HOMILY WEEK 15 01 – Year I
Putting Jesus First
(Ex 1:8-22; Ps 124; Mt 10:34-11:1)
Fr. Mike McCaffery is a beloved, more-or-less retired diocesan priest from Edmonton on whom Edmonton leans to be their voice for special occasions. He presided at the wedding of Wayne Gretzky, and was called on to preside over the memorial service in Rodgers Centre for Dave Semenko, a former Oilers player. A humble and generous person, Fr. Mike participates in our Camino fund-raising walk for the Star of the North retreat Centre each year. I love the way he is a specialist in preaching with cryptic one-liners in his short homilies.
In today’s gospel Jesus seems to teach the same way – with a series of one-liners: “I came to bring the sword, not peace; one’s foes will be of one’s own household; whoever loves others more than me is not worthy of me, whoever does not take up a cross is not worthy of me; those who lose their life will find it; whoever welcomes you welcomes me; whoever welcomes a prophet will get a prophet’s reward,” etc. – a whole series of one-liners, just like Fr. Mike, so Fr. Mike is in good company!
These one-liners provide one simple message – we are to put Jesus first in our lives, and be Jesus for others in their lives.
To put Jesus first in our lives means that he is at the very center of our thoughts, actions and plans. Jesus is actually using Semitic Hyperbole, or holy exaggeration, to underline how important and even crucial this is. Similar to a parent exclaiming to a child, “I told you thousand times not to do that,” Jesus uses strong language such as loving him more than one’s parents or siblings to make his case about being first in our lives.
We can’t take this for granted. Anyone who is addicted actually has a false god in his or her life that has control and influence. That person is actually breaking the first commandment to not have any other gods before the Lord our God. Alex, an alcoholic, came into my office one day, to declare that he was six feet tall and his boss was eight inches high! He was right – he was breaking the first commandment. Jesus was not the center of his life, even though he was a baptized Catholic and came to mass every Sunday. So we can ask ourselves, is Jesus really and truly the center of our lives, or have some subtle false gods nudged him into second place?
Another of Jesus’ one-liners is to take up our cross and follow him. This speaks of a willingness to accept some suffering in our lives, some inconvenience or suffering that we would like to avoid. That cross becomes redemptive if we connect that suffering to that of Jesus, by going through it the way Jesus did, without bitterness or resentment.
The cross also invites us into radical discipleship – letting go of power and control, and allowing everything to be done to us, again without bitterness or resentment. Jesus is our model here – from the time he was arrested in the garden to the time he died on the cross, he really didn’t to anything – everything was done to him (ridiculed, mocked, flogged, spat upon, led here and there and finally crucified). That was his passio– which means “being done unto.” So here Jesus is inviting us into radical discipleship and redemptive suffering to be worthy of following him. As activist Daniel Berrigan once said, if we are thinking of following Jesus, we should first consider how good we look on wood!
Then Jesus asks us to lose our lives so that we can find them. That is an invitation to give our selves away – our time, talent and treasure, in the service of others. As Winston Churchill stated, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give away.”
Jesus also tells us that those who welcome us welcome him. That means that we are to be Jesus for others, and to serve Jesus in others. As St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta puts it, “What we would like to do for Jesus, whom we cannot see, do it to the person next to us, whom we can see, and we will be doing it to Jesus.”
The first reading begins the whole story of the Exodus and the liberation of the Chosen people from slavery in Egypt through the ministry of Moses and divine intervention. Hopefully that can by symbolic of our daily lives becoming for us a healing journey and a process of transformation and liberation.
St. Francis of Assisi is one who took these teachings of Jesus to heart, giving up all the wealth and luxury that would have been his had he put his father’s materialistic plans for him before what he knew in his soul to be a call of Jesus to a life of poverty, prayer and radical dependency on God, putting Jesus first in his life.
The Eucharist is Jesus being here for us, through word and sacrament. However, it also missions us to go out and live the Eucharist in all the ways that Jesus outlined in his teaching. May our celebration empower us to put Jesus first in our lives, and be Jesus for others.