Today's gospel is clear:
if we want to be Jesus' disciples,
we have to get rid of whatever stands in the way.
We have to step on the path with our eyes wide open.
This coming Monday we celebrate Labor Day.
Over and over again,
in the 125 years since Leo XIII
issued his encyclical Rerum Novarum on capital and labor,
Catholic teaching has stood firmly for the rights of workers.
This year we see those rights still threatened,
not only in developing countries but right here in the U.S.
We abolished slavery,
but people today are kidnapped and trafficked into slavery.
African-Americans, Latinos, refugees, immigrants—
all those others who are not “like us”—
suffer the burden of discrimination and prejudice.
We have a minimum wage, but it's not a living wage.
We have workplace standards,
but workers can get fired
when they report that the standards aren't being met.
Our second reading reminds us that these issues are not new.
It's the year 62 AD.
Prisoners of war are enslaved.
Their children are born into slavery.
They do hard labor for the wealthy of the Roman Empire.
Paul, in prison in Rome, writes to his good friend Philemon,
head of the church in Colossae.
Paul is sending Philemon's runaway slave Onesimus back to him.
A slave running away was a capital crime,
just as it was in our country
before the Emancipation Proclamation.
But Paul pleads with Philemon for a different understanding
because Onesimus is now a follower of Christ,
and in Christ there is no slave.
As Fr. Daniel Harrington writes,
Paul's request to take Onesimus back as a brother in Christ
and therefore as equal to Philemon
“would have been very difficult
and even offensive
to a slave owner.”
Paul, in practicing his Christianity,
is risking his friendship with Philemon.
Onesimus, in practicing his Christianity,
is risking his life.
We have plenty to think about this Labor Day,
first and foremost the fact
that our own country was built on the backs of slaves,
and that we who are white still reap the benefits
of the ongoing racism in our country and in the church.
Even though Labor Day
is the traditional beginning of the political campaign season,
campaign 2016 has been going on for well over a year,
and it's brought a flood of vicious, hateful speech
not only from candidates
but also from officeholders, the media, and ordinary people.
Because we try to follow the Way of Jesus,
the campaign shows us with the kind of choice
that Jesus talks about in today's gospel.
When we bake cookies to welcome
the new African American family into the neighborhood
and invite them to the next block party,
we risk flak from the family,
disapproval and arguments and ultimatums.
Will we speak up when our best friend tells us a racist joke?
If we tell the boss that
we find those racist remarks about our co-worker offensive,
we risk losing a promotion, or being demoted, or getting fired.
Will we join a march calling for an end to racist policies in our town?
We risk arrest, even violence.
Last week you may have seen the news
about an incident in a Florida Middle School.
Along with the Florida State football team
visiting the school Tuesday
was junior wide receiver Travis Rudolph,
a 20-year-old African American,
graduate of Cardinal Newman High School.
When he walked into the cafeteria with his teammates,
he saw a boy alone,
all the other students sitting far away from him,
and Travis thought about what it was like
to be bullied and alone.
Travis didn't know that Bo Peske has autism
and usually eats alone in the crowded cafeteria.
Travis walked over and asked if he could sit with him.
They ate lunch and talked.
Someone took a picture and sent it to Bo's mom,
who posted thanks to Travis on Facebook.
As the saying goes, it “went viral”
and ended up on the national news.
The next day the other students
were scrambling to sit with Bo at lunch.
Later, when Travis saw the news reports
about Bo's autism and how much his eating lunch with him
had meant to Bo and his mother,
he sent Bo his cell number so he can call him any time.
What prompted this young black man
to notice this red-headed white kid sitting alone
and eat lunch with him?
What sensitivity to the pain of others?
What love for others?
Is Travis Rudolph a Christian?
Whatever his religion,
he sure knows the Golden Rule... and acts on it.
When Jesus says that we have to give up everything to follow him,
he is telling us that we are called—
as our favorite hymn puts it—
to act with justice, to love tenderly,
to walk humbly with our God.
It is possible for someone
to be a camp-follower of Christ without being a disciple,
to be a hanger-on in Christianity,
a talker rather than a doer.
We can follow at a safe distance
and never actually do what Jesus called us to do.
But I don't see that here at Holy Spirit.
I see doers.
I see people who live the gospel in every part of their lives.
You do your best to live in peace.
You work for justice.
You welcome the stranger.
You embrace the outcast.
You love one another.
Our Christian discipleship is a serious calling,
with serious risks.
Yet we are confident that the Holy Spirit will,
as the book of Wisdom tells us,
set us on the right path
and support us on the Way.
Thanks be to God!
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m./Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
at 3925 West Central Avenue (Washington Church)
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor
Mailing address: 3156 Doyle Street, Toledo, OH 43608-2006