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February 3, 2019
[St. George Church, Waimanalo]
We often hear the lament that the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. We apply that to economic realities. While there may be some truth to it, we are challenged today to look at spiritual realities as well.
I have said many time that we have wonderful parishes in our diocese, with many programs to serve the elderly, our children, our youth, the grieving, and many others. We have Bible studies and religious education programs, liturgies and devotions. These programs are all available to anyone who comes to the parish. However, we always have to ask ourselves how many actually do come to the parish to avail themselves of these programs and ministries. It is said that 75% of those who identify themselves as Catholics seldom come to Sunday Mass, and that 50% of the people in our state who no faith affiliation at all. What about all of these people the Lord wants to care for and touch with his love? Will they only be nourished by his love if they happen to come into our parish? Or will we be more prophetic and step out to meet them where they are?
Jesus was the hometown boy returning to the synagogue in Nazareth, where he had been raised. People who heard him marveled at his preaching, especially from one who had grown up among them in such humble surroundings. This was not a rabbinic scholar from the big city of Jerusalem, but the son of a carpenter, who, they assumed, spent more time working with wood than with the sacred texts. They were truly amazed. But then Jesus challenged them to realize that God’s love was not just for faithful Jews, but that God’s good news for the poor extended to a foreign widow from Zarephath; his liberation of captives even extended to a soldier from Syria, who despite there being many people with leprosy in Israel, was healed of leprosy in the waters of the Jordan River. These were things the people did not want to hear, because it challenged them to look beyond their own community to see God’s love touch others who did not even share their faith. They were so insulted and infuriated that they not only drove him out of town but intended to throw their wayward town mate over the cliff. Yet Jesus walked right away from them. Later, of course, Jesus’ challenging preaching would upset people so much that they decided he must be crucified to silence him once for all and to intimidate any of his disciples who dared to teach what they considered such nonsense. Like the prophet Jeremiah before him, Jesus risked his life to tell the truth, because people do not always want to hear the truth.
This challenges us to take risks for our faith, to dare to step out and proclaim the Gospel of love – real love, and not just what people want to hear – not just in the safety of our parishes where we are unlikely to be challenged very much, but out in our homes, our schools, our work places, and our communities. If the love of Jesus is something we truly experience, we will be motivated by the Holy Spirit to share with others that they can find healing, liberation, and strength in Jesus. Of course, we can invite them here to church to participate in the liturgies and programs that nurture our faith, but we must also go to them where they are. How many of our own family members do not know Jesus as a real person, but think of him only as a holy person from the history books? What can we do to change that and open the way for them to have a life-changing encounter with him? How many of our school mates or work colleagues lead empty lives in the pursuit of more money, more pleasure, and more things; and what can we do to take to them – where they are – the message that the true love we experience in Jesus can be available to them? How many think they are gods themselves, making ultimate decisions about when life begins and ends, or about what truth is, all the while feeling such burdens that they must anesthetize themselves with drugs, alcohol, pornography, or other addicitons? These are the ones Jesus wants to liberate from captivity this day, but he depends on us, his disciples, to share the message of the real freedom that only comes with obedience to God’s will.
Most people will not hear that message here in the parish, because they do not come to the parish. So just as Jesus was bold enough to remind his town mates of the importance or reaching out to others and sharing God’s love with them where they are, he challenges us to be prophets of his love as well. We may be rejected, ridiculed, or persecuted, but in the end, the seeds of love we plant will bear fruit in their own time and in their own way. The message is not always one people want to hear, but it must always be delivered with love, otherwise we are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. But if we raise our voices about the Truth, who is Love, we will bring the most beautiful harmony to the world, a harmony that praises God.