Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time — As delivered on Sunday 4 July 2021.

Jesus is in trouble.  Why?  He is asking the faithful to “go the distance,” to push beyond the boundaries of the ordinary, to experience spiritual depth.  But they are not ready. Granted, sometimes, going the extra distance feels like “too much!” Yet for those who persevere, eventually, the fruits of their labor are realized. This is the goal for all who desire SPIRITUAL GROWTH. Yet we’re practically WIRED TO RESIST IT – call it our survival mechanism, comfort control, original sin, or simply our flawed humanity.  We pause, we hesitate, we retreat to the old, the comfortable, before we are shaken into advancing the Kingdom.  

The Bible, for example, in its honesty, evidences our continual approach / avoidance relationship with God.  The responsibilities of the Covenant with God started out small because God knew we can only take a little spiritual development at a time.  Yet even as we were spoon fed through the centuries, all too often we resisted spiritual growth.  Thankfully, God was and continues to be persistent. So, first there was God’s promise to Noah:  know that the true God will never harm you!  Then, with Abraham, comes a circumcision here, a loyalty oath there. That was enough for several generations to get the idea that God is for us and not against us.  Centuries later, Moses calls the people to advance: First come the 10 Commandments, and then, eventually, he gives them 613 Laws to expand their constant devotion to God.  Next comes the ongoing interpretation and applications of those laws culminating in Psalms and centuries of Prophets “pushing the envelope,” if you will. “An eye for an eye” evolves to justice with mercy; the old tribal mentalities move from “God is for US, but not for others” expand to, “May Israel be a light to the nations!” an insistence that the faithful welcome foreigners, attend to widows and orphans beyond literal family ties and local neighbors. Yet, even with some ready for more mature growth in living their faith, God sent Ezekiel to “a hard-hearted people.”  For not everyone was ready then, nor are they ready now for change, for awakening to deeper truths to advance on the spiritual path.  You may recall the hostility of civic leaders who threw the prophet Jeremiah into a cistern, saying, “do not impose spiritual values on the interests of the State!”  No?  Well, the Kingdom of Judah collapsed shortly afterwards because the people did not listen.

Today, we find Jesus, building on the Prophetic Tradition, taking a RISK, that the people are ready for more.  As it was then, so it is now:  As Jesus invites his fellow believers to stretch into new Spiritual territory, they, and even we, at times, may find His teaching appealing and appalling at the same time. True faith requires conflict to grow, and yet, so often we will not engage in the hard work of deepening our faith.  The response in the synagogue that day was, “WHO DOES JESUS THINK HE IS?  –a ‘son of a carpenter” could not be a prophet!” They forgot, of course, that the prophet Amos was a herdsman and dresser of sycamores; King David had been a lowly shepherd. 

Today, no Christian would say to Jesus, “Who do you think you are?”  We have learned to pray “My Lord and My God.”  Yet, fifty years ago, when a prophet like Saint Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador called the American President pleading for our government to stop the sale of US weapons to his and other violence-ridden countries, our nation ignored him. The people would not insist our government leaders apply Jesus’ Gospel to the politics of the day.  When Dorothy Day’s urged eccentric ministries to the poor from the times of the Great Depression up until her death in 1980, we patted her on her head and sent her on her way. Too often we value progress over compassion. Today, Pope Francis’ urges a more inclusive, welcoming CHURCH.  Many choose to ignore him and retreat into an older sensibility, insisting that faith means retreating from the world.

Added to this mindset is a rigidity in biblical interpretation that does not engage in contemporary knowledge. Some refuse to dialogue Scripture with the wisdom that comes forth in every decade, every century, every age.  Others insist that Jesus and Saint Paul teachings do not apply to today’s situations. We respond by saying: “Jesus and Paul’s teachings were never meant to be static, rigid, or become archaic. They have the movement of the Holy Spirit within them.  We must be ready to build upon what our ancestors gradually accepted knowing that NOW the signs of our times require an ever-readiness to accept new Spirit, new Divine Guidance for the challenges of our age.”

Limiting Jesus, or anyone, by their family tree, occupation, ethnicity, or culture, or limiting them to a particular time and context, is a ubiquitous sin found in every generation. Spiritual stretching is uncomfortable, we often avoid it through distractions, detours, and, at times, prefer dead ends.  Yet, struggle we must if we are to be a vibrant, relatable, and accessible Church for so many people at wit’s end with the signs of the times.

Today, the Church wrestles, once again, with our understanding of the Eucharist.  Is reception of Jesus’ body and blood to become a litmus test for the integrity of an individual’s faith?  In all honesty, are not most of us continually caught in an approach / avoidance with Christ, the Center of the TRINITY, the ever-living God?   Everyone agrees the Body and Blood of Christ is a gift of grace, that is, God’s benevolence, God’s love. The Vatican Office of Divine Worship, Pope Francis, and many bishops worldwide (except a few) have confirmed Communion as food for a journey, to fortify, assure and bless all the weak, the fallible, and yes, we, the imperfect, and sinful people that we are.  Remember this: Jesus offered His Body and Blood to all the Apostles, including Judas – perhaps a last opportunity for Judas not to be involved in Jesus’ arrest and execution.  That did not work out well, but Jesus offered him the experience of unity with him anyway. For our Faith to continue to grow, we must come to accept that Communion cannot be a reward for good behavior as some insist today, but Jesus’ gracious invitation to reconsider and deepen our relationship with Him on an ongoing basis, not a public statement of judgment as to who is worthy and who is not.  The Eucharist is God’s gift to us to be fortified in Christ, to share in Jesus’ Divine Spirit, to grow deeper into HIS Way of life.  Communion empowers all who receive it to engage the world in reconciliation and forgiveness with everyone, not just a privileged, “Church going few.” True religion is about ongoing growth in faith, hope and love.  Are we ready for it?  

Reading I

Ez 2:2-5

As the LORD spoke to me, the spirit entered into me
    and set me on my feet,
    and I heard the one who was speaking say to me:
    Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites,
    rebels who have rebelled against me;
    they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.
Hard of face and obstinate of heart
    are they to whom I am sending you. 
But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD GOD! 
And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house—
    they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

Responsorial Psalm

Ps 123:1-2, 2, 3-4

R. (2cd) Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.
To you I lift up my eyes
    who are enthroned in heaven —
As the eyes of servants
    are on the hands of their masters.
R. Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.
As the eyes of a maid
    are on the hands of her mistress,
So are our eyes on the LORD, our God,
    till he have pity on us.
R. Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.
Have pity on us, O LORD, have pity on us,
    for we are more than sated with contempt;
our souls are more than sated
    with the mockery of the arrogant,
    with the contempt of the proud.
R. Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.

Reading II

2 Cor 12:7-10

Brothers and sisters:
That I, Paul, might not become too elated,
because of the abundance of the revelations,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. 
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.” 
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. 
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Alleluia

Cf. Lk 4:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel

Mk 6:1-6

Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. 
When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were astonished. 
They said, “Where did this man get all this? 
What kind of wisdom has been given him? 
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! 
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? 
And are not his sisters here with us?” 
And they took offense at him. 
Jesus said to them,
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and among his own kin and in his own house.” 
So, he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith.