Gospel Lk 6:39-45Gospel of Luke 6:39-45
I have recently discovered that at some point in my past, a moment in time I am unable to recall, I must have been anointed, or appointed, or bequeathed, or elected as the supreme authority of all things driving. I believe this to be true, because, since I have been commuting approximately 90 miles every day to and from work for the last 2 months, I cannot help myself from commenting, criticizing, critiquing, or complaining about other people’s driving.
I make a concerted effort everyday I commute to work to do so in a spirit of prayer and reflection. I say prayers, listen to the daily readings (when I can get them to download on my phone), and refuse to listen to the radio all in an attempt to utilize my 45-minute commute as an opportunity to quietly and thoughtfully reflect on my relationship with Jesus.
I am somewhat successful, I would like to believe, until… Until a driver with a Utah plate, Montana plate, Arizona plate, Texas plate, or heaven save us all, a California plate fly by me in a construction zone, or a 65-mph zone, or any zone for that matter. Or, drivers claiming to be professional drivers drive like anything but a professional. Or, drivers talking or texting on their cell phones apparently oblivious to the fact that there are people using the same roadway.
Now, some might say, “Deacon, you should not be so judgmental of others.” Or, remind me of the words of Pope Francis, “Who are you to judge.” And I would absolutely agree with them. I should not be so judgmental of others and I am in no position to judge others. However, I am not judging.
When I am driving the speed limit and someone passes me at a much higher rate of speed, can I not observe that they are indeed speeding? When someone is driving in the left-hand passing lane at a much slower speed, can I not observe that they are indeed in violation of traffic law? When someone is texting or talking on their cellphone without a “hands free device” are they not, as studies have proven, just as dangerous as a drunk driver?
Absolutely, I can. In fact, we all can. We all have the ability to observe the behavior of others and determine if that behavior is right or wrong. That is not called being judgmental. That is called being in community.
Today’s scripture in Luke is not about judgement. It is about how to live with one another. Jesus is not instructing his followers to ignore each other’s behavior, nor is he telling them to stop from helping remove the “splinter” from their brothers’ eye, rather he is asking them to remove the beam of ignorance and self-righteousness first from their own eyes, then assist others.
The context of today’s Gospel is clearly stated in the beginning,
“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.”
Today’s Gospel is not about judgement. It is about relationship. It is about recognizing the fact that none of us…no not one…are considered righteous through our own efforts or works. It is about recognizing that we are all sinners, who also need help traveling this pilgrim’s journey. It is about recognizing that we all have a responsibility to our brothers and/or sisters when they are struggling and then respond in love, and with charity, and in the full understanding that we too have, are, and will continue to struggle living as disciples of Christ.
When I travel to work and observe wrong, illegal, and dangerous behavior I am committing no sin through the observation and recognition of that behavior. The sin I commit is when I call them names, insult their character, and dismiss their God given human dignity. Instead, I should lovingly, in charity, and with the full awareness that I too, at times, engaged in the very same behaviors, help them to do what is good, right, and safe.
Of course, I am limited by the nature of our relationship, am I not? I in my car, they in theirs. I have no opportunity to engage them in any meaningful ways. However, that is not the case here in church…is it?
My concern is… that as a community, a body of believers, we have quit caring about one another in fear of being called judgmental, biases, racist, or bigoted. Out of fear we have gone silent. Instead, of encouraging and helping one another, we sit quietly, close our eyes, and turn our heads. We intentionally ignore one another, build our silos and our echo chambers, and hope that somehow, and that someone else, will fix the damage done to our church by bishops, priests, deacons, and the laity who have abandoned the mission of Christ for the world. We exist in our own little worlds, and in our own little cliques, with these massive wooden beams in our eyes– wooden beams of denial, self-righteous ignorance, and cowardice. We hope that things will somehow get better, and yet refuse to take personal responsibility for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters.
Come to this altar today and ask God for forgiveness and receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ asking that our eyes may be open, and that our hands may be strong, and that our correction may be gentle and precise, and that we lift one another out of the pit, and that we may resume our pilgrim’s journey with our vision clear.
In today’s Gospel we are being called to examine ourselves, our behaviors, and our attitudes. We are being called to love those who don’t love us. We are being called to do good for those who consider us unworthy, to bless those who withhold their blessing from us, and to pray for those who disrespect us and intentionally cause us harm.
A difficult calling indeed, is it not? Yes, a difficult calling for sure, but a calling that most of us have been made aware of from an early age. A calling that is so familiar it has been converted into an instruction and even given a name; it is called the Golden rule.
I am sure that most of us could share stories about how our mothers taught us to respond to the unkindness of this world and the subsequent mistreatment with gentleness and respect. When the grade school bully pushed us down or stole our lunch money, our mothers may have encouraged us to stifle our natural response to fight and kick and curse and instead encouraged us to respond with kindness and generosity.
As we grew older, we discovered that the adult world, in spite of its complexities, is still very much like our childhood school yards. As adults the bullies have additional titles such as boss, or neighbor, or fellow parishioner. With our mother’s voice echoing in our ears, “be kind, don’t fight, don’t kick, and definitely don’t curse” we struggle to show Christian love and charity to individuals who intentionally cause us harm and disrupt the peaceful flow of our lives.
Now, I admit and in fact admonish that it is essential to establish healthy and appropriate boundaries with individuals whose intent is to only cause harm. The Golden Rule comes with a caveat, does it not? It comes with an expectation. An expectation of how we should expect others to treat us. As clearly stated in today’s Gospel, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
The Golden Rule is not asking us to live without locks on our doors, or to willingly submit ourselves to the abuse of others, or to ignore the obvious warning signs of grave danger. The Golden Rule is not a license for others who wish to only take advantage and hurt. No, the Golden Rule is, for those of us who aspire to follow Christ, a challenge.
Today’s Gospel is not a defense for why we should only associate with Christians who share our same personal devotional practices, social leanings, or political opinions. Today’s Gospel is indeed quite the opposite. It is calling us to step outside of our echo chambers, to move beyond our comfortable and practiced acts of charity, and to expand our social circles to include those who look, speak, and think differently than us.
Today’s Gospel is calling us to step out beyond our safe and sacred spaces, to intentionally associate with those who exist outside of these walls. Christ did not call us to be a people who shelter and retreat and hide ourselves from the darkness, suffering, and pain of this world. Rather he expected us to be in the midst of it. To exist in the uncomfortable, with those who don’t cherish or honor or respect our faith.
Today’s Gospel is a challenge to evangelize. To set aside our criticisms and fault-finding and embrace the sinner and gently guide him or her into the loving embrace of Jesus and the forgiveness of God. Jesus reminds us that to be obedient to him we must be willing to take risks. Risks that make us vulnerable and it is in and through that vulnerability that we bring others to salvation.
Today’s Gospel must not be ignored. It must not be passed over with the false belief that today’s hard teaching regarding self-sacrificing charity is no longer applicable. To ignore the man on the street corner or the family struggling to meet their needs with the rationalization that the charity we give will only be spent on alcohol or cell phones, is to ignore the clear instruction that what we have to give was never ours to possess.
Today’s Gospel is an invitation to live in the freedom of Christ Jesus. A freedom that can only be found in the willingness to serve Jesus as we serve one another.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, today as you come before this altar, I encourage you to commit to living this Gospel…the Gospel… in all facets of your life. In your homes, at your work, on your playgrounds, and most especially in those uncomfortable places with unfriendly people. Live there, and serve Jesus there, because that is exactly where we are called to be.
Have you ever stopped to think about the things that you know? For example, you may know a person, or a thing, or a job. You can know someone by name, or where they come from, or even know where they stand. You can know something like the back of your hand or like the palm of your hand, whichever one you know better. You can know your job backwards and forwards or forwards and backwards. You can know where you have been, where you are at, and where you are going. You can know the ropes, know the score, and it is sometimes very helpful to know your place.
However, have you ever stopped to consider the things that you don’t know. For example, you may not know someone from Adam. Or, you may not know enough to come out of the rain. Or, you may not even know if you are coming or going. You may not know where to look, or how to begin, and there are times when you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. There are moments when we must admit that we know that heaven only knows and that there are times when we are just better off not knowing at all.
I would dare say that for most of us what we don’t know far exceeds what we do know.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges us on both accounts. He challenges us on what we know and invites us to learn what we don’t.
In Luke’s Gospel, after having finished speaking to the crowd, Jesus turned to Peter and said, “”Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” To Peter, an experienced fisherman, who had just spent the entire previous night fishing with no success, responds to Jesus’s request with a warning. He states, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing.” Peter, who knew how to fish, may have been trying to tell Jesus, who, in Peter’s estimation, wasn’t an experienced and accomplished fisherman, that the likelihood of success was not very good. He may have been trying to spare Jesus the embarrassment of failure.
Peter knew how to fish. He knew when to fish and where to fish. Peter and his business partners, James and John, may not have known the first thing about carpentry, but they knew a lot about fishing.
We too, like Peter, know things. We know ourselves, our lives, our family, our friends, and our neighbors. Our knowledge determines how we interact with one another and causes us to behave in prescribed and predictable ways. However, there are times, just like Peter, when Jesus asks us to go beyond the limitations of our knowledge, take risks, and follow him.
Sometimes what we know prevents us from following Christ. For example, we know that if we give the disheveled looking person standing at the entrance of Wal-Mart $5, they will just spend it on alcohol, so we don’t practice Christian charity. We know that the person sitting in church who speaks a different language, or comes from a different place, or has different political, religious, or social opinions will be difficult to get along with, so we refuse to join them in Christian solidarity. We resist in showing kindness or friendship to the person who goes to a different church or doesn’t even go to church, and ignore Jesus’s command to be a servant to all. There are countless different ways in which our knowledge gets in the way of our obedience.
Though Peter knew better than to go fishing at a time and in a place that had he knew to be barren and fruitless, he responds to Jesus in faith and states, “At your command I will lower the nets.”
As they hauled in the nets, overflowing with fish, Peter was forced to confront his personal biases, self-created beliefs, and acknowledge his sinfulness. Up until that moment Peter had seen Jesus as a miracle worker, a faith healer, an itinerant preacher. He knew Jesus as an individual who spoke with authority and performed mighty deeds but had not known him as his Lord. When Peter’s self-constructed ideals were vanquished, he was able to see Jesus as for who he truly was. What Jesus provided Peter that day was not just a plentiful harvest of material blessings, but he gave Peter something, and more importantly someone, to believe in and to follow. Peter and his fishing partners James and John left everything and followed Jesus.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, Peter is our example. We too are called to “put out into the deep.” We too are called to “lower our nets” and place our faith in our Lord and Savior when everything we know tells us otherwise. Jesus called Peter, James, and John to be “fishers of men.” Men who follow him for the sake of others. That call was not unique nor exclusive in its purpose. We too have been called to be fishers of men and we too have the same purpose.
Our challenge today is to place our knowledge, and our talents, and our skills into the loving hands of Jesus. Peter was not asked to abandon his knowledge and skill, he still had to row the boat, drop the nets, and haul them back in. Rather he was called to put his knowledge and skill to use for the kingdom of God. We too have been called for that same purpose.
My friends, it is not what you know, nor is it what you don’t know; rather it is who you know and YOU, who know Jesus, are called to be “fishers of men.”
My first car was a 1981 Ford Mustang. It was blue, it had tinted windows and leather looking plastic bucket seats. I had worked and saved money and right before the start of my Junior year in high school my parents and I drove to Casper, Wyoming, wandered the lots of every used car dealer, searching for the “perfect” car. The perfect car that I could afford, that is.
My father had helped me narrow the list to 2 cars. The 1981 Ford Mustang, the car I wanted, and a blue 1984 Ford Escort, the car my father wanted for me. The Escort was newer, had less miles, got better gas mileage, and overall was in much better condition than the Mustang. I chose the Mustang.
I remember driving that car home listening to Van Halen on cassette thinking I was the coolest kid in the world. I had worked hard, saved money, and now I was driving a car of my very own.
A car, for me meant freedom. I could now go where I wanted, when I wanted, and I would no longer ask permission to borrow my mother’s Buick. The Mustang was cool (though to be honest the 80’s were the worst period of design for the Ford Mustang) and I could play my music on the stereo as loud as I wanted. I didn’t so much buy a car that day, as much as an idea. An idea that fulfilled an expectation.
Expectations are funny. We all have them. We all believe in things, events, places, and most especially, people. The word expectation is defined as: “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” A simple enough definition indeed, but what isn’t contained in this definition is the power, influence, and control our expectations have over our behavior.
Our expectations oftentimes drive our relationships. They influence our interactions with one other. They dictate how we work, if we work, and how we save or spend our money. Expectations dictate where we go, why we go there, and what we want when we get there. They determine how we behave in different social settings and how we expect others to behave. Our expectations have an impact on who we are, what we do, and what we want from others.
In today’s Gospel Jesus confronts expectations.
Today’s Gospel picks up right where last week’s Gospel leaves off. Jesus, after traveling the region of Capernaum, had arrived in his home town. His friends, relatives, and acquaintances were eagerly looking forward to his arrival and the miracles and signs that he would do there.
Instead, Jesus challenges their expectations and chastises their lack of understanding. Instead of performing wonderous signs and miracles he reminds them of the Old Testament stories about the widow and Naaman, both Gentiles. He reminds them that these Gentiles received blessings from God and how the rest of Israel, God’s chosen people, continued in their suffering.
He confronted their expectations in regards to birth-right and who is deserving of God’s blessings and, in essence, told them that their expectations were wrong. Their response to being told that their expectations were wrong is very similar to ours today. They were disappointed, which then turned into resentment, and then into anger, and in their anger, they rejected Jesus.
We do that.
We too have expectations of Jesus. We expect that Jesus will fix all our problems, eliminate our struggles, and make others think and behave the way we want them too. And when he doesn’t. When he doesn’t make money magically appear, or miraculously fix our broken water heaters, or cause those who are in opposition to us to align with our thinking, we become disappointed, resentful, and angry.
Jesus came to save us and to be our friend. A friendship founded in and fostered in love. He loves us and he expects us to love him and one another. When we altar that expectation we then run the risk of responding to Jesus the way his friends, relatives, and acquaintances did. We run the risk of rejecting him and denying him the opportunity to treat us as a friend.
Though I thought that all my expectations were met by that 1981 Ford Mustang, in time I learned that I had made the wrong choice. The inherent problems of a well-used car began to become evident shortly after I had purchased it. Now, knowing hindsight is 20/20, it is okay to say, because it taught me a lesson. A lesson that I frequently have to re-learn, but nonetheless, a lesson that is essential to my Christian walk.
That lesson is this: to put needs ahead of wants and live in love with God and with my neighbor.
My father witnessed that love to me when 1) he recommended a car that would have met my needs, and 2) allowed me to make the wrong choice. Today, as you come before this altar, I challenge you to examine your expectations and to ask God to help you align them in love…his perfect and all-encompassing love.