HOMILY FOR THE TENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C (JUNE 5)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
We have two stories today about widows who lost their only sons. In Biblical times, to be widowed was a terrible thing for a woman. Unable to work or to inherit anything, the woman was left with nothing, only to be cared for by her children. If she had no children or they died, she would would be left destitute. There was no Medicare or Social Security. There was nothing for these widowed women except the generosity of others.
In both stories today the widows are mourning the deaths of their sons. In the Elijah story from the first reading, there was still the idea that the mother must have done something bad to merit this kind of bad luck. The widow cries out to Elijah: “You have come to me to bring my sins to remembrance.” Even Elijah cries out to God: “Have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying by killing her son?”
I still think that we continue remnants of this kind of thinking today – ‘I must have done something very bad to merit this kind of punishment.’ We still tend to see God as being the one who inflicts bad things on sinners or their children. Well, bad genes may contribute to that, or bad luck, or co-incidence – but God does not cause suffering. He allows it, and sometimes, like with Jesus and Elijah, miraculously stops the suffering, but God does not want to see us suffer any more than we want it to happen to us.
I am reading an excellent book by Derek Flood with the very long title of “Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives and Why We Need to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did”. He explains in the book that the moral thinking of the Bible was a developing thing and continues to develop today. Just as children begin with very black and white moral thinking, by the time they are adults, most have moved from the black and white into grey areas of thinking. Morality is never quite as simple as it seemed to us as children. In this vein, Flood explains that the early Jews had no notion of a devil. The serpent in the garden was a serpent; he is not called a devil or a fallen angel. There was only God, and so God was seen to be angry sometimes and benevolent sometimes. In his anger, God was a punisher; in his benevolence, God was the shepherd, the helper. After much thinking and dialogue, the type of which we can see in the Book of Job, the Hebrews began to believe that God could not be the cause of anything bad. We see this development in the devil created for Job, who was more of a tester. By the time of Jesus, the moral thought taught by Jesus, was that God is always good and always looks out for his children, to the point of sending his only Son to redeem us.
If you ever feel that God is punishing you – have a look at this book. It will change your mind.
The Psalm today shows such a maturing growth as I have just described. We learn that God’s anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime.” We see that the Psalmist is re-evaluating the idea that God is the punisher.
The is not to say that we won’t be judged by God in the end. For God is just, but merciful. I believe he will simply look at how much we have loved God and how we have loved our neighbor.
In any case, God and Jesus bring both the young men back to life because of “compassion”. Compassion indicates that they feel the pain of the widows and want to end the pain. Jesus’ message about God is often about his compassion for his creation.
So much for the first reading and the Gospel. Our second reading, as so often is the case, has nothing to do with the ideas in the first and Gospel readings. It is an explanation by Paul of how he became Christian. He was not taught by the Apostles, but was given a revelation by Jesus himself. He says that all the knowledge he has of the Son comes only through this visionary revelation of Jesus. And part of this revelation was that he should go to the Gentiles and bring Christ to them.
Paul was trying to explain why he, who originally persecuted Christians and who was never converted by the Apostles of Jesus, should be listened to as an emissary of Christianity. Paul, who never knew or heard Jesus during Jesus’ public life, considered himself an Apostle because he believed he was taught by Jesus himself, just as the Apostles were. After three years of meditating and coming to terms with these revelations, he did go to meet Peter and James but that was all the contact he had with the actual Apostles. The change in Paul was rather remarkable considering his fundamentalist nature as a Pharisee. As with the widows today, it took a miracle in Paul’s case as well that led to his conversion.
What has this to do with us today, who are the Gentiles that Paul brought into the Church? I think we need to grow in our moral understanding of the world, especially if we still feel that God wants to punish us. He doesn’t. he wants to forgive us, and everything that Jesus did in his life confirms this aspect of God. Jesus was around sinners and unbelievers because he wanted to show them the grace and mercy and forgiveness of God. As mature Christians we need to make sure we don’t fall back into child-like patterns of thinking, especially when we are faced with serious illness and death. Put our trust in God, rely on the fact that he is compassionate and pray to him with all your being. Miracles do happen. But even if a miracle doesn’t happen, know that God is still compassionate and will, in the end, make everything all right. He sees the whole picture.
And this is the Good News I bring a mature congregation this morning. God bless.