Homily: 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
I don’t know how many of you out there are Facebook users, but if you are I hope you won’t be offended if I criticize it a little here. Facebook had been around for a few years before I first encountered it. I had joined the e-mail revolution and thought that it was a pretty efficient way to communicate with friends and to keep up with what was going on in their lives. I came to know of Facebook in the seminary and I quickly decided that I didn’t need it because it just sounded like another form of communication and, since I was happy using e-mail, I didn’t feel like I needed another thing to “check” on a regular basis.
As an ordained minister in the modern world, however, I quickly discovered that it would be necessary to have a Facebook account so as to communicate with a much larger number of people. Thus, I reluctantly opened one. Since then I’ve come to appreciate its positive aspects (a way to connect with friends that I had long since lost touch with and to share good information with people who share my interests without a lot of work), but have also lamented how it has simply become part of the system that has led us to lose the art of dialogue in the public square.
Like much of the more traditional media (like TV and radio), Facebook has become a place where debate has devolved into “who can argue the loudest, longest”, and thus where the majority opinion quickly drowns out the voices of those who dissent from it. And so we see that, in Facebook as in other forms of media, messages that run contrary to popular opinions are increasingly marginalized: that is, pushed out of the public square by the “bullies” in the majority. This, however, is nothing new.
In the first reading for today’s Mass, we heard of how the high priest Amaziah was trying to bully the prophet Amos to take his message out of the public square and back to his home town. In other words, the man in high political power was trying to bully the man without any power who brought forth an unpopular message into retreating back to the margins, thus silencing his message. “Go back home and preach to your choir”, he seems to say, “and leave us alone.”
It should be a surprise to no one when I say that the fullness of our Christian message is being increasingly pushed to the margins. Without directly saying it like the ancient high priest Amaziah did, the political powers of our day are enacting laws and policies that essentially are telling us to take our message out of the public square, because it isn’t welcome there, and so to keep it at home, inside the walls of our churches, thus marginalizing our message along with those of us who proclaim it. So what do we do about it?
Some would say that we should retreat, shaking the dust off of our feet in testimony against them, as Jesus instructed his apostles to do when he sent them out to preach. I’m not so sure, however, that this is the correct approach. Jesus was thinking about individual towns and villages, not the overall landscape of political power. He was thinking of dialogue with individuals and groups of individuals, not wholesale rejection by the majority. Therefore, I think that in order to know what we must do, we must first remember our mission.
In the Gospel reading today we heard that Jesus sent out his apostles to preach the kingdom of God and gave them authority over unclean spirits. Later we hear that the apostles went out and preached repentance and both drove out demons and healed many people who were sick. In other words, they preached repentance in preparation for the coming kingdom of God and demonstrated its nearness by doing acts of great power and mercy.
My brothers and sisters, our mission is the same. Thus, if we are engaging in the public square, we cannot be in it for the sole purpose of winning debates and asserting ourselves over others because our message is the most powerful. Rather, we must be in it for God’s purposes: to preach repentance in preparation for the coming of God’s kingdom and to bring mercy to those who are desperately in need of it.
To emphasize that he didn’t want his disciples trying to gain political power or influence, Jesus sent them first to small towns and villages, instead of to Jerusalem to engage the ones with great political influence; and he sent them without provisions so that they would remember that they were God’s missionaries, relying solely on His providence, instead of trying to build clout by growing their wealth and political influence.
And so, Jesus sends us today, instructing us to bring no worldly help along with us—that is, nothing that can help us gain political power. Rather, we are only to bring his message (repent for the kingdom of God is at hand) and the authority that he has given us as his apostles to do works of mercy.
Part of the challenge we face today is that the message has lost its credibility because it has increasingly become separated from works of mercy. This is why Pope Francis is having such a great effect on people. Pope Francis is pushing to put works of mercy in the forefront so that we might rebuild our credibility and thus gain a hearing for our message. He is showing us that to retreat from the public square because our message has been rejected would be to fail in our mission. Rather, he wants us to see that we must first manifest the kingdom of God by doing works of mercy and that, in doing so, we will gain a hearing for our message. This is because he knows that, in a culture soaked in cynicism and distrust, we must first build a bridge of trust with those whom we hope to reach with our message: which we do when we enact the works of mercy.
My brothers and sisters, this is uncomfortable work, to be sure. It requires us not only to go outside of our comfort zones—engaging, perhaps, with someone outside of our normal circles—but it also demands sacrifices of us—forgoing, perhaps, that vacation or purchasing that new car or new couch or new pair of jeans—so that God’s mercy can be worked through us; and this with no guarantee that our message will be heard and accepted!
We must not let the fear of rejection keep us from going, however, because we have the power and authority of Jesus and have been given a commission by him; woe to us, therefore, if we do not go. And so, my brothers and sisters, let us go boldly to bring mercy to God’s people so that they, too, might hear and accept God’s call to repentance and thus be joined with us at this table of God’s mercy: the Eucharistic banquet which is a foretaste of eternal happiness that we all long for.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – July 11th & 12th, 2015