Relationship with Jesus

Relationship with Jesus

Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

June 25, 2023

Relationship with Jesus

Homily for June 25, 2023
The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 10:24–39

I remember once saying to my spiritual director, “If someone had told us in advance how difficult it would be to raise kids, would we ever have had kids?”  “Our son’s birth hit our life like a cyclone,” I remember saying.  Never mind being pregnant and giving birth (which I didn’t even have to do—it was hard enough to watch), but after our son was born…  There ensued months—years!—of sleep deprivation.  His birth marked the end of my long and cherished bicycle rides into the mountains above Santa Barbara (where we then lived).  His birth ended my brief and unremarkable season of trying my hand at surfing.  His birth was pretty much the end of any and all of our free time—of time with friends, of taking short trips out of town, of cooking meals, of time together in the evenings, of listening to music, or for that matter of making any noise at all in our tiny apartment in which his first “crib” was a dresser drawer in the apartment’s one other room that wasn’t our bedroom.  Those of you who are parents, remember what you wouldn’t have given to have fifteen minutes—“May I please have just fifteen minutes?”—to take a shower?  And remember, too, what it was like to fly with kids on an airplane?  To have to schlepp a car seat, a stroller, a diaper bag, Cheerios, formula, the suitcase and, oh, the kid, whose diaper is now full and who is screaming because his ears are hurting?  If someone had told us in advance how difficult it would be to have kids, would we ever have had kids?  “And yet,” I remember telling my spiritual director, “as hard as it has been, we have never regretted it.  Not once.”  Having Shaw, and then Olivia, and watching them grow has been extraordinarily life-changing in the best sense.  The births of these two now young people gave our lives new horizons and a decisive direction.  Being with them has been unspeakably rich and life-giving.  We wouldn’t have had it any other way.

If in last Sunday’s Gospel Jesus told his followers to, “Beware…. For they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me… and you will be hated by all because of my name” (10:17–18, 22), in this morning’s Gospel Jesus tells his followers not to think that “I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have come not to bring peace but a sword.”

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s household.

Hearing these passages, I want to say, “Matthew, if you tell people in advance how difficult it is to be a Christian, who is going to become a Christian?”  “If being a Christian is likely to bring (as you say) such conflict, rejection, suffering and (for some) even death, nobody is going to become a Christian!”  Perhaps Matthew in writing this morning’s passage hopes to attract to the Faith those stern types who prefer a “hard” version of the Gospel. Or perhaps by this passage Matthew seeks not a few good people but a few holy fools.  Or perhaps Matthew hopes that we the readers of this morning’s Gospel passage will (to borrow a recent phrase) “take him seriously, but not literally.”

Clearly for Matthew, being a Christian was difficult.  For Matthew’s community—whom scholars think were members of a synagogue who believed in Jesus and surrounded by neighboring synagogues who did not believe in Jesus—being a Christian probably did “set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother”; members of Matthew’s community probably were “handed over to councils and flogged in their synagogues”; they probably were “dragged before governors and kings” and “hated by all because of my name.”  And yet…  Matthew seems to have no regrets about being a Christian.  Matthew encouraged his flock to persevere, to “endure to the end.”  Matthew urged his community to “have no fear of them.”  He still encouraged them to “tell in the light… what I say to you in the dark,” and “what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.”  Clearly for Matthew, being a Christian was difficult; and clearly for Matthew, he had no regrets about becoming Christian; indeed, in writing his Gospel, Matthew was hoping to make more.

I have a hunch the reason Matthew was glad to be Christian, difficult as it was, was because of his encounter with Jesus Christ.  Having Jesus in his life was so extraordinarily life-changing, so unspeakably rich, that Matthew would not have had it any other way.  Yes, being Christian was difficult.  Sure, he knew that Jesus “came to bring not peace, but a sword.”  Absolutely, he knew that “whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”  And yet Mathew followed Jesus.  To quote the late Pope Benedict, for Matthew “being Christian [was] not the result of an ethical choice or lofty ideal, but [rather] the encounter with an event, a person, which [gave his] life a new horizon and decisive direction” [Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1].  Once Matthew had encountered Jesus, difficult as it may have been, so life-giving and enriching was it to be in relationship with Jesus, that Matthew would not have had it any other way.

Jesus invites each of us into deeper relationship with him.  Jesus wants a relationship with us that means everything to us, a relationship marked by profound love and that is so extraordinarily life-changing that we perhaps would walk any road, no matter how difficult, in order to experience that love.  I wonder, what might be preventing you from accepting more fully Jesus’ love?  What might be keeping you from entering more deeply into relationship with Jesus?  He invites you; he is ready and waiting for you.  I will leave us with words from the current Pope, Pope Francis, about the loving relationship Jesus wishes to have with us and into which all are invited:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.  No one should think that this invitation is not meant for them, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”  The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. [Ev. Gaud., 2]

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