Friday, July 10, 2015

Prophecy and Popularity - A Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

July 12, 2015
Prophecy and Popularity

When I was growing up, everything was about popularity. In school, at the playground, in the neighborhood, while playing sports, your quality of life seemed to depend almost entirely upon how well you were liked and how many people liked you. The “cool kids” were the ones who called the shots about everything and they were the ones who determined who “belonged” and who didn’t, thus determining whether or not someone would be liked. There were not many “cool kids;” their numbers were kept fairly low, allowing them to become an elite minority catered to by the majority – those who desperately wanted to be cool and liked and who spent a lot of time and energy trying to fit in, doing whatever they could to impress others. On the bottom of the childhood food chain were the rejects – those who, whether they wanted to or not, would simply not be accepted by the cool kids and the majority they controlled. These were the kids who, because of their physical appearance, family situation, academic capabilities, etc., were deemed too much “unlike” the others and so could enjoy no acceptance by them. The social structure punished rejects for being different, creating an atmosphere of bullying. The cool kids and their cronies seemed to enjoy having others to pick on…they needed the rejects in order to further assert their social superiority and they delighted in making their lives miserable. The funny things is, it was precisely when a so-called reject showed no interest in trying to be liked and accepted by the others, when he or she spent no effort catering to the demands of the majority, that he or she would become a target of the most intense bullying. When a person stops caring about being accepted or liked by the majority, they pose a threat to the false gods of popularity and the infrastructure that protects the popular elite is at risk of crumbling, and so persecution is the only alternative.

For kids, this whole thing can be particularly and drastically traumatic. Those of us who have reached adulthood often look back at this dynamic, shake our heads and dismiss it as youthful and immature ignorance. But the social phenomenon of childhood bullying, the dynamic of an elite minority that controls a complacent majority and that persecutes a rejected minority, is not limited to childhood…it extends itself, more subtly and more perniciously, into our big and sophisticated grown up world. We tend to think that, as a child grows he or she will become more enlightened, just as we tend to think that as society progresses it inevitably becomes more moral, but this is not the case. The reality is, from the time we are conceived in our mother’s womb to the time we die, whether it’s in antiquity or in modernity, the human person suffers from sin, which brings about an inordinate love of one’s own self. When we love ourselves inordinately, we want to force others to love us inordinately…and this is the root cause for almost every problem we face in our world.

In our readings today, the Lord is trying to open our eyes and ears to this dynamic and He is trying to show us where our place ought to be in it. In our first reading, from the Book of the Prophet Amos, we see the prophet encountering rejection by the priest Amaziah. Speaking on behalf of the sinful and self-absorbed people, Amaziah tells Amos that he has no place in Israel…Amos’ message is one of conversion and repentance, but the people of Israel will hear none of it. Amos is only one such example of a prophet who is rejected by the elite minority and the complacent majority. He was forced out of the land of Israel and had to retreat to his native land. If Amos were a weaker man, he might have tried to begin catering to the demands of the people in order to sweeten them up towards him and to win their affection, or he might have become devastated by their rejection allowing himself to be crushed by them. But Amos was not concerned with his popularity among the Israelites…his love for them was subordinate to the love of God, Who commanded Him to prophesy, at whatever cost, to this people gone astray. Though he would not be given a voice in public discourse, and though his presence would not be tolerated in the land of Israel, his words – the words God gave him – could still be made known to them. Amos changed his tactics and began to write his oracles from afar, hoping and trusting that this generation or the next might eventually begin to heed the word of God and obey His law.

In our Gospel today, Jesus Himself sends the Apostles out two-by-two on their first mission trip. Though they are invested with His own authority, the authority of God Himself, He warns them that they will be rejected and He encourages them to take this rejection in strides. It seems inherent to Christianity, as evidenced in both the Old and New Testaments, that the recurring response to the saving message of Christ is rejection. The Cross itself, the very symbol of Christianity, is the ultimate symbol of rejection. Those who hold power and those who cater to them are threatened by Christ because He, not the beautiful and the popular, subjects all things to Himself. And when, in fidelity and love, we subject ourselves to Christ, we must also be prepared to face the rejection He faced.

In our modern times, the world is becoming more obvious in its rejection of Christ and His Church. In the Middle East, Christians are being slaughtered daily…and so very little is being done to stop it. In the United States, the elite minority have convinced and bamboozled the majority of people into accepting laws directly contrary to the will of God…and the Church, like the Prophet Amos, is told to shut up and to go along with it. Our Crucified Christ bleeds Himself out in love for His people, but because He is not one of the cool kids and because His message undermines their powers, He is rejected and His followers are bullied.

As we consider all of this, there are three things we should be mindful of. The first is that we cannot escape rejection while still remaining faithful to Christ. He Himself said to the disciples, “The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted Me, they will persecute you.” Christianity is tough stuff – it’s not a feel-good fairy tale – and so if you want it, you have to be willing to suffer. The second is that this rejection that we face offers us no excuse to bellyache. Like the Prophet Amos, we have to be willing to pick ourselves up and start anew, shaking the dust from our sandals as our Lord commands us. Martyrdom, enduring persecution for Christ’s sake, is an honor and brings with it a glorious crown…but there is no merit to this suffering if we spend our time complaining about it. The third is that this rejection is not final…Christ is the Victor, He is the Ruler, and He is the Redeemer. He has already triumphed over sin – the question now is will we get on our crosses and endure His death so that we can share in His victory?

Our quality of life as Christians doesn't come from acceptance by the crowd or the love of the comes first and foremost from knowing that we are radically and unconditionally loved by God. So Christianity isn’t about being popular or following the crowd…it’s about calling all people, including ourselves, to respond to Christ’s gift of His love. Today we pray for the grace to remain steadfast and faithful, to continue being God’s prophetic voice no matter where we go and no matter the cost.