2011-09-04, 23rd A, Life’s Answers

Homily 09-04-11
Twenty-third Sunday A
Ez 33:7-9; Ps 95:1-2,6-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20

(Scriptures and an interesting comment cited after the Homily.)

It’s funny how all the answers to life’s questions are right there in black and white, yet we still go around asking those same old questions: “Will we ever find that peace, we so desire?”  “Why is there so much evil in the world?”  “And, why do bad things happen to good people?”  Today, Jesus teaches us the answers to all of these questions through each of the scripture readings.

First, St. Paul sums up all of God’s commandments in one simple phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  It all begins with love.  We might ask then, “What was the point of all those other commandments?”  Of course, the answer is apparent.  Because if we are a parent, we know well, that it’s out of love that we make rules and commands to keep our children from getting hurt.  You know, like “candy rots your teeth,” “TV rots your mind” and “not enough sleep makes you grumpy in the morning.”  And children, if you have pets that you love, you may understand the same thing.

You see, the reason God made the commandments, was because He loved His children so much, he didn’t want to see them get hurt.  Unfortunately, between the time of Moses and the time of Jesus, the Jewish leaders elaborated on those ten simple rules to control almost every breath a common person took.  The rules of love became rules of control and oppression.  So Jesus taught that we had to get back to the basics, “Love one another.”

If we ever want to find peace, we must first, find love.  So the answer to the first question, “Will we ever find that peace, we so desire?” is clearly “YES”, IF, we can fully transform our lives – to love.  If we can love other people so deeply that it hurts, then we’ll find a peace within us that absolutely cannot be described in words.

Now we might be thinking, sure that would be easy if I was a monk or a hermit in a monastery.  But, I’m living in the real world.  It’s not always easy to like people, when they hurt me so much.  Jesus didn’t say we had to ‘like’ them, but we do have to ‘love’ them, because they are God’s children too.

And it all begins with relationship.  Do I know that other person, well enough, to know WHY they hurt me?  Do they even know, that they hurt me?  Do I realize that whatever they did to hurt me, is hurting other people through me?  You see, we can act as a “conduit for hurt” as well as a “channel of love” for others.  So, “Why is there so much evil in the world?”  Maybe it’s because – it is not stopping at me!

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Jesus outlines for us, in today’s Gospel, a simple plan for reconciliation with those who have hurt us.  And it all begins, of course, with LOVE.  Out of our love, and not hatred, we move into – thought and word.  You know, God gave us voices for two reasons: first, to heal wounds and unite God’s children and second, to encourage and lift up others.  If our voices are not healing or encouraging, they probably should be silent.

So how do we even approach someone who has hurt us?  I’d like to reference two examples from the Bible (Scriptures cited below).  The first method, I would not, personally recommend, although it does have its place at times.  The second requires a little more thought, but it’s much more likely to succeed.  Both examples stem from similar sins and hurt.  Both perpetrators of the deeds either ignored the wrong that they did, or tried to cover it up.

In the first case, King Herod took his step-brother’s wife to be his own.  Now, John the Baptist knew this was hurtful, both to the step-brother and to Herod himself.  You see, deep within John, there was a love for both men and the deed hurt him as well.

So John, rather crudely, first confronted Herod with his sin.  And when that didn’t result in the immediate change, John expected, he proceeded to publicize it to the world.  Of course, this didn’t go over very well with the woman, Herodias.  Neither did it bring reconciliation, nor repentance by Herod.  Instead it cost John his life.  You see sometimes the message does need to be publicized, but we must be very cautious and wise as to – exactly when.

In the second case, one thousand years earlier, King David suffered the same weakness of moral control, by taking the wife of his soldier, Uriah, as his own.  Then, after elaborate, failed attempts to cover up his sin, David finally had Uriah killed.

Now, the prophet Nathan was witness to the whole affair.  And he too was hurt, for he loved David, Uriah and his country.  So Nathan confronted the King in a little different manner than John the Baptist.  Instead of yelling from the rooftops that David was a sinner, Nathan devised a cleaver parable, which actually caused David to convict himself, in the privacy of just the two of them.

You see, sometimes when we see our own actions from another person’s point of view, we realize how awful we can be, even inadvertently!  So, with David’s repentance, Nathan brought reconciliation between David and God, and himself.  And even though David still had to suffer some pretty grave consequences for his sin, it was truly a reconciliation success!

Unfortunately, Uriah, the “good guy” also paid dearly.  Which brings us back to that third question:  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  You see, deep in the muck of it all, Uriah had missed several hidden opportunities to escape his fate.  He “heard the voice but he hardened his heart” by prioritizing his job over his family.  He was so insistent on doing the “right” thing, that he missed the subtle hints that something may have been amiss at home.  It’s a good lesson for our moms and dads to always remember. . . In the working world, your family is NOT their priority!   (Please see Comment below)

The prophet Ezekiel then caps off Jesus’ “answers to life’s questions” with one final point, We are God’s Watchmen.  And as such, it is our obligation to protect and defend this gift of our faith in Jesus.

So, we begin by cultivating love in our hearts.  And from that love, we use our voices to speak only words of healing and encouragement.  And finally, we are responsible for bringing God’s healing love to our families, our workplaces and our world, IF we ever want that seed of peace to grow.  We are “God’s Watchmen,” and with Jesus at our side, the only result possible is success!

jmp 09-04-11

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Scripture References

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 33:7-9
Thus says the LORD:
You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel;
when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.
If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die, ”
and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,
the wicked shall die for his guilt,
but I will hold you responsible for his death.
But if you warn the wicked,
trying to turn him from his way,
and he refuses to turn from his way,
he shall die for his guilt,
but you shall save yourself.

Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Romans 13:8-10
Brothers and sisters:
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another;
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery;
you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet, ”
and whatever other commandment there may be,
are summed up in this saying, namely,
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love does no evil to the neighbor;
hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

Matthew 18:15-20
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you,
so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”

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Scriptures Referenced in Homily

The Death of John the Baptist.  Mt 14:3 Now Herod had arrested John, bound [him], and put him in prison on account of Herodias,* the wife of his brother Philip, 4  for John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Although he wanted to kill him, he feared the people, for they regarded him as a prophet. 6 But at a birthday celebration for Herod, the daughter of Herodias performed a dance before the guests and delighted Herod 7 so much that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for. 8Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, 10 and he had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who took it to her mother. 12 His disciples came and took away the corpse and buried him; and they went and told Jesus.

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David’s Sin. 2 Samuel 11:1At the turn of the year, the time when kings go to war, David sent out Joab along with his officers and all Israel, and they laid waste the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. David himself remained in Jerusalem. 2One evening David rose from his bed and strolled about on the roof of the king’s house. From the roof he saw a woman bathing; she was very beautiful. 3David sent people to inquire about the woman and was told, “She is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, and wife of Uriah the Hittite, Joab’s armor-bearer.”b 4Then David sent messengers and took her. When she came to him, he took her to bed, at a time when she was just purified after her period; and she returned to her house.c 5But the woman had become pregnant; she sent a message to inform David, “I am pregnant.”

6So David sent a message to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” Joab sent Uriah to David. 7And when he came, David asked him how Joab was, how the army was, and how the war was going, and Uriah answered that all was well. 8David then said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and bathe your feet.” Uriah left the king’s house, and a portion from the king’s table was sent after him. 9But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with the other officers of his lord, and did not go down to his own house. 10David was told, “Uriah has not gone down to his house.” So he said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why, then, did you not go down to your house?” 11Uriah answered David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my lord Joab and my lord’s servants are encamped in the open field. Can I go home to eat and to drink and to sleep with my wife? As the LORD lives and as you live, I will do no such thing.”d 12Then David said to Uriah, “Stay here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day. On the following day, 13David summoned him, and he ate and drank with David, who got him drunk. But in the evening he went out to sleep on his bed among his lord’s servants, and did not go down to his house.

14The next morning David wrote a letter to Joab which he sent by Uriah. 15This is what he wrote in the letter: “Place Uriah up front, where the fighting is fierce. Then pull back and leave him to be struck down dead.” 16So while Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to a place where he knew the defenders were strong. 17When the men of the city made a sortie against Joab, some officers of David’s army fell, and Uriah the Hittite also died.  18Then Joab sent David a report of all the details of the battle, 19instructing the messenger, “When you have finished giving the king all the details of the battle, 20the king may become angry and say to you: ‘Why did you go near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall above? 21Who killed Abimelech, son of Jerubbaal? Was it not a woman who threw a millstone down on him from the wall above, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you go near the wall?’ Then you in turn are to say, ‘Your servant Uriah the Hittite is also dead.’”e 22The messenger set out, and on his arrival he reported to David everything Joab had sent him to tell.* 23He told David: “The men had the advantage over us and came out into the open against us, but we pushed them back to the entrance of the city gate. 24Then the archers shot at your servants from the wall above, and some of the king’s servants died; and your servant Uriah the Hittite is also dead.” 25David said to the messenger: “This is what you shall say to Joab: ‘Do not let this be a great evil in your sight, for the sword devours now here and now there. Strengthen your attack on the city and destroy it.’ Encourage him.”  26When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband had died, she mourned her lord. 27But once the mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her into his house. She became his wife and bore him a son. But in the sight of the LORD what David had done was evil.

Nathan’s Parable.  2 Sam 12:1The LORD sent Nathan to David, and when he came to him, he said: “Tell me how you judge this case: In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor.a 2The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers. 3But the poor man had nothing at all except one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children. Of what little he had she ate; from his own cup she drank; in his bosom she slept; she was like a daughter to him. 4Now, a visitor came to the rich man, but he spared his own flocks and herds to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him: he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” 5David grew very angry with that man and said to Nathan: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves death! 6He shall make fourfold restitution* for the lamb because he has done this and was unsparing.”b 7Then Nathan said to David: “You are the man!

Nathan’s Indictment. “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel. I delivered you from the hand of Saul.c 8I gave you your lord’s house and your lord’s wives for your own. I gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were not enough, I could count up for you still more. 9Why have you despised the LORD and done what is evil in his sight? You have cut down Uriah the Hittite with the sword; his wife you took as your own, and him you killed with the sword of the Ammonites. 10Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.d 11Thus says the LORD: I will bring evil upon you out of your own house. I will take your wives before your very eyes, and will give them to your neighbor: he shall lie with your wives in broad daylight.* e 12You have acted in secret, but I will do this in the presence of all Israel, in the presence of the sun itself.”

David’s Repentance. 13Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan answered David: “For his part, the LORD has removed your sin. You shall not die,f 14but since you have utterly spurned the LORD by this deed, the child born to you will surely die.” 15Then Nathan returned to his house.

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Comment

I prepared this homily last weekend, and boy it was a struggle!
It was one of those Jesus giving orders Gospels, and I guess I just wasn’t into reiterating how to ‘maturely’ reconcile when you or someone you love has been “nastified.”  Which is the main theme of the Gospel.

So instead I gave some examples of good and not-so-good reconciliations from the Bible (more so – how to let people know when they’ve messed up).  Overall I think there was a good message and I’m hoping I kept on-track with respect to the Readings.

But mid-way through three of the homily presentations, our Pastor noted one point of possible error or contention (in private with me – not during Mass).

It has been bugging me ever since Sunday, and maybe will forever!

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The contention came from this particular section of the homily:

“Unfortunately, Uriah, the “good guy” also paid dearly.  Which brings us back to that third question:  “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  You see, deep in the muck of it all, Uriah had missed several hidden opportunities to escape his fate.  He “heard the voice but he hardened his heart” by prioritizing his job over his family.  He was so insistent on doing the “right” thing, that he missed the subtle hints that something may have been amiss at home.  It’s a good lesson for our moms and dads to always remember. . . In the working world, your family is NOT their priority!”

The David and Bathsheba reference came from 2 Sam 11 and 12 (see above).

Now, the point made was that Uriah was simply doing what the “law” said he HAD to do.  It was the morally right thing to do.  The law said that if you are fighting in a holy war, you are to avoid “family (sexual) relationships,” until the war is through.  And that is exactly what Uriah held fast to – regardless of what King David ordered him to do.  Our Pastor felt that I was implying that Uriah did not do the right thing.

And there’s the dilemma.  What was the right thing?

What do we do when we are ‘ordered’ to do something that makes no sense?
(The king had ordered Uriah to break his own, and God’s, law.)
Yet what was the REASON for that order??  Uriah didn’t even seem to care to know.
For if Uriah did follow David’s order, David’s sin would still have remained, but Uriah may just have saved his own life.  Instead Uriah chose to disobey David and keep the Law.

If we look at it from a Christological or Eschatological point of view – Jesus talked about loving Him over Everything and Everyone else in our lives.  Jesus said – even to the extreme of death.  ” Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:39)  Was this Uriah an example of that extreme devotion (losing his life to save it)?  Yes, his wife screwed up – she followed David’s order rather than probably die for not obeying – unlike her husband who disobeyed and gave his life for the cause!  Guess you’d have to wonder if Uriah somehow knew what had happened.  If he had already given up on Bathsheba.  Of if he really died not having a clue that his whole death was a setup, was in essence, murder.

My point of this section in the homily was two fold: 1. to address “why do bad things happen to good people?” – sometimes because clues are missed, we can become too self absorbed or too single-mindedly focused on one thing and miss something else important, and 2. to remind us all to keep perspective on family versus job.  Especially us dads, but with working moms too now, work has a way of just dragging us away from our families –  And families pay a high price.  And most companies could care less – they are just as likely to fire a hard worker as a sloucher.  (I’ve been there too many times, and I don’t believe I’m a sloucher.)  And then one ends up with no job AND no family!!

You see Uriah made a vow to his Country, his People; but he also made a vow to his Wife that went something like “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part…”  Which one takes priority???

Every web reference I’ve found (save one) tends to define Uriah as the great, virtuous, moral stronghold.  And actually, this was the first time I ever thought of it from the family point of view.  Why didn’t Uriah catch the hint and visit his wife?   Didn’t he think it was odd that the KING would call him out of the midst of battle to eat and drink and relax with his wife?   Maybe Uriah knew?!  Maybe he even knew he would die over it.  Maybe underneath he was distraught over the loss of his wife.  And then again maybe he was just blind to everything else but the LAW.

What do you think?

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