22 June 2013

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Year C

We could be forgiven, it seems, if this afternoon (this morning’s) Gospel doesn’t exactly sound like the “good news.”  Think about it: what about crosses and carrying them sounds is positive?  What about following Jesus to a death like his, a death on the cross sounds particularly appealing?  Isn’t there enough trouble in our lives already?  Aren’t there enough difficulties without the Cross, without a claim being made on our lives asking us to forgive our enemies, to love those who hate us, to pray for those who we’d rather not?  The meaning of the Cross in our lives is not all that different than it was for Christ’s disciples. 

Indeed, for those who lived in first century Palestine, or anywhere, for that matter, in the Roman Empire.  The cross existed as a political tool – an instrument of terror – used to make completely clear to anyone who may have through to get out of line just what awaited them.

The scene of people carrying their crosses, quite literally would have been a frequent sight in Jerusalem.  Enemies of the state would be forced to carry the instruments of their execution through the streets, subjected to the jeering of the crowds.  Their journey would drive them to a place of exhaustion.   They would then be hoisted up on the outskirts of the city, again for all to see.

This entire process not only eliminated trouble makers, but it also made a message clear to passer-bys: if you try something, if you attempt to rebel, attempt to usurp our power, this is what we will do to you.
And so, when Jesus says, “take up your cross,” you can excuse the fact that the disciples may have been a bit confused.  One minute Jesus is the Christ of God – quite literally, God’s Chosen One.  The next minute, Jesus tells his closest followers that not only will he die, but anyone who wants a relationship with him will carry the cross as well.

And were there really truer words ever spoken?  Can there be any doubt that our crosses are heavy, especially when we’ve attempted to follow the Lord?  Or, even worse, when we’ve fallen, don’t our crosses seem plainly unbearable?  It seems as if we are stuck: attempt to love others and show compassion and we will find crosses; ignore the needy, focus on ourselves and crosses find us.

We turn on the news and we find hear about terrible violence throughout the world compounded by natural disasters.  In our own city, we know of the poverty, the drugs and the violence that plagues us.   Get on the T, walk through the Commons, talk to our friends and family about what’s happening “in our own backyards,” and we’re confronted with the reality that the crosses people carry are heavy – and seemingly growing heavier. Even closer to home, we know of the addictions and lack of peace within our own neighborhood and, in all likelihood, our own homes. 
With all of this on our mind, we are confronted by today’s Gospel and may feel a bit cold.  We could image yelling at Jesus, much the way his disciples may have, “No, Jesus, we don’t need a crucified Messiah, we need a King, a ruler!  We need someone to answer our prayers, supply our needs, kick evil back to where it belongs!”However, Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel that this is not the way God works: God does not fly down from heaven to do our bidding.  Instead, Jesus comes down from heaven and breaks the power of evil not in one instance, not in a particular situation.  Rather, God stops evil in its tracks by pointing out that even the worst that evil can do cannot compare with the abundant love that God has for humanity.  Strong is death, yes; but stronger yet is the love of God shown to us in the Risen.    And exactly because of our baptisms, we share this! Let us remember what Paul teaches us in today’s Second Reading.  Just as we were baptized into Christ,  so too do we belong to Christ.  We have been promised what lies after the cross – Resurrection.  What’s more, since we all share this common destiny, we belong to each other.

This mutual support can play itself out in the smallest of ways.  Several years ago, my mother was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.  The treatment consisted in her spending stretches of days in the hospital.  One of the most moving responses to this tough time in my family came in the form of many family and friends bringing over hot meals to my dad and two younger brothers so that they didn’t need to worry about what was for dinner after school and work: they could eat quickly and then take the trip from our New Jersey home across the Hudson River into New York City to visit my mom.  This is the mutual support that is the vocation of all of us: none of us are too small, too tired, too anything to be unable to provide each other the witness that Jesus is, in fact, the Christ, as Peter said in today’s Gospel.  We all rightfully hope for resurrection, but we are also called in the strongest way to give proof  -- to literally testify through our lives - to this reality by living as part of the Body of Christ in such a way as to eliminate division and strife. 

Let us make no mistake.  The crosses in our life will never go away and they will be many.  Yet the reality spoken to us by today’s Scriptures testify to something even more important, something even more real: when we carry our cross and the crosses of others, there is not the Roman Empire at the end of our journey.  No, at the end our lives, we find ourselves in the same place as Jesus.  The cross empty, and eternal life in front of us.

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