21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C 2019

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

1. I don’t know if you remember Officer Stephen McDonald,

a. But I sure do.

b. I saw him every month when I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral back in the late 80s and 90s as part of the Seminary.

c. He sat down in front with his wife and son.

d. You couldn’t miss him. He was the one with the wheelchair.

2. He was in that chair because as a 29-year-old police officer,

a. Steven McDonald questioned a group of teenagers

b. One of the teens pulled a gun and shot him.

3. Perhaps you remember the shooting.

4. Perhaps you remember that President Reagan called him,

5. Perhaps you remember that Cardinal O’Connor baptized his newborn son

6. But what I remember most was how I felt when I saw him.

7. I felt sad of course;

8. But also, I felt afraid.

9. Sitting there, in that wheelchair at St. Patrick’s, his broken body was a reminder to me,

10. That despite everything we teach our children about God’s love

11. Despite the fact that I believed I had vocation to preach about that love

12. and share it with others,

a. In real life that Love could be awfully hard to find.

13. No, far more often what we find is our lack of love.

14. We see it in the way we inflame old hatreds for political ends.

a. And it in the way we treat the poor, the homeless,

b. the single mother, her unborn child.

15. We see it in the way we refuse to care for the sick and the elderly in our society

16. We see it in the way a 15 year old Shavod Jones shot officer McDonald for his questions,

a. And in the way that

b. Even though he was only 15 years old,

c. Shavod was sentenced to decades in a prison system

i. that was guaranteed to make a hardened criminal out of him.

17. Our normal response to these situations and so many others

a. is to shrug and say, “well that is just the way it is”.

18. And we would be right.

19. It was the way it was in the days of the prophet called Isaiah

a. whose words we hear in the first reading.

b. his people had been crushed in a terrible war.

i. And forced to live as exiles in far off Babylon.

c. But the worst part of this defeat

i. was not the humiliation;

ii. nor the loss of their property,

d. The worst part was that they believed they were God’s chosen ones; the people of Judah.

i. God had made a covenant with King David.

ii. God was supposed to love them and protect them

iii. And yet God had allowed them to be defeated.

iv. They believed in God’s love,

v. and that one day God would give them back their kingdom, but

1. in Babylon, that love was hard to find.

20. It was still that way centuries later, when Jesus lived

21. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish people were oppressed by the Roman Empire.

i. They believed what the people in the first reading believed;

ii. That they were God’s chosen people, loved by God.

iii. Yet suffering under the Yoke of Rome, that love was hard to find.

22. When we understand this, we understand the question asked of Jesus in today’s Gospel

23. For in today’s Gospel, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.

a. All along the way he was healing the sick,

b. Opening eyes and ears,

c. challenging the authority of their leaders with his own authority.

24. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem could only mean one thing

a. He was going to fulfill to that covenant God made with king David.

b. He was going to the city of David to claim the throne of David

c. He was going to kick out the Romans and punish all those who had oppressed God’s people.

d. He was going to reveal love for God’s people,

e. which has been so hard to find in this world.

25. Yet as Jesus traveled towards Jerusalem, he said some very unsettling things;

26. Just before today’s Gospel

a. Jesus tells the people of Judea, that they are no more or less sinful

i. than the evil, pagan Romans who were oppressing them.

b. He tells the story of a fig tree; long a symbol for God’s people,

c. and says that they had to produce fruit, or they would be cut down like any other tree.

d. He said that the sign of the coming of the kingdom

i. Would not be big and mighty like they expected,

ii. But tiny, like yeast in dough, or a seed in the soil.

27. it is little wonder that in today’s Gospel someone asks Jesus the question “Will only a few will be saved?”

a. because if being a member of God’s people

i. did not guarantee entrance into that kingdom, then what did?!

28. Jesus’ answer was that they should strive to enter the kingdom through “the narrow gate”

29. because if they do not, they will witness something they never could have imagined;

30. They will see Gentiles, people who were not members of the covenant,

a. entering into that long-awaited kingdom,

b. and dining with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,

i. while they would be shut out.

31. What could that narrow gate be? Jesus doesn’t say.

a. Whatever it was, it was difficult to enter;

b. whatever it was they had to enter it just like the gentiles.

c. Whatever it was, it was something that called into question their belief;

i. that the kingdom was especially for THEM.

32. It was words like these that eventually caused Jesus’ followers to turn on him

33. And when he was crucified, to shrug their shoulders and say,

a. “Oh well, we had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel”.

b. But I guess that is just the way it is.

34. I wonder, if any asked what Jesus had meant by that narrow gate.

a. Probably not.

35. For them the cross was the end of Jesus’ story.

36. Until it wasn’t. Until he rose from the dead and met his disciples hiding in that upper room at Easter.

a. How did they react? We all know how they reacted. They were terrified!

i. Jesus’ crucifixion did to the disciples

ii. what Judah’s loss to the Babylonians did to them,

iii. what seeing Officer McDonald in that wheelchair did to me;

iv. what the injustice and violence of this world does to us all;

1. it reminded them how difficult it is to find God’s love in this world.

37. Which is probably why the first thing Jesus did, was reveal where it could be found.

a. He forgave his disciples. He filled them with his spirit and send them out so they could forgive others.

38. Now I am not going to claim that forgiveness was everything Jesus meant by the “Narrow Gate”. But it was certainly part of it

39. It was, is a way that we experience the healing, that was the hallmark of that kingdom he came to bring.

40. Yet many of us bristle at the idea of forgiveness;

41. Even when Jesus himself preaches it.

a. and that is because we were taught that forgiveness means forgetting; Forgive and forget, we say as if the two are linked.

b. and since we will never forget, we believe we can never forgive.

42. But that is wrong. Forgiveness meansremembering.

a. Why else would we tell and retell biblical stories such as the exile in Babylon

b. Nail an image of Jesus’ broken body on the cross to our walls and above our altars,

c. And celebrate every Sunday and every Easter that day on which Jesus returned and forgave his disciples

d. If we did not need to remember?

43. It is only through remembering that we can face what was done to us,

44. Deal with those who did it to us

45. And See to it that they no longer have the power to do it again,

46. So that what was done can heal and become a scar; a reminder of what we suffered, but just so a reminder that what we suffered has healed and we are free.

47. Which brings me back to Officer McDonald.

a. He was 29 years old when he was shot,

i. Newly married, a child on the way,

ii. right at the start of his life.

iii. IF there was ever a person who had a right to resent what had happened to him, it was he.

b. And yet Shortly after he was well enough to travel and speak,

i. one of the first things he did was forgive the young man who shot him.

48. Do we think for one moment that Office McDonald ever forgot what was done to him?

a. Of course not. How could he? But that was not how he forgave.

b. He forgave through remembering

i. Remembering allowed what was done to him to heal- his spirit if not his body.

ii. And it allowed him to witness for the rest of his life

1. through his broken body,

2. what Jesus witnessed to through his –

3. the difficult work of forgiveness.

49. It isn’t easy; of course not;

a. but when we look around the world for that love of God,

b. and conclude it is nowhere to be found,

c. maybe we are looking for it in the wrong place.

d. Maybe instead of expecting it out there, we should search for it in here,

e. Where it is planted small like a seed in the soil or leaven in a lump of dough.

f. Waiting to grow.

g. And it does grow when we continue Jesus work, the difficult work of forgiveness.

h. This morning, in the silence following this homily,

i. Think of that one person you need to forgive and ask yourself what that would take to do. And begin. Because when we do, step by step our world stops being just the way it is and starts becoming the way it should be.

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