words make us feel more comfortable
about being Catholic  --  that’s great!
But we need to be sure that we’re hearing the whole of his message
because he’s calling us in a direction
that might ultimately make us feel uncomfortable.

• He’s calling each of us to a deeper relationship with Jesus.
• He’s calling each of us to allow our relationship with Jesus
to change who we are,
how we live our lives
and even how we spend our money.
• He’s calling each of us rethink our relationships with others,
especially with the sick, the poor and any on the margins of society.
• He’s calling each of us to allow our faith to change our lives
that our lives might change the world.

And in all of this,
he echoes the words of Jesus in the gospel this morning.

So, we’d best take ourselves to the altar, to the Lord’s Table,
where he nourishes us for just such a faith and just such a life.
Jesus gave his life for us out of love,
not out of judgment,
and he asks us to do the same for one another.


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