Saturday, September 9, 2017

Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s








HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 10, 2017:

A man was walking on the beach praying when all of a sudden he said, “Lord grant me one wish.” Instantly, the clouds parted and a booming voice said, “Because you have been faithful to me, I will grant you a wish.” The man said, “Please build a bridge to Bermuda so I can drive over anytime I want to.” God answered, “That’s a very materialistic wish. Just think of the logistics; the supports required to reach the bottom of the ocean; the concrete and steel it would take. I can do it, but it is hard to justify. Take another moment to think of a wish that would honor and glorify me.” The man thought and finally said, “Lord, I wish that you could help men and women understand each other – how they each feel inside, what they are thinking, why they get mad or sad, and how they can make each other truly happy.” After a few minutes God responded, “How many lanes do you want on that bridge?”

We heard in Ezekiel today, “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from [their] way I will hold you responsible.” All of today’s readings beg a timeless question of us, “Am I my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper?” Our Scriptures answer that question with a definitive “yes” today. As Christians, we know that we are called to be noticeably different than the rest of the world. To a world bent on greed, we are to be signs of selfless giving; to a world bent on violence and war, we are to be signs and instruments of peace; to a world bent on polarization and lies, we are to be a sign of honesty and unity. And as we’ve seen recently in our country, to a world that continues to be bent on racism and prejudice, we are to be signs of acceptance, tolerance, welcome and care.

Consider these situations: First, a salesman for a limo service said to a father, “Your son looks young for his age. Take a half-price ticket. If the driver questions you, just say that the boy is under 12. Save a few bucks.” If you had been that father, what would you have said? Or, A mother caught her five-year-old daughter with a stolen candy bar after they returned from the supermarket. If you were that mother what would you do? Or finally: Suppose you heard your child’s best friend say, “If you need any answers on the math test, give me a signal.” If that was your child, would you ignore it, or would you have a talk with them?

I have no way of knowing what you would do in those cases, but I do know what Jesus would do. The answer is found in today’s readings which focus on the responsibility that every Christian has towards one another. As followers of Christ, we have a moral obligation not only to do what is right, but also to help each other do what is right. Jesus told his followers, “You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world…Your light must shine brightly before others.”

Let us return to our situations. What should a follower of Jesus say to the salesman who encouraged the father to lie? Well this is a true story. The real father told the salesman, “I appreciate where you are coming from, but I want my son to be truthful, even if it works to his momentary disadvantage.” And what about the mother whose daughter stole the candy bar? Also a true story. The real mother had the child return the candy to the manager and apologize.

And, what about the children encouraging each other to cheat? Well, this too is a true story. Jerome Weidman, author of Hand of the Hunter, had this experience as a boy. As a child in school, his third grade math teacher, Mrs. O’Neill, gave her class a test one day. When grading the tests, she noticed that 12 boys had given the same strange answer to one question. The next day she asked the boys to remain after class, and without saying a word, wrote one sentence on the board; a quote from Thomas Macaulay: “The measure of one’s real character is what they would do if they knew they would never be caught.” Weidman wrote, “I don’t know about the other boys, but this was the single most important lesson of my life.”

And so we have three cases where people spoke up. They heeded Jesus’ instruction to help their brothers and sisters live the Christian life. They took Ezekiel seriously, “If you do not you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked, I will hold you responsible.” They took St. Paul’s seriously, “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” And, they took Jesus’ seriously, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”

Edmund Burke once wrote, “All that is needed for evil to prosper is for good people to remain silent.” The people in these cases did not keep silent. They encouraged others to holiness and godliness; and they invite us to follow their example. And, it seems as though there could not be a more poignant moment in our world to be reminded of these truths once again. As racism and prejudice once again rear their ugly heads in our midst; as our concern for the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the marginalized, is once again strained; as war, violence, and terror become part of our day-to-day; it is important to remember that for us these are not political issues, they are issues of faith. “Love does no evil to the neighbor,” and of course, everyone is our neighbor.

Make no mistake about the importance of being our brother’s and sister’s keeper. It is part of the fabric from which we were woven by God. God’s plan for you and me, and for everyone, includes being our brother’s keeper. So, the question is whether or not we actually keep our brother or sister, whether or not we look out for them, whether or not their welfare is our concern, whether or not we reach out and share faith and help meet the needs we see around us every day, whether or not we speak up with God’s words of love when evil raises its presence in our midst.

As I wrote in the bulletin two weeks ago, “Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s. Kindness must overwhelm prejudice. Concern for all must silence racism. Let us be the people who join the great chorus and speak love into our world, the love that wipes out the darkness of evil and sin.” Or as St. Paul said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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