Saturday, September 29, 2012

Representatives of Christ

My Dear Friends in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in power of the Holy Spirit. I want to give a caution as I begin my homily today. I’m going to use an example from politics during my homily but I am in no way endorsing or maligning a candidate. I’m simply using an example from politics to make a point. So, please don’t take away our tax exempt status!

A few weeks ago, while at a fundraising event in California, Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney was caught on a hidden video camera talking strategy to one of the donors present. Most of you are probably aware of his remark by now. He said that there are 47% of people in this country that will not vote for him. He characterized the 47% in a rather unflattering way but I was kind of fascinated by the outrage that political commentators have had for what he said. I know many were upset at how he characterized those who weren’t going to vote for him but others were upset that he cited a percentage that weren’t going to vote for him. The same people who spend hours each day on their own television shows saying that this election is invariably going to come down to a relatively small percentage of voters seemed absolutely indignant at a presidential candidate who basically acknowledged that fact.

Now, what does that have to do with the readings? I was really struck by the gospel today for one main reason. You can find a gospel passage that seems to state the exact opposite view. We just heard Jesus say, “For whoever is not against us is for us.” Yet, the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” So, which is it Jesus? Is it that those who aren’t with us are against us or those who aren’t against us are with us? Should we be inclusive or exclusive? If Jesus was running for office, this would be the campaign ad that would be plastered on the airwaves by Barabbas or whomever. So what’s happening with this seeming contradiction?

In my mind, the difference between these two sayings has more to do with the person Jesus is focusing on at the time. The focus of the quote from the gospel of Matthew is the leaders of the Pharisees whose hypocrisy was disturbing to Jesus. The focus of the gospel passage from this week, from the gospel of Luke is different. It follows the passage that we heard last week about the disciples fighting about who is the greatest. We know from other gospels that the two biggest instigators of this fight were probably James and John the so-called sons-of-thunder. Either they or their mother asked Jesus if they can be in charge when he is dead. Last week, Jesus took a child and stood the child in their midst and said to them that they needed to seek to have the heart of a child if they want to enter the kingdom of heaven. That’s why it’s significant that it was John who asked about other people driving our demons and doing good works in Jesus’ name. I find Jesus’ response to this question to be fascinating. Remember that the child from last week’s gospel passage is still standing there. Jesus says, in a very open and inviting way, that anyone who does a good deed in his name can’t speak ill of him, so if they are for him, they aren’t against him. So, unlike in the Gospel of Matthew, where the focus is on the Pharisees who seem intent on hating Jesus and his message, Jesus is saying that if someone is open, even slightly, to the gospel message we need to see them as our ally. He is basically saying that it’s our responsibility to see to it that those who want to learn about the faith can do so.

This is, in my opinion, where the church most differs from politics. Politics is the art of convincing more than 50% of the people that your idea is better than the other person’s idea. It draws sides between the good and the bad. Jesus wants all people to be saved and wants us to do whatever it takes to get people into the body of Christ, the church. He isn’t satisfied with just 50%. He died for us all. And the challenge for Christians is can we help those who have a limited understanding of the gospel to come into a better knowledge of the church.

Jesus ends this gospel passage with some cautions to us about how we lead our life that remind me of a famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi. “When the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Gandhi he asked him, ‘Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?’ Gandhi replied, ‘Oh, I don't reject Christ. I love Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ. If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.’” You might not believe it, but people judge Catholicism by the way that you act. Non Catholic coworkers, family, and friends look to us to represent the church. It’s not just the priests who all too often do a terrible job of representing the church, it’s also the lay members of the church who gossip, swear, cheat, steal, and do other things that make the entire church look bad. How can we improve the way are perceived by those in need of hearing the gospel in order to be a better representative of Christ?