Saturday, June 11, 2016

"What's in it for me?" - A Homily for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Parish of the Precious Blood

Homily for the
Eleventh Sunday of the Year
Cycle C

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
June 12, 2016

How many times in the course of any given day do we ask ourselves – either consciously or subconsciously – the question: what’s in it for me? If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s probably pretty constant. We’re always assessing the pros and cons of any given choice we have to make, or any choice that we think we have to make, and trying to figure out if we’re going to benefit or not. Now often times this is good and necessary…thinking about our own health and well-being when choosing to eat an apple or a doughnut is important…bargaining while buying a new car is smart…and carefully thinking about the good or adverse effects of any significant life decision we have to make is virtuous and to be commended. In other words, so long as the question – what’s in it for me? – stays in the realm of prudential, deliberate, and virtuous discernment, it is a good and necessary question. But, when it enters into the realm of the heart, it can quickly become deadly.

Our Lord tells us plainly that the entire law of God for us can be summarized in two great commandments: first, that we love God; and second, that we love our neighbor. There is a hierarchy here, an order that we must obey if we are to follow Christ with any modicum of authenticity. We are called to love God, and the things of God, over and above all things and all others. And it is only when we genuinely try to fulfill this first commandment that we can begin to fulfill the second, that is to love those who God loves: our neighbors. This second commandment compels us to look at the world in the way in which God Himself looks at the world, and to see every beating heart in every man, woman, and child, as an object of our love. Whether they be father or mother, son or daughter, family or friend, ally or enemy, we are called to love them in simplicity and in truth by willing what is good for them. Often times we hear more modern Christians celebrating these two commandments as some great reduction of expectations from us on God’s part, but the reality is that the true observance of these two commandments is more demanding than the observance of the 613 commandments of the Old Law. These two commandments amount to nothing less than a death sentence. To fulfill them, and to thus enter the Kingdom of God when our earthly lives are complete, we have to sacrifice ourselves – first to God, and then for each other. This is not for the faint of heart…and it’s not nice, fluffy Christianity. If you want to live eternally in the life of the world to come, then you must die now in this world. But how can we do this in any real way if our first love is ourselves? When that question – what’s in it for me? – infiltrates our hearts, the game is over. There’s no room for God, and thus no room for anyone else. That question then becomes the voice of the Evil One, who lures us and tempts us to act on it. And when we do, we sin. Every time. In big ways, in small ways, but still, every time. The Christian life is all about love, but always in the right order. God first, others second, ourselves last. No exceptions.

In our readings today, we encounter two great sinners…two people who put themselves first. Both were entrenched in the snowballing effects of sin…and it should come at no surprise that sexual sin was at the core in each of them. David is the first sinner we encounter. He watched Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, bathing on her roof and he began to lust for her. This was when the question entered into his heart: what’s in it for me? Instead of rejecting the question and using this as an opportunity to turn his attention elsewhere, he shirked his love for God, and the proper and ordered love he was called to have for both Uriah and Bathsheba, and then he acted on his lustful desires. When Bathsheba was found to be with child, David’s selfishness took him to even greater lows. He became consumed with covering up his folly with acts of deceit, and when these didn’t work, he had Uriah killed. David, the King of Israel, the adulterer, the liar, and the murderer, all because he put himself first. Then we meet the anonymous woman in the Gospel. Saint Luke only tells us that she was a “sinful woman,” but considering her notoriety and Simon the Pharisee’s visceral reaction to her, we can safely assume that her sinfulness, too, was found in the realm of the flesh. Carnal desires, because they are strong in us, can often lead us down bad roads…and no doubt this woman had herself become entrenched in them. Placing herself first, she too shirked her love for God, and the right and ordered love for the men she had been with, and likely gained for herself the reputation of a prostitute and adulterer. Both David and this woman asked, and ruminated upon, and acted upon the question: what’s in it for me? And contrary to what they thought, their own self-love brought nothing but destruction and folly.

You and I are not that different from either David or this woman. We may or may not commit the same kinds of sins that they did, but each one of us is battling selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-love. Each one of us destroys, in big ways and in little ways, the lives of others by loving ourselves first. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Our Lord knows our weakness, and He provides us the means and grace by which we can learn to love as we ought. His death on the Cross – itself the greatest act of love history has ever or will ever know – actually and truly effects in those of us who seek refuge in Him the true forgiveness of our sins, the forgiveness of our selfishness, and the restoration of what we have destroyed. And His death on the Cross gives us the example we need to move forward…if our God, innocent and without blame, can die for us…why can we not die for Him and for those whom He loves? Every soul admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven can be nothing other than a martyr.

Both David and the woman in the Gospel, after seeing how selfish they had been, made a concrete act of the will to re-order their love. David repented and cried out, “I have sinned against the Lord!” and the Lord restored him to wholeness. The woman in the Gospel threw herself at the feet of Jesus, and placed her entire livelihood in His hands. She surrendered all her earthly wealth to Him as she anointed His feet with the costly perfume. She surrendered all her earthly fears and concerns to Him as she bathed His feet with her own tears. And she committed herself to loving Him above all by kissing His feet. And the Lord restored to her to wholeness. David and this woman both died to themselves, ceasing to ask what’s in it for me? but rather what’s in it for God? what's in it for my neighbor? May their conversion story be ours as well, as we continue to muddle through this life. May we learn to love God first, our neighbor second, and ourselves last of all. This is what it means to be Christian. This is what it means to be holy. And this is what has to happen if we are to inherit the Kingdom of God. 

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