Homily: 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Cycle A
Perhaps many of you have heard about a new film that is coming to theaters next week entitled Son of God. It is a dramatized biography of Jesus pulled from the accounts of his life and ministry in the Gospels. It has gotten some very positive reviews in Catholic circles and so I hope to have the opportunity to see it while it is in theaters.
While multiple films about Jesus have been made ever since man started making films, for me the watershed film has to be Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. For those of us who grew up watching too much TV and are thus “imaginationally challenged”, this film answered a lot of those “I wonder what that was like?” questions. I know that many people decided not to see it because the filmmakers did not hold back in depicting the violence that Jesus suffered (almost, perhaps, overdramatizing it). But if you are an adult and you haven’t seen this film, I think that you should. Because if you’ve never pondered Jesus’ passion as graphically as this film depicts it, then you’ve never deeply meditated on what Jesus suffered to save us from our sins.
All that aside, however, one of the things that the film does highlight is the fullness of Jesus’ humanity. The film begins with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane suffering in his agony over what he is about to endure. Jesus is both fully human and divine, which means that he has both a human will and a divine will. Although Jesus’ divine will is powerful enough to override his human will at any time, it never does. This because, in order for Jesus’ self-sacrifice to be truly salutary for us, he had to be completely obedient to the Father’s will by using his natural human will alone.
Thus, we see him in such great turmoil in the Garden. His human will is resisting to its fullest extent what the Father has planned for him to endure. It begs, it pleads to the Father that there would be some other way to accomplish his will, but there isn’t; and from there—that is, from the moment that Jesus accepted in perfect obedience the will of his Father—we see Jesus in complete control.
When the soldiers arrived to arrest him in the Garden, Jesus offered them no resistance (and even commanded his disciples who were with him to do the same). When they struck him, he did not strike back. When they questioned him, he did not evade their questions, but gave them more than they asked for (that is, more than they had hoped he would in order to condemn him). And when he was so mercilessly scourged he did not beg them stop, but remained silent through it all. He accepted all of the evil that was done to him and, in the end, still loved those who had subjected him to it: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
Jesus did all of this using his human will alone, for it had to be so. In doing so, he modeled the human perfection that he called his disciples to in the Sermon on the Mount: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek,” he said, “turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.” What Jesus was teaching us, and what he modeled for us, is that we are to accept all of the evil that befalls us in this world; and that we overcome it, not by resisting it or by trying to destroy it, but rather by living as if it has no power to destroy us. In other words, it seems as if Jesus is teaching us that an evil force loses its strength when the object of its attack absorbs it rather than resists it.
Now Jesus is not advocating passivism that leads us to be perpetually abused. Rather, he is indicating the kind of passivism that “takes the wind out of the sails”, so to speak, of those who do evil by turning around and loving them with a self-sacrificial love instead. To turn the other cheek says to the person, “you may strike me again, but I’m not giving up on our relationship.” To give your cloak to the one who demanded your tunic is to say to that person, “if you so desperately need clothing, here take all that I have and be well.” And to go two miles with the one who presses you into service for one says “I hold no grudge, I harbor no rancor in my heart for you.” To do this makes plain their wickedness and, as Saint Paul would say later in one of his letters, it “heaps burning coals onto their heads.” This, Jesus is teaching us, is the way to “be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.”
“Oh, but father, isn’t this kind of perfection impossible for us?” By our own human will alone—broken as it is by sin—of course it is! But it isn’t about that alone. Rather, it’s about our nature and our end: our nature as creatures made in the image of God and our end which is to be one with him forever. In other words, this is not about some moral code imposed on us from outside of us that is impossible for us to achieve. Rather, it’s about becoming who it is that we truly are: creatures made in the image and likeness of God, destined to be perfectly united with our creator forever.
In order for us to achieve this destiny, therefore, me must strive to conform ourselves to this image in which we have been created. God, our creator, endures countless evils from his creatures. And does he ever retaliate against us? No! Rather, what does he do? “He makes the sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust”, doesn’t he? In other words, in spite of the way that he has been treated by his ungrateful creatures, he continues generously to pour down on us all that we need and then some. Our work of perfection, therefore, is to strive to live this model.
My brothers and sisters, by enduring his passion in perfect obedience to the Father using only his human will, Jesus has shown us the way to perfection. In giving us the Eucharist, he has given us the spiritual strength that we need to follow him. Let us, today, say “yes” to the grace that perfects us and thus be transformed—or rather set free—to achieve the perfection that awaits us: our perfect communion with the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 23rd, 2014