Free to Choose

February 3, 2019 | N W | Deacon Eddie, Discipleship, Heaven, Love, Repentance, Self-Reflection

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 3, 2019 – Year C
Readings: Jer 1:4-5, 17-19 / Ps 71 / 1 Cor 12:31-13:13 / Lk 4:21-30
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon

Picture something in your mind. I want you to picture this word: kingdom. What comes to mind when you hear the word “kingdom”? Maybe it’s an image of a form of government where there is an absolute monarch placed to rule over all the people. And maybe you see this as a bad thing, as an oppressive thing, a negative thing.

Maybe you get images of knights on horseback, charging off to defend king and country. Maybe you get images of a grand castle, with a handsome prince and lovely maidens dancing in a ballroom.

Now picture this: What do you imagine when I say “the kingdom of God”? What are you thinking about? Are you thinking about some future joyous time, when there’s no death, and there’s no pain, and there’s no suffering? Is that what you’re thinking about? Because that’s right – to an extent.

But the kingdom of God is more than that. Believe it or not, the kingdom of God has started right here and right now. That joyous, happy, angelic, ideal time will only come about when Jesus returns. No one knows the time or the hour but the Father. Jesus assured us of that.

What does that kingdom look like now? The catechism explains it, starting around paragraph number 540. There’s a description of what that kingdom looks like now. The focus of that kingdom and the visible sign of that kingdom is the Church, the Body of Christ. The catechism points out, using the words of Jesus, that the kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit, to the suffering, to the downtrodden.

It also points out that all are invited to this kingdom. All of us. And I assure you that none of us deserves to be invited. But we’re invited anyway, and we’re received with open arms, just like the prodigal son was received when he finally came to his senses and went back to his father.

However, we are given free will. And we are free to live according to the rules of the kingdom, or not. We’re free to come and go as we will, because without free will, there is no love. And as the scriptures tell us, God is love.

Our gospel today paints a beautiful picture of the kingdom now. That picture is a little fuller if you look back at last week. You may have noticed that today’s gospel is just a continuation of last week’s gospel. Let me remind you what was happening last week.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and He went to the synagogue. And He was handed a scroll. And in that scroll He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Then He rolls up the scroll, and He hands it back, and He says, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Now you jump back to this week, which picks right up. It reminds us of the line, “Today the scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” But then Jesus begins to elaborate, as He is wont to do. And His message is not exactly received very well, is it? They intend to kill Him, but they are unsuccessful.

This, my friends, is the Church. And I invite you to look at it in two different ways. The Church is led by Christ, and we see Christ fulfilling His messianic obligation and destiny. He starts laying out the expectations to the people. And in this story, they’re not really receptive. Initially they’re receptive, then they start backtracking and questioning it. In that reading you can see Jesus presenting Himself and allowing people to accept Him or reject Him, as they see fit.

But I would also invite you to look at it as Jesus, the Body of Christ; as Jesus, the Church; as Jesus, us, who are called to live as sons and daughters of God and to do just what it said last week: proclaim liberty to captives, and on and on.

And that message can either be received or rejected. It’s been like that since the first century, and it’s still like that today. Some people accept the message, and some people don’t. Some people accept it, then turn away, and some of those choose to come back. It’s a cycle. It’s history, repeats itself over and over, and it will continue to repeat itself until Jesus comes again.

But we also have the second reading, because looking at it that way, you can get a little discouraged. But St. Paul, in classic St. Paul form, spells out the formula for you. And he talks about love. Man, how many times have I heard this reading at a wedding? And I always like to point out that we don’t understand what is meant by St. Paul when he says “love.”

Those kids who have had me in religious ed know the definition of love. Can any one of them tell me, what’s the definition of love, according to St. Thomas Aquinas? Thomas Aquinas says, love is to will the good of the other.

Now let’s look back at this passage, substituting that for “love.” It says, If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but I do not will the good of the other, I am a resounding gong and a clashing cymbal. Willing of the good is patient. Willing of the good is kind. It is not jealous, pompous, inflated, rude. It is not quick-tempered. It does not brood over wrongdoing. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Because, when we will the good of the other truly, it’s much easier to accept the inevitable insults and rejections.

Our Church today is under attack, just like it always has been and always will be. But that attack oftentimes comes from within and from without. I believe the best weapons of the devil against the Church are our own shortcomings and our own hypocrisy.

This formula of St. Paul: How many of us can honestly say that we, 100% of the time, do that? I know I certainly don’t. I strive to do better, and we all need to strive to do better. Many of the difficulties that the Church is facing today are the result of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy within our own community, on all levels, not just the clergy, but the lay faithful as well.

Because, when we preach a gospel of love and we publicly display hateful feelings toward others, it diminishes our message. It makes it a little harder to swallow. And the remedy for that is to be open and honest and always strive to do better and not get discouraged.

I love the first reading today, from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. The end of this reading says, “I am with you, to deliver you.” Because God is with us, to deliver us from the trials and tribulations that we face in this world. But He is also here to deliver us from ourselves.

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