Sunday, January 27, 2019

Fulfilled in Our Hearing

The Gospel [Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21] we just heard took place in the otherwise ordinary setting of a Sabbath service in the synagogue in Jesus’ hometown, and it was as an ordinary member of the community that he took his turn reading the scripture (just as members of this congregation did here moments ago).

The passage Jesus read was familiar enough.  They had probably heard it many times, and had no reason to suppose that this time would be any different – any more than many of us, coming to Mass Sunday after Sunday, expect anything extraordinary to happen. The surprise was not what Jesus had read, but rather his unexpected announcement that the prophet’s words were being fulfilled then and there: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Our reading today ends on that somewhat cheerful note, but the rest of the story [Luke 4:21-30] (which we’ll hear next week) tells how Jesus’ audience were first amazed at his words, but then turned against him and, filled with fury, drove him out of the town, and tried to throw him off the hilltop on which Nazareth was built. But Jesus, we are told, passed through the midst of them and went away.

Jesus’ audience’s amazement really shouldn’t surprise us, since surprise is one thing we usually least expect. And, since human history probably produces more bad news than good news, genuinely good news (if and when it comes) usually comes as a surprise. It doesn’t fit our ordinary expectations, and it is those ordinary expectations that govern our reactions most of the time. For the congregation at Nazareth to have expected Isaiah’s words to be fulfilled in their hearing, that would have been surprising. Hence their amazed reaction to Jesus’ surprising invitation to them to change their expectations!

For us today, too, the contrast can be quite as upsetting between Jesus’ amazing message and our present situation – natural disasters, climate change and our collective failure to face up to it, partisan fighting and political dysfunction, economic inequality, social conflicts, scandals and mutual recriminations even (sadly) within the Church itself.

Hence the understandable skepticism of those who have a hard time reconciling the good news the Church proclaims with the ordinary old news of our day-to-day world. We all know people who, tragically, are no longer actively involved in the life of the Church. There are many reasons why this happens – getting married, moving away, boredom, indifference, personal quarrels, national politics, and increasingly in our sadly post-Christian society not having really learned what being Church is all about in the first place, having heard the good news in a way that sounded like bad news or often enough like no news at all..

Then again many active, faithfully practicing Catholics may experience similar doubts, difficulties, conflicts, and questions. In that sense, there might not be a whole lot of difference between the two groups – any more than there was between those who spoke highly of Jesus in the Gospel story and those who were all filled with fury at him. If anything, the story seems to suggest they were really the same people – speaking highly of Jesus one minute, then all filled with fury the next – just as any one of us can be very committed and enthusiastic one day, but then something happens to make us angry or indifferent.

Ultimately, for us now, as for them then, the difference comes down to Jesus himself – Jesus who clearly made himself the issue, setting the stage for everything that followed. Ultimately, what solidifies our commitment and makes the Church effective in the world is how our expectations of life have been changed by Jesus himself, who in turn challenges us to share those changed expectations with the world he has chosen to be a part of and so remains with us in his Church, where life’s ordinary old news has become God’s good news.
In that Church, we are all, as St. Paul says [1 Corinthians 12:12-30], baptized into one body – Christ’s body – Christ’s face for the world to see, God’s word for the world to hear. The Church’s mission is a communal effort, as in different ways and at different times we come together with our many different experiences and needs, our joys and sorrows, our hopes and anxieties, to form a community of faith, hope, and love to continue Christ’s life and work in our world. We all share in that mission – from which we benefit and to which we contribute according to our circumstances.

Contributing to the mission of the Church is about much more than money, of course; but (as long as we live in a world in which resources are limited and things cost) money is inevitably a part of it. And so, as your pastor, my special task today is to ask you to make a pledge next week to this year’s Annual Bishop’s Appeal. 

Abruptly put that way, it may seem like a change of subject - but not really. Doing our share, both individually and as a community to support the mission of the Church has always been part of being the Church. In Saint Paul’s letters, for example, there are a number of references to the collection he was taking up to support the Mother Church in Jerusalem.

In the excerpt from his 1st letter to the Corinthians, from which we just heard, Saint Paul stressed the importance of unity – that there be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. Later on in the same letter, Paul wrote: Now in regard to the collection for the holy ones, you also should do as I ordered the churches of Galatia. On the first day of the week each of you should set aside and save whatever one can afford [1 Corinthians 16:1].

Saint Paul was doing two things. The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were in real need, and Paul wanted his somewhat better-off Gentile Christian converts to help them out. But he also wanted the different local communities to understand that they were all part of one Church, all on the same journey together, all caring for and supporting one another, and in the process spreading the kingdom’s frontiers farther out into the world.

Paul took this responsibility very seriously, as an essential expression of what it means to be a Church community, what it means to be diverse and different people all united in one Church, one Body of Christ. That is the same spirit in which we need to approach our annual Bishop’s Appeal, which is our annual opportunity as individuals and parishes to unite our efforts as one local Church here in East Tennessee to meet the multiple needs of the diocese for mission, education, charity, and service to so many people with so many needs.
Our parish is where we experience Church most intimately, and that is why we all love our parish and support it in so many ways, not just financial. But our parish is but one part of our local Church in East Tennessee, the Diocese of Knoxville, apart from which our parish would not even exist. So we all have to come together as a local Church, as a diocese, to make possible the things the Church needs to do. Your participation in the annual Bishop’s Appeal will help support the essential (but expensive) work of training seminarians along with the next generation of deacons and other parish leaders. It will enable essential diocesan programs for sacramental preparation and religious education, and will continue to make possible the Church’s vital social outreach to the thousands of clients served each year through our Catholic Charities, which responds to so many human needs in our communities. None of this happens automatically. It’s all ultimately up to us to make it all happen.

The Bishop’s Appeal is not just another “special collection.” It is at the heart of who we are and what we are called to do in the world.

Many of you have contributed in the past and have already received a letter in the mail. Maybe you have already sent in your pledge. If so, thank you. If you haven’t yet, you’ll have a chance to pledge next Sunday. Once again, our assigned parish goal this year will be $52,200. So please give it serious thought this week.

The Paulist Fathers have been privileged to serve the Church in Tennessee for over a century, starting with 50+ years of mission outreach in Middle Tennessee.  For another 50+ years, the Paulist Fathers maintained a major mission parish in Memphis. And, since 1973, we have been busy here in Knoxville, sharing the good news of Christ and the life of his Church in this city’s downtown and at its university, through our commitment to the life and mission of the Church here in East Tennessee in the Diocese of Knoxville. So I invite you to be attentive and generous in your response when our Bishop, carrying on the same tradition started by Saint Paul, makes his annual appeal to you next week.

The Bishop’s Appeal is obviously not the only thing we do as the Catholic Church in East Tennessee. But it is an important part of making all those other things we do possible.

Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time and the Annual Bishop's Appeal, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, January 27, 2019.

No comments:

Post a Comment