Friday, September 26, 2014

Homily for Holy Spirit Catholic Community, 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 28th by Rev. Beverly Bingle, RCWP

The scholars of the Jesus Seminar
are divided on this story of the two sons. .
The 42% of the scholars
who doubted that the story went back to Jesus
noted that it is only told by Matthew
and reflects his typical theme and style.
The 58% who voted that Jesus said this,
or something very much like it,
reasoned that it is typical of Jesus
to pose difficult social problems,
and that this story reveals a dilemma
over the honor and shame
that would have been immediately obvious to a Galilean.
The cultural background is instructive.
Galileans viewed family honor very seriously.
Both of the sons in this story honor the father and the family,
the one for saying yes to his father
and the other for doing what his father wanted.
Conversely, and much more seriously for the family,
both of them bring shame to their father and family—
the one by saying no to his father
and the other by failing to do what his father wanted.
Jesus’ listeners say
that the one who ends up doing the honorable thing
is better than the one who starts out honorably
but ends up shaming the family.
But for those Galileans, there would be no really correct answer—
both sons shame the family, in different ways.
So it’s a tricky question that Jesus asks.
His Galilean listeners would know that the honorable thing to do
is to say yes and then do it.
And that’s the key for us, too:
to act with honor—with justice and mercy—all the time.
There’s an amazing woman I’ve known
over my years here in Toledo who consistently,
like it’s part of her DNA, is an honorable person.
Let’s call her Gretchen (not her real name).
She is thoughtful and intelligent, a teacher, a wife, a mother,
and in all of that complex life
she seems to know intuitively what is right and just
and she seems to do it automatically.
Her children, adults now, would ask hard questions,
and Gretchen would answer them
with the moral, responsible, loving thing.
I saw her on a parish committee that raised a tough issue,
and she had that same gut response:
moral, responsible, loving.
She amazes me!
I’ve tried to figure out how she does that,
and I think she has developed a Jesus attitude.
It’s what Paul is telling the Philippians in our second reading:
Your attitude must be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

No competition, no conceit;
Gretchen values others and thinks of their interests first.
She has made a decision about the kind of person she wants to be,
and she has practiced it
to the point that her actions speak an admirable sermon
to everyone around her.

And there’s a man I know, also here in Toledo,
who has that same bedrock sense of morality about him.
Let’s call him Paul.
He works in a service business,
and he is generous without limit.
No matter how little he has, Paul gives it away.
When he sees someone in need,
he pays them for tasks that he could do himself
or that he really doesn’t need to have done,
like picking up trash along the street where he lives.
He is just as generous with his time—
so he’s late for appointments
because he gives his full attention to the person he’s with
and forgets what time it is.
I saw him loan out his car without a second thought.
When a family at the parish got evicted,
Paul slept on his brother’s couch
so the family could stay in his house for free
until they got back on their feet.
Both Gretchen and Paul do, as Ezekiel tells us,
what is right and just,
and they are alive with joy and purpose.
Why did Jesus wait until he was 30
before he started his public ministry?
I suspect that, like all of us, he was learning.
He was watching and thinking and praying and, in the process,
he was learning to understand God’s way of justice and mercy,
and practicing ways to do what is right.
And he grew alive with joy and purpose
and went about doing good.
Jesus embodied the Spirit of God, and it showed.
I like to call Paul and Gretchen “practicing” Catholics.
They practice justice and mercy until it becomes part of them,
until they act in tune with the Spirit of God.
In the phrases of our tradition,
they have become the Body of Christ.
That’s our call, too.
We try to practice justice,
to act with honor and truth,
to do what is right.
Like the two sons in today’s Gospel,
we don’t always hit the mark:
sometimes we don’t do what we say we will,
and other times we say we won’t do the right thing
but end up doing it in the end.
Then, once in a while, we actually manage
both to talk the talk
and walk the walk.
It’s a beautiful thing to behold.
Thanks to Gretchen and Paul,
and thanks to each of you for showing me how it’s done!

Holy Spirit Catholic Community
at 3535 Executive Parkway (Unity of Toledo)
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m.
Sundays at 5:30 p.m.

Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor

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