Sunday, February 23, 2014


   Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time    

A truck driver stops in a restaurant
and orders himself a big, juicy steak.
But before he gets to take the first bite,
a rough-and-tumble motorcycle gang comes barging in.
They take the man’s steak, cut it into pieces,
and eat the whole thing between themselves.
The trucker driver says nothing;
he simply pays his bill and walks out.
The bikers are stunned.
“Must be that trucker can’t talk,” says one,
“since he didn’t speak a word.”
“And must be he can’t fight,” says another,
“since he didn’t lift a hand.”
“Must be he can’t drive, either,” adds the waiter,
“since he just ran over every one of your motorcycles
as he pulled out of the parking lot.”

Not exactly “turn the other cheek”…

Again this week,
we hear Jesus delivering part of his famous Sermon on the Mount.
As a preacher, he pulls no punches.
Last week, Jesus took on angry thoughts, hurtful words,
lustful looks, divorce, remarriage,
and keeping your word.
This week, it’s our distorted sense of justice:
our instincts about retaliation,
about who we ought to love and who we ought to hate.

With so many hot button topics on the table,
so many ways he’s challenging us
to change our basic approach to relating with one another,
we can completely miss Jesus’ most controversial words of all.
And what are they?
Well, he repeats them over and over:
You have heard it said…but I say to you…

So…where’s the controversy in that?
When Jesus says, “You’ve heard it said…”
he’s citing the Old Testament law—
one of the easily recognized Ten Commandments
or another of hundreds of dictates and decrees.
“You’ve heard it said…”
Who said it in the first place? 
Who’s the author of that Old Testament law?
Any Jew who heard Jesus speaking
could have told you that that law was the very word of God.
And to dare to claim to have the authority
to edit, rework, or—heavens!—actually change that sacred law
would be to claim to be equal to God himself.

The only one who gets to alter God’s law is God.

Do you hear what Jesus is saying between the lines?
“If you’re going to follow me,
and if you want to be heirs of all that I promise,
then you have to believe that I am God
…and that will change everything.”

And that, my friends, is something far, far more revolutionary
than “turn the other cheek.”

Fifty years ago, the Catholic Church
was in the midst of the Second Vatican Council.
And ever since then, there have been cries from many corners
to keep alive the “spirit of Vatican II.”
Twenty-one times in her long history—
on average, once every hundred years or so—
the Church has found it necessary
to pretty much stop everything for just a while
to do some real soul-searching—
addressing the pressing questions and controversies of the times—
and to get everything back on track.
And when a Council is over,
the Church gets back down to business—
to proclaiming the gospel, caring for the poor,
setting the heavy-burdened free—
stronger and more focused
for having taken the time to look deeply into her own heart.

Vatican II, we know,
sparked some significant changes in the Church—
in some ways bringing things more up-to-date,
while in other ways getting us back closer to our roots.
But the desire to “keep alive” the spirit of the Council
may have gotten us a bit off course.
For the last 50 years, you see,
the Catholic Church has been in a nearly constant state of change,
which can give the false impression
that everything about her—
whether conventional discipline or essential doctrine—
is totally up for grabs.
That leaves the Church rather unsettled
and with a bit of an identity crisis.
It also leads to factions and in-fighting.
Just think about how quickly anything said by Pope Francis these days
is heralded as proof for one side’s argument over the other’s.
Little wonder we have trouble keeping current members
and attracting new ones in recent years.
Who wants to part of an outfit whose main purpose 
seems simply to be figuring itself out?  (cf. R. Barron)

It’s high time we get back down to business!

The mission and teaching of the Church are not ours to alter at will—
to remake according to our own preferences
or pressure from the surrounding culture.
Not even the Pope himself
nor the Cardinals now assembled with him in Rome get to do that.
The Lord alone gets to do the changing, if any change is to take place—
and when the Lord wants to change things,
he generally starts by changing us from the inside.

Be perfect, just as your Father is perfect.
Jesus has a set an incredibly high standard—
so high, that it can leave us disheartened.
Why couldn’t he have just suggested
that we become “basically good people”?
Our own efforts will always leave us less than “perfect.”
We still want to side with that trucker!
But the heart of the Gospel—the really good news
is that we can become perfect:
not by our own human power,
but by the grace of God offered us in his Son, Jesus Christ.
It is because Jesus is God
that we are able—in him—to become more and more like God.
If he were merely a good person, an exemplary moral teacher,
then Jesus would be able to do nothing of lasting value for us.
But because he is true God and true man,
because he is Redeemer and Lord,
Jesus can transform us
into ever more worthy temples of his Holy Spirit.  (cf. J. Janaro)

Are we ready to get back to business?
Ready for some real change?
If so, then:
Jesus, change us!

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