Sunday, September 20, 2015

Obnoxious to the world, pleasing to God.

Homily: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
          We all knew “that kid”, right?  You know, the “goody two-shoes” who was always the first one done with any assignment, was the teacher’s pet, and was quick to tattle when classmates were whispering, passing notes, or telling inappropriate jokes on the playground (especially when those jokes were about the teacher).  He or she was the one that always reminded you that you were doing something wrong and that you would get in trouble for doing it.  We knew that they were right, but we also knew we could get away with it.  That is, as long as goody two-shoes didn’t mess it all up.  We all hated that kid, didn’t we?  (Unless, of course, we were that kid.)
          If you were at all a victim of goody two-shoes’ do-goodery, then perhaps you had thoughts of revenge against him or her.  Perhaps, at one point, you and your friends may have said to each other: “I’m tired of goody two-shoes spoiling our fun.  We should do something to get him in trouble.  We’ll see if the teacher comes to his rescue!”  Your thought being that if you found some way to get that kid in trouble, then he or she would stop bothering you.  If not that, then at least he or she would have suffered something for all of the suffering that he or she caused for you and you would feel better.
          This, my friends, is one of the effects of Original Sin (not the do-goodery part, but the hatred of the do-gooder).  You see, when God created us, he hard-wired us to love what is good and to hate what is evil.  Sin, however, damaged our hardware and short-circuited some of that wiring so that now we love what is evil and hate what is good.  Jesus came and won for us the equipment that we need to fix the problem (it’s called “grace”), but too many of us fail to keep up on the required maintenance and so the fix doesn’t overcome the problem completely.
          Goody two-shoes can be pretty obnoxious, though, can’t she?  I mean, we’re just trying to have some fun (at the expense of others) and she wants to spoil it all the time.  It’s funny, though, that the same word we’d use to describe goody two-shoes is the word that the author of the book of Wisdom puts in the mouth of “the wicked” when they describe the “just one” in our first reading today.  Given the extreme lengths to which the wicked intend to go in order to silence “the just one”, they must intend the word “obnoxious” to mean more than just “annoying”.
          The word “obnoxious” comes from a Latin phrase ob noxius, which means towards harmNoxius is the same word from which we get the word noxious, which means “harmful” (for example, when we say that a gas is “noxious” we mean that it is harmful to inhale).  Therefore, the full weight of the term obnoxious is that it describes something that is intending to harm.  Given this, we can see that the reaction of the wicked in the reading is one of fear; and that their reaction to the just one is to fight against him so that they can protect their wicked way of life.
          Now, the just one is not intending them harm, of course.  Rather, he is trying to turn them to the way that is truly good for them.  Because of Original Sin, however, the wicked are unable to recognize this and, driven as they are by their disordered passions, they feel threatened by him and so seek to protect themselves by putting him to death; and they even go so far as to justify their actions, saying that “if he is as good as he says he is, then God will protect him”, implying that their wrongdoing wouldn’t have any truly negative effect in the end.
          As Christians we see in this an image of Jesus, who came among his people and called them to conversion in preparation for the coming kingdom of God.  The religious elite, however, had become numb to the effects of Original Sin within them and so failed to recognize in Jesus the Messiah for whom they had been waiting.  Thus, Jesus was obnoxious to them (in the fullest sense of the word) and so, like the wicked in the book of Wisdom, they decided to put Jesus to death: justifying it by saying “if he truly is the Son of God, then God will save him from this.”
          Jesus proved that he truly is the Son of God, however, just not as the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders expected.  Instead of keeping himself from death, he rose to life again after three days in the tomb, just as he had predicted; thus proving that he was and is Lord over both life and death.  Many of those who were initially against him turned to him after the resurrection.  Still many others, however, remained obstinate in their resistance and would not follow him.  In fact, they continued to persecute his followers wherever they found them.
          Throughout the centuries and even until this day Christians continue to be “obnoxious” to those driven by their passions and misconstrued ideas of what is truly good.  The effects of Original Sin are alive and well in the hearts of men and women today and one needs only to turn on the television to see the truth in the words of Saint James: that disorder and every foul practice comes from our jealousy and selfish ambitions; and that conflicts and wars are born from our disordered passions.  Thus, in this culture, those who are like the just one—who sets himself against what the wicked ones do and reproaches them for their sins—will be obnoxious and, thus, targeted for persecution: even to the point of elimination.
          This shouldn’t be a surprise to us, however.  In the Gospel Jesus promised us that the world would hate those who followed him; and throughout the centuries many saints reminded us of this fact when they were murdered for their faith.  For the Christian this should be no cause for despair, however, because we have proof that God truly is with us: for if God did not abandon Jesus to death, neither will he abandon us who put our faith in him.
          The real problem for us, however, is that this kind of hatred happens within our own communities.  In the book of Wisdom, the wicked who set themselves to eliminate the just one were members of the same community; and, as we know, Jesus was handed over to death by the leaders of his people; both of which go to show that sometimes our worst enemies are those who are closest to us.
          My brothers and sisters, if jealousy or selfish ambition has any place among us we must root it out, as Jesus instructed the apostles to do, by placing ourselves always at the service of our brothers and sisters.  In this way we will safeguard ourselves from the kind of conflicts that arise from our disordered passions and overcome the effects of Original Sin.  Then we will truly be a community of “just ones” who are obnoxious to the world, yet pleasing in God’s eyes; and we will fulfill our mission to bring Jesus’ gift of salvation to every corner of this world.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – September 20th, 2015

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