HOMILY FOR 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2014

The chief engineer of our Sunday Radio Mass, now in its 47th year, had major surgery last week.  The day after the operation, while he was in the Intensive Care Unit, a critical part on the rolling table over his bed went bad, making it impossible to move the table.  Nurses, doctors and technicians tried to fix it, but to no avail.  They all finally left the room in search of a maintenance man.  When they got back, the problem had been solved – by the patient himself, who, his wife told me, got out of bed and, despite her strenuous protests, did what was necessary!  She told me that she is expecting him to be rather uncooperative when he’ll be home recuperating under her care.  Good luck, Joan!

Inspired by his courageous and charitable foolishness, my next emailed message to him contained this line: “I think your active nature, your optimism, and your sense of humor have a lot to do with the progress you are making — to say nothing about those two most important factors in your life: your faith in God and the love you share with your wonderful wife.”

How many times have I heard — as you have, I’m certain — the testimony of men and women who are convinced that their belief in the constant, loving presence of God has been the number one reason for their recovery from illness or their endurance in a time of crushing pressure of one kind or another.  How many service men & women there are who have seen combat and later on told us what that divine presence meant to them in their darkest, most terrifying hours.

Atheists may accuse us of self-deception; they may be convinced that we have fabricated the God we claim to have known, the God who has been compassionately active in many of the most stressful situations we have ever endured.  We cannot prove them wrong or prove us right.  We can only honor their sincerity, their good will, and the basic goodness of their humanity.  We can only be grateful that we happened to have made conscious connection with the Creative Spirit that we call God and that that bonding has brought us immense peace and joy.

The writers of Scripture have given voice to God in the adventure of their response to God’s activity in their lives.  That divine presence was real, we can be absolutely sure, even though the conversations they report are humanly composed in order that we might understand what they had understood in the experience of their contemplation, their meditation, their listening.

So in today’s sacred readings we have Isaiah, the noted “playwright,” putting words in the mouth of God (as if God had a mouth!) that assure us that there is plenty of room for all in God’s house.  (Reminds me of Pope Francis’ statement that the Church is a very big tent with room for all who wish to enter.

In the second reading (and I hope I’ve got this right!), St. Paul indulges in more of his logical gymnastics to convince the Gentiles – the non-Jews – that, though they may have been in God’s disfavor previously, the door is now wide open to them – almost as if God plans it that way: everyone taking a turn at being in God’s disfavor only that they may experience the joy of coming back home to God’s extravagant generosity.  I think I’m safe in saying that that scenario is considered passé today except by the most fundamentalist theologians.   Nevertheless, it does add an appropriate layer to the concept of a wildly loving God who rejects no one.

And then Matthew’s version of the Gospel, such a poignant vignette: Jesus’ encounter with the persistent woman who is asking that he make her daughter well.  Masterful teacher that he was, he toys with her at first, pretending that he has no concern for her appeal and that she is not worthy of his time anyway – all the while just testing her and exhibiting to others her deep, unshakable faith.

I think it’s pretty hard to miss the point here: There is no reason for anyone to live in fear of God, for God is love that waits patiently for even the greatest of sinners to return home to its comforting embrace.  A just-out new interpretation of the bible understands Paul to say, “God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty – never cancelled, never rescinded.”

So, be at peace!

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