Hi everyone, here’s my homily for November 17, 2013 – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today can be found at: https://usccb.org/bible/readings/111713.cfm Thanks as always for reading, your comments and feedback. God bless! Fr. Jim
It’s hard to avoid – whether you read a newspaper, watch television, or simply get information from the web, twitter or social media what is called “Spin”. That’s when someone or some group is able to persuade a large number of people to something that’s beneficial to their point of view. We’ve often come to associate that idea of spinning simply with politicians. When a candidate is successful at it; when they can spin effectively – they can build compromises, consensus, bi-partisan agreements. When they are not successful, they come across as phony, two-faced, flip-flopping or even called liars… No matter who plays this game, they are constantly walking a fine line between those two.
But truthfully, this idea of spinning isn’t limited to politicians. A CEO will spin a bad couple months for his company as a “time of transition”. Layoffs at a firm will be described as “difficult, but in the long run productive in making this company leaner, meaner and more productive.” We even have entire industries based on spinning. Marketing executives work very hard to try to find a way to convince you the iPhone you got a year ago, it’s good – but this new one, oh it’s SOOOO much better and you should spend another $400 to get it. Or Public Relations professionals -they can take something that an actor or actress said or did that on the surface you think, “that person’s career is over” (For example, how many times will Alec Baldwin say some homophobic slur to a reporter?) But a PR person will quickly spin it to people feeling sympathy for that person and rooting for their return.
It’s amazing that in this age of spin, every once in a while an honest politician, an honest employer will touch off a great deal of interest because they will be seen as so “refreshing” simply for being honest… but for the most part as much as we as individuals might say we dislike this phoniness – that we wish everyone were more honest – there’s a benefit to the “spin.” There’s a reason we fall for it or allow for it. Because when things are spinned or spun, it’s packaged in a way that makes us more comfortable, that’s acceptable, that’s not as challenging or disturbing.
While that happens on a widespread level and has been as accepted as it is, that is an important cultural thing to look at and think about. But what’s a bit frightening is that there are people who like to “Spin” Jesus’ message too. There’s even a new show I saw an ad for that’s a “Reality/Makeover show” – for churches where some consulters come in to tell them how to re-packaged their church to attract more people. I’m debating whether I will check it out or whether I want my blood pressure to remain stable. But in truth, that’s just the latest version of something people have done throughout the ages. Trying to spin Jesus in a way that works to people’s advantage. They will take a twitter length quote like “Jesus said Love one another” – which sounds really nice, non-threatening… It works well on a banner or a bumper sticker. Or a quote like “I am with you always, even till the end of time” – that’s a comforting message we could greatly appreciate at many different points of our life. And some will take those quotes, and edit out some other things that he has said, repackage it, or interpret it in a way they feel is less threatening or what they see as more accessible to people today. But in effect it becomes utterly meaningless. Yes Jesus said “love one another” – but that— him on the Cross – that is his meaning of love; That’s a bit different than when Lady Gaga saying that she “loves her monsters.”
The point is, while we’ve grown comfortable with putting up with a certain level of spinning and let’s just say it, dishonesty…when it comes to Jesus, well, it’s sinful to do that to his message. The proclamation of the Gospel isn’t a marketing campaign to gain more members. Jesus isn’t trying to simply make us feel good about ourselves. He loves us to that depth of dying on the Cross, that’s how much we mean to him – that he cares about our whole selves – both here and now and for all eternity. There’s no spinning that. So the Gospel, His message it is meant to stir things up. And yes, His message is going to upset people.
There are times when the Gospel writers will tell us that Jesus will have said something and the listeners in that encounter will say “this is too much” for them and will “walked away, and follow him no more.” And there are things Jesus said that got people so angry that, they couldn’t deal with him anymore, and so they didn’t – they killed him. We know that isn’t the end of the story. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead changed and reshaped the world, as we know it. And one of the things it did was validate everything that Jesus said to us.
All of this is important to remember because tonight’s Gospel is one of those times that some would either like to spin differently, interpret in a different manner or skip it completely. What did we just hear? After painting some pretty awful images of what will happen at the end of time, Jesus gets somewhat personal with us. And we hear that He doesn’t just speak about something far off that will happen at the end of all time… He talks about what will happen to us just for following him…What does he tell us, namely that people will not be happy that we are trying to follow Jesus. They will seize and persecute you. They will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.
Why is that? Because the message of Christ calls us out of inactivity, out of apathy, out of complacency. And when we do that, when we challenge the status quo; when we level the spin of the powerful by testifying to the dignity of every human being – from conception to natural death; whether they are born in this country or another country; whether they are poor or rich; sick or healthy – that they are made and fashioned by the same God who loves each and every one of us and each and everyone of us has a unique dignity that deserves as much respect as we do – no check that, each and every person deserves Love: the selfless, sacrificial love Jesus demonstrated for us… well, that perspective has the potential to upset a lot of people. So much so that Jesus warns us, even those closest to us might not like it when we embrace. This gospel just said– you will be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.
We might try to fool ourselves thinking Jesus is being over-dramatic; or giving us the worst-case scenario. And while I hope that no one is ever persecuted that their life is taken from them for following Jesus that does happen, in this day and age around the world. People are being persecuted and martyred at an even greater rate today than in the first centuries of Christianity. Closer to home, there are people here on our campus who have been persecuted, for their faith… There are some who laugh at you (and us) for coming to Mass. There are some who probably try to pressure you to “just skip going there this week” because of whatever it is (this football game, this movie, this trip to the Mall) is in their minds more important – and when you hold strong against their plans – well they are still ticked off about it later. There have been more than a few Professors who’ve openly mocked some of our students when they’ve articulated their beliefs openly in class or dared to wear a Newman T-shirt (and almost dare you to stand up to them – do you want the “A” that you deserve or could you take the “B” or “C” you’ll get for standing up to them). And we are tempted to think, there’s got to be an easier way.
We think (or we’re told, or we’re misled by some) to think it’s okay to back down in the face of adversity, in the face of persecution because “Jesus will understand.” And I’m sure he does – because there have been people who have backed down from the moment he first came into our world. But the reason Jesus doesn’t tell us to ward off persecutions, doesn’t tell us to spin things differently so that our lives are a bit easier is because he knows that when you’re being persecuted – it calls you to be honest. Not with Him – He already knows our hearts… But honest with ourselves. Are we really following Him? Really trying?
It’s not enough to know Jesus intellectually – like we’ve studied who Jesus is.
It’s not enough to simply know Jesus’ name and call it out from time to time.
He’s telling us if you really know me, you will live for me… you will not live for yourself – you will live for the truth.
There’s no spinning it – this is hard – and can be scary to do especially on our own, which is one reason we come together as a community. Recognizing that we struggle with temptations, and struggle to turn away from sins – but are engaged in that battle. Experiencing together Jesus’ Risen presence in the word and in the Eucharist – receiving His Body and Blood. And in doing that we overcome fear, we grow in confidence to face the challenges the world puts before us, and find Jesus’ promises are validated. That he will lead us, and protect us here and now and into eternity where “not a hair on our head will be destroyed.”