Sunday, September 11, 2016

Crazy Things

 Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

On this same weekend the last two years, I’ve taken part in the Adirondack Canoe Classic, a 90-mile race on the water through the heart of the Adirondacks.  For various reasons, my paddling partner and I chose not to sign up this year.  As soon as the roster of competitors came out, folks noticed that the “Paddling Padres” weren’t on the list.  I received an email from Tom and Theresa—he was on her crew these last two years while she paddled with others—saying that they were disappointed they wouldn’t see us in the race.  When I offered Mass on Saturday evening in the campground, they were at the heart of my tiny impromptu congregation.  But there was a change in their plans, too.  Tom wrote in an email:

Here’s a little more about this year’s race.  My wife has paddled twice, both in a three-person canoe with young, strong paddlers.  This year she was without a partner but very set on doing the race.  So I have volunteered to do it with her….  Why would I do such a thing?  Because out 50th wedding anniversary is 9/10/16!  And that’s the present she wanted most.

I can say from firsthand experience: paddling a canoe for 90 miles over three days is a pretty crazy thing to do!  But love makes you do crazy things.  And so I was very happy to head off to the campground last evening, to offer Mass for Tom and Theresa and their crew, and to give these two rather tired and sore paddlers a special blessing on their anniversary.

This Sunday, we get a three-for-one special in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.  By the very names we give to these stories, you can tell which characters hold our attention.  But I’m not sure there was much need for Jesus to tell tales that would help us understand the experience of being lost and in need of rescue.  We know all-too-well what it’s like to get off track, to lose our way, and to end up far from home.

Instead, I think that the figures Jesus actually wants to catch our eye are the shepherd of the flock, the woman sweeping her house, and the father waiting for his son’s return.  And they all do some pretty crazy things, right?  The shepherd leaves 99 sheep unprotected to go off and save a single stray.  That wasn’t exactly a prudent move.  Most of us would prefer to cut our losses.  The woman, after finding a small coin—think a penny or a nickel—invites her friends and neighbors over for a party.  Won’t she end up spending rather more money than she recovered?  Protecting our possessions or wealth will move us to action sometimes, but only so far.  And the same is true of our pride.  It’s wounded pride that causes the older son to make a stink after his brother’s return, but if anybody should be upset, it’s the father.  His younger boy has brought incredible shame on the entire family.  And yet, instead of facing a locked door or a lecture, the prodigal son is welcomed back with open arms.

More than anything else can, love makes you do some crazy things. 

While we can clearly see ourselves in the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, it’s in the good shepherd, in the diligent woman, and in the merciful father that Jesus wants us to see God.  And no one is more crazy-in-love with you than God!  That’s the very heart of the Gospel—not just these three stories, but the entire message announced by Jesus Christ: that God so loved the world that he’d go to the extreme, sending his Son from heaven to earth, taking on human flesh, living among us, dying on a Cross, and rising from the dead, so as to save us from our sins and gain for us eternal life.  He’s already proved it: there’s nothing God wouldn’t do out of love for you!

Yes, loving somebody makes a person do crazy things.  And knowing that we are loved can make us do crazy things, too.  I certainly see that in Tom and Theresa, who are spending their anniversary paddling a canoe.  I see it in the generosity of our region’s Catholics to the Bishop’s Fund appeal, which raises more than a million dollars every year to support the work of the Church in the North Country.  We all saw it 15 years ago today, when one of the worst days in our nation’s history brought out the very best in so many people.  And we see it—we taste it—in every Mass, when Christ Jesus, who came into the world to save sinners, renews his one, perfect sacrifice.

Love can make you do some pretty crazy things.  

And no one is more madly in love with you than God.

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