Sunday, August 11, 2013

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“Do not be afraid any longer, little flock,
for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”
With these words of comfort and assurance,
Jesus bids us to have a faith that is truly radical.
Many people think that a little bit of religion is a good thing.
It gives us a moral code to follow
and perhaps makes us a bit nicer than we would be otherwise;
it provides us with consolation in times of trouble,
particularly when we are faced with the great calamity of death.
But one doesn’t want to take religion too far,
to act in crazy or irresponsible ways
by ignoring the realities of life in this world.

But that is precisely what Jesus seems to want us to do.
In today’s Gospel, after commanding his followers to not be afraid,
he commands them to sell what they have and give alms
and by doing so to provide for themselves a treasure in heaven.
To our sensible attitude that a little bit of religion is a good thing
this seems like…well, like madness.
Being charitable – giving alms – that’s fine.
But selling what you have in order to do so?
Worrying more about heaven than earth?
It seems to ignore the legitimate responsibilities
that we have in this life –
caring for our bodily needs,
providing for our families,
planning for our retirement;
it seems to ask us to live our lives 
as if we were already in heaven,
as if earth did not matter.
But Jesus’s words press us to ask ourselves
whether our appeal to our responsibilities in this life
is not simply a manifestation of our fears
that hold us back from the risk of faith.

At his recent press conference on the plane 
after World Youth Day,
Pope Francis was asked about the security risks
created by his desire to be in the midst of the crowds.
He responded: “It’s true that there is always the danger
that there is a madman… who does something;
but there is also the Lord!
To make an armored space
between the Bishop and the people is [also] madness,
and I prefer the madness of being exposed
and running the risk of the other madness.”

I suppose for the Pope the danger of assassination
is more real than it is for most of us.
But we too have our very real fears:
will I find a job?
will I be able to pay my bills?
what will become of my children?
Who could blame us 
for being fearful concerning these things?
The words of Pope Francis remind us, however,
that while there are real dangers in the world,
real things to be feared,
there is also the Lord:
the God who is pleased to make us heirs of his kingdom,
the God whose love embraces us at every moment,
the God from whose hands we can never be taken.

Faith in this God is not the timid faith that thinks
that a little bit of religion is a good thing.
It is the radical faith of Abraham 
spoken of in our second reading,
from the letter to the Hebrews:
the faith that led Abraham to become a homeless wanderer,
the faith that allowed him to believe God’s promises,
the faith that led him even to be willing to give up his child
trusting in God’s power over death.
It is the faith that does not use a little bit of religion
to build for itself a place of security 
where fear can be held at bay,
but plunges into the world of danger 
for the sake of God’s kingdom.

“Do not be afraid any longer, little flock,
for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”
In that kingdom, the perfect love,
perfect goodness,
perfect beauty 
that God is by nature,
we become by the gift of God’s grace.
But Jesus says, “Much will be required 
of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded 
of the person entrusted with more.”
The immense love shown to us by God
calls for immense faith in response.
Of course our response always falls short 
of the perfection of God,
but this is no excuse 
for not always seeking a more radical faith,
a faith that lives fearlessly
for the sake of the kingdom of God
that has been so generously given to us.