2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (1/20/2013): Fr. Michael’s Homily

His mother says to the waiters:

“Whatsoever he shall say to you, do” [1]

            How many of you made a New Year’s Resolution this year? How are those working so far? I must say I’ve already noticed that there are fewer people at the gym now then there was right after the beginning of the new year. Perhaps the vow to not eat so many desserts has proven less successful than you’d hope. Yet every year we do the same thing, time in and time out. Why is this? Why do we set up for ourselves these epic challenges only to have them fall short? How many of us resolve ourselves to write a book, run a marathon or learn a new language only to have them remain unaccomplished by this time next year.

            There is a psychiatry blog I regularly follow, because, you know, I’m a nerd. Anyways she offered an insight into this phenomenon which I would like to share with you. Now, please keep in mind today’s gospel because I assure you we will be getting back to it. But first this reflection. The psychiatrist’s hypotheses was that:

Being awesome

<is better/easier than>

Feeling terrible about yourself

<is better/easier than>

The mental energy required for change[2] 

That paradigm right there is governing our lives. What we actually find in those moments of honesty is that we don’t want to really change. What we’re really wanting is to be more acceptable versions of the person we already are. We don’t want to be better, we want to be accepted for who we are. This is a painful, yet if we’re honest, true assessment of ourselves. How many times do we hear the phrase, “They accept me for who I am,” or “I just gotta be me”? These phrases show the truth of the above mentioned thesis.

            So, let’s see how this human behavior is present in Scripture. First, let’s look a little ahead in John’s gospel to John 8, wherein we find the story of the woman caught in adultery. Now, we’re all familiar with the story, but as a recap let’s work through it.

Early in the morning He [Jesus] came again to the temple;

all the people came to him, and He sat down and taught them.

The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery,

and placing her in the midst, they said to him:

“Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.

Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?”

This they said to test Him, that they might have some charge to bring against Him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.

And as they continued to ask Him, He stood up and said to them,

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.

But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest,

and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before Him.

Jesus looked up and said to her,

“Woman, where are they? Has no one accused you?”

She said, “No one Lord.”

And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and now sin no more.” [3]

Alright. Now, obviously we can say a great deal about this narrative, but I’d like you to consider the following. Who do you relate to in this story? For many of us, we look at the woman and see ourselves in her place, finding comfort in Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy. Now this is certainly true, but it’s not who you should be relating to. Some people relate to Jesus, and say, “see, that’s why I never judge anyone.” But I must say, if you find yourself equating yourself with the Son of God, you might have an issue of pride. But that’s not who you should be comparing yourself with. I contend that we are the Pharisees of the story.

            You see, the Pharisees and scribes don’t really care about the woman caught in adultery. They want to be affirmed in their awesomeness. Jesus in the chapter just before had proceeded to wreck havoc with their supposed obedience with the law. So here was a chance for them to not only be better in the eyes of the law (look, we follow the law without fail), but also a chance for Jesus to affirm their way of doing things. Yet notice what Jesus does to them. He doesn’t pardon excuse what she’s done or say it’s ok. He doesn’t offer them some way to look at the law in a new light by negating it. Rather he forces them to examine themselves. Let he who is without sin. The next part is crucial though. They walk away. Rather than stay and hear a better way, they walk away. Many of us do the same thing, we hear the story and say, “See? We’re all sinners. Who could do better?” And we walk away, feeling terrible about ourselves. Why? Because, feeling terrible about ourselves is easier than the mental work necessary for change. If you walk away from this story with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, than you’ve missed the story, because it’s implications are horrifying. What are the last words Jesus says? He doesn’t say, “try to be better” or “try not to do it again.” No, Jesus gives a command: Go and now sin no more.

            What does this have to do with today’s Gospel? I’m glad you asked. I’d love to tell you. The water at the wedding comes from the ceremonial jugs. It was probably the best water they could get. After all, this was the water that would be needed for purifying themselves before they did any sacred act. But the wedding didn’t need water. It didn’t matter that it was the best water you could find. They needed wine. Jesus offered a solution to the problem by creating something that didn’t exist before hand. He not only made wine out of water, but it was the best of wine. It is the same in our world today. The world doesn’t need more nice people. It doesn’t need better people. The world needs saints.

            That’s been the point of the entirety of salvation history, to make something new. In Ezekiel 36.26 the Lord says, A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you: and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. In Revelation, the Lord who sits upon the throne says, Behold, I make all things new.[4] In I Peter, Saint Peter writes, Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people.[5] In Ephesians, the Apostle says, Put off your old nature which belongs to your former way of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.[6] Christ came to create something new. He came to make saints. And yet when I say that we must all become saints,[7] how many of us respond, “oh, I couldn’t be a saint. That’s too hard.” Because it’s easier to feel horrible about ourselves than the mental work necessary for change.

            The Lord calls us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.[8] How do we go about this task? The answer is found in today’s gospel. The Blessed Mother tells the servants, Whatever he says, do. That’s the essence of authentic Marian devotion and it’s the essence of Christian discipleship. Too often we just pick and choose which parts of the Gospel we want to live by and find reasons to dismiss the other parts we don’t want to be bothered by in their challenges. The words of St. Augustine on that practice, however, should give us pause. “You believe what you want in the Gospel and disbelieve what you want. You believe in yourself rather than in the Gospel.” [9] We must dedicate ourselves to doing whatever Christ has told us to do, and be obedient to His authority. Because the world needs saints. Christ came to make saints. The question is whether or not we will let Him do the work He came to do.

[1] John 2.5

[2] Courtesy of The Last Psychiatrist

[3] John 8.2-10

[4] Revelation 21.5

[5] I Peter 2.10

[6] Ephesians 4.22-24

[7] II Vatican Council. Lumen gentium sec. 39: “Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle, For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” (I Thessalonians 4.3; Ephesians 1.4)

[8] Matthew 5.48

[9] Saint Augustine. Against Faustus 17,3

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