Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fr. Pete Iorio
September 8, 2019 – 8:30 & 11:00 AM
After four years studying graduate school theology in seminary and 26 years as a priest with annual retreats, days of reflection, convocations and ongoing formation, I can say with certainty that I am sure of one bit of wisdom I have gained: God is God and I am not!
The first reading today is from the Book of Wisdom. The author is amazed at the mystery of God, his thoughts, and his works. He realizes that God’s designs are outside the imagination of the human being. This has been true through all centuries and even today. God is always bigger and beyond what we can understand. This knowledge has made me hunger for more through study, prayer, spiritual direction, reflection on my inner life and lived experiences. We have to try to understand how we should live according to God’s light and wisdom. In order to begin to comprehend God’s wisdom, we must move beyond the calculations of the dualistic mind which makes everything black and white. Wisdom often requires being able to hold the opposites together and allowing God to give you the grace to accept.
Living like this is not easy. Jesus perfectly understands that there is a cost in conforming to the wisdom of God. Throughout his public life, Jesus saw the consequences of being faithful to his Father. In His first experience in the Nazareth synagogue, people were so furious to hear His words that they wanted to throw him over the cliff. Every time Jesus spoke in public, the Pharisees were ready to trap him. The doctors of the law asked him questions hoping that he would fall badly in the eyes of the leaders and people. And at the end of his life, it seemed that his enemies had defeated him when he died on the cross.
The teaching in the Gospel makes it clear that to follow Jesus there are three indispensable conditions. The first is to prefer a relationship with Jesus to any other. There is the great spiritual principle that undergirds the entire Gospel: detachment. The heart of the spiritual life is to love God and then to love everything else for the sake of God. Jesus makes this point through a stark exaggeration: “Unless you hate your mother and father, wife and children, sisters and brothers . . .” Well yes, hate them in the measure that they have become gods to you… and this would include your family members, your clan, your tribe, your political party, your nation…if these are your absolute, then precisely in that measure are they dangerous.
Second, you must accept the cross. It is not only accepting the suffering that is part of human life, but the rejection, mockery, or intimidation of those who are not of the same mentality. The cross is the symbol that indicates that one leads a life focused on peace and good, even in the midst of a violent world. He tells us not to identify the Kingdom of Heaven “with our personal agenda, or our attachment to an ideology that would abuse the name of God or of religion to justify acts of violence, segregation and even murder, exile, terrorism and marginalization”. Those who accept the cross enter spaces where there is no sign of the kingdom, and they carry with their words and behavior the possibility of a kingdom of peace. Carrying the cross means following the steps of patience, generosity, forgiveness, compassion and fearlessness in putting love into practice. Carrying the cross means working for the healing of the world in a radical way.
And in the end, you have to live against the culture of selfishness. We must be detached from the good things of this world… be it clothes, food, jewelry, cars, anything material. The Gospel, rather, tells us that the goods of the world belong to everyone, to the poor and the helpless, to those of another race and religion, to the disabled and the elderly. The wisdom of Jesus dictates that we are not number one. In the Kingdom of God according to Jesus, the last will be first.
There are many people who say they want to be a disciple of Jesus, but who insist that following Him must be their own way. They want religion to be a medicine to help them feel good. But faith is contrary to this. It is a surrender to the law of love that leads us to a life of sacrifice, generosity and compassion. The wisdom of God is to understand that the Christian life costs; It is not easy.
I end with this true story about two of my favorite impressionist painters:
French artists Henri Matisse and Auguste Renoir were close friends and frequent companions even though Renoir was twenty-eight years older than Matisse. During the last several years of his life, Renoir was virtually crippled by arthritis; nevertheless, he painted every day, and when his fingers were no longer supple enough to hold the brush correctly, he had his wife, Alice, attach the paintbrush to his hand in order that he might continue his work. Matisse visited him daily. One day, as he watched his older friend wincing in excruciating pain with each colorful stroke, he asked, “Auguste, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?” Renoir’s response was immediate, “The beauty remains; the pain passes.” Passion for his art empowered Renoir to paint until the day he died; those who continue to admire the enduring beauty of his smiling portraits, his landscapes, his still life studies of flowers and fruit will find no trace therein of the pain required to create them. Most will agree that the cost was worth it.
Is the cost that Jesus talks about worth it for you and me to be His followers?