In the wake of the latest mass murder, this time in Orlando, Florida, a predictable war of words has exploded as various factions go to their separate corners with their competing interpretations. For some, the attack was all about homophobia. For others it was all about Islamic terrorism. And then there are those who just prefer to blame it all on "hate."
Of course, in the real world - rather than the world of ideologically preset certitudes - one factor doesn't necessarily exclude any of the others. Homophobia, Islamic terrorism, and generic "hate" can all coexist quite conveniently in an individual, in a group, in a society. They could all easily have coexisted as components of this particular criminal's mindset and contributed to his crime. A complete investigation may in time sort out which, if any, were the more dominant influences in his thinking. But the inconvenient truth is that human beings are incredibly complex creatures, capable of holding multiple (and even contradictory) ideas at the same time, and may be motivated by multiple (and even contradictory) hostilities and allegiances.
Sometimes those allegiances inspire us in positive ways. But sometimes they inspire the sort of hostility and hatred we have witnessed so much of in our lifetimes. And sometimes it is our own anxieties that inspire hostilities and hatreds that then go in search of suitable allegiances to offer them some meaning and purpose.
Our particularly poisonous politics may make all that even worse, as certainly our unprecedented contemporary interconnectedness through our toxic modern media make it worse; but hostilities and hatreds are not new, any more than the competing allegiances our anxieties seek refuge in.
Hence the uniquely liberating character – in a world of social stratification, economic inequality, and political polarization - of Saint Paul’s message that he proclaimed to the Galatians: you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. … there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
But what makes Saint Paul’s claim any different, what makes his message any more powerful, than any other competing set of slogans?
A good question – one that comes naturally to us living as we do in a world of slogans!
The answer, for Paul, is clear. All our competing allegiances – and the hostilities and hatreds they inspire and that in turn make us try to double-down on those same allegiances – all are subsumed in a new belonging, not to words nor even to an idea, but to a person, the person Paul calls Christ Jesus, the same Jesus whom Peter called the Christ of God, whose identity with all of us is so central that he calls himself simply the Son of Man.
What Paul calls clothing oneself in Christ and belonging to Christ involves more than Peter’s partial perception and understanding of Jesus’ identity and mission. Rather it requires a full and complete identification with and embrace of Jesus, who undermines everything else in his chosen mission as Son of Man.
Peter and his colleagues didn’t understand at first. Why would they? Nothing in their experience of how the world works – of how we function (or sometimes don’t function) in our world - had really prepared them for Jesus’ challenge, for Jesus’ insistence that only his passion, death, and resurrection really reveal who he is – and in the process undermine every alternative outlook on life, every alternative allegiance, every alternative answer to our insecurity and frustration.
Jesus defines his followers in terms of how fully we identify our experience with his and in the process allow ourselves to be remade by his example and according to his direction.
Homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, June 19, 2016.