Saturday, September 3, 2016

Values, the World, and the Cost of Discipleship: A Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year
Cycle C

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
September 4, 2016

I won’t degrade the Sacred Liturgy by singing something so silly, but do you remember the little jingle from the Klondike Bar commercials? You know the one: “What you would do-oo-oo, for a Klondike Bar?” Accompanying the jingle was usually a scene with someone willing to do something ridiculous or even dangerous for the tasty dessert. As a kid – before I understood or appreciated hyperbole – I remember being annoyed by it all…I liked Klondike Bars as much as the next guy, but they weren’t so amazing that I’d risk my life, or even looking stupid, for 30 seconds of chocolate covered ice cream. Of course once I realized that it was simply a marketing ploy and not meant to be taken literally I lightened up a bit, but I do think it speaks to something that we, in our humanity, struggle with. Every day of our lives we are assessing risks, weighing pros and cons, and trying to see how close we can get to having our cake and eating it too. The Klondike company was capitalizing on this, inviting itself into our subconscious and continuing to convince us that the best things in life, what we value the most, are worth great risks. The kicker, though, is that our human freedom allows for us all to have very divergent value systems…we are free to undervalue the most important things in life, like faith and family, and to overvalue the least important things, like ice cream and pleasure. We all struggle with this day in and day out. We skip Grandma’s 90th birthday party for a chance to go to a Red Sox game. We consistently choose cake and fried foods at the expense of our health. And we forget about our relationship with God because other things come up. It all comes down to our values and what we’re willing, or not willing, to do to uphold them.

Our Gospel today is tough and there’s no way around it. Jesus is being deliberately harsh when He turns to the crowds and invites them to consider that their value-systems need to be majorly adjusted. Saint Luke is careful to mention that Jesus is addressing not just His disciples, but everyone who has gathered around him…the great crowds who were traveling with Him. Now let’s consider the situation. Up to this point in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has cured a demoniac in Capernaum, cured Simon’s mother-in-law, healed countless sick and exorcized countless possessed, restored a leper to health, healed a paralytic, cured the Gerasene demoniac, cured the woman with a hemorrhage, raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, transfigured Himself in front of Peter and James and John, healed a boy possessed by a demon, cured a cripple woman on the Sabbath, and healed a man with dropsy on the Sabbath. Needless to say, Jesus is getting a lot of attention for being a wonder-worker and the crowds are flocking to Him not because they are very interested in what He has to say, but because they have become infatuated with His ability to accomplish great and powerful things. They’re “following” Him, but they’re not following Him. And so by chapter 14, a little more than half-way through Saint Luke’s, Jesus is ready to start calling them out. He spells out the cost of discipleship and tells them point-blank that if they value comfort, possessions, or even family more than God, they simply are not worthy of being His disciple. Most of the people in the crowds had very little interest in the person of Jesus Christ – they were His fans, sure, but only because they got something from Him. When the going got tough and He bled to death on the Cross, they were nowhere to be found.

People in our day and age approach Jesus in much the same way. There are still great crowds that follow Him – about 2.2 billion people on earth, nearly a third of the entire population – but in a very superficial way. For many people who identify as Christian, Jesus is really an afterthought. He’s become something of a principle, rather than a Divine Person…and we invoke Him to accomplish our own agendas or to fulfill our own personal needs. We’ll take Him when it comes to social justice endeavors, tolerance issues, etc. We’ll take Him when things get rough, like when natural disasters strike, our loved ones are sick, or tragedies ensue. We’ll take Him at Christmas and at Easter when the sentiments of the seasons call for it. But other than that, where is He? Where are His definitive moral teachings on marriage and family? Where is His insistence on sacrifice and selflessness? Where are His many words on temptation, sin, hell, and salvation? See, so many of us want Jesus the do-gooder, the Jesus Who affirms us and makes us feel great, and not Jesus the Savior. And today He tells us that if we’re only sticking around to use Him for the good things He does, or only when it’s convenient, then we’re not really His disciples and we’re just kidding ourselves.

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came into this world for one reason: to save us. He didn’t come to make the world a better place and He didn’t come so that we could feel better about ourselves. He came to hang on the Cross, to accomplish by that supreme act of love the total and final reconciliation between God and mankind. And He came to tell us that our salvation is dependent upon our willingness to love by the same measure. He took up His Cross and died for us and, He tells us, if we wish to be saved, we must pick up our crosses and die to ourselves. Everything He said and did in this world was ordered towards His Cross…every healing, every miracle, every good deed…it was all meant to lead us to understand why He hung there and what it has accomplished.

Today we are invited to consider how much and to what extent we value our relationship with Jesus Christ. We must ask ourselves and then answer honestly: have we compartmentalized Him, bringing Him out for special occasions, or is He our everything? Are we willing to give up all things, to risk all things, to follow Him? And our answer cannot be ethereal; it must be concretized in action. If we’re not going to Mass every week, if we’re not praying every day, if we’re not engaged in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, if we’re not going to confession regularly, if we’re not studying our faith, if we’re not forsaking the comforts and pleasures of this life – or at least completely subjecting them to Him – then we are not His disciples.

We each have a choice. What are you going to do with yours? What has to change? What possessions – emotional, spiritual, or physical – have to be let go of? What priorities have to be shifted around? What crosses have to be picked up? Unlike a Klondike Bar, there can be no risk assessment here…it’s all or nothing. Today we pray for the grace to choose the way of salvation and to live solely for God in Christ Jesus.

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