Homily for 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2007
I really enjoyed the Australian play staged by the students of St John's College called "Cosi," by Louis Nowra. It is set in a mental institution during the Vietnam war era. It is an hilarious story of the inmates, led by the obsessive Roy. He is determined to put on Mozart's opera "Cosi fan tutti." You may have seen the movie. With little music resources or acting ability they adapt the opera with help from a outside director who has his own problems. As the story goes the distinction between who is mad and who is not is pretty blurred. And the theme of love, fidelity and betrayal in the play is worked out in real life both in the actors and in the lives of those out side the institution. So, too, what is real and what is illusion becomes blurred.
The gospel today does not show a sweet and gentle Jesus! He who was proclaimed as the bringer of peace at his birth (Luke 2:14) is here prophesying division and conflict. To love God and neighbour has its cost. Partly, Jesus is reacting to the growing hostility to him and his mission as he makes his way with the disciples to Jerusalem. There is a passion in him to see his mission come to its completion. Jerusalem is where it will all come to a head. There are important issues at stake. He is also warning his friends that discipleship is not all roses. To live Jesus' way is such a radical departure from what we are inclined to do that it can cost the disciple much, even his life at times.
The division and conflict that following Jesus can bring about is familiar to us. Some we love dearly choose another path. One that we may consider wrong. That can be painful. Always, though, we have to be careful that it is not our own arrogance or insensitivity that prevents others from hearing the Gospel. Or that turns them away from it. We can easily present the Gospel as just a negative thing without joy or hope. I read this morning in the paper a description of a street preacher was so confident that he was saved but declared everyone else to be on the road to hell. Hardly good news.
The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews today gives a commentary on this and uses the image of an athlete who is running in a race (Hebrews 12:1-4). The athlete running in the stadium is surrounded by all the spectators who are cheering him on. The difficulty and pain that is entailed is made easier by the spectators encouragement. In those days athletes performed naked. Clothing could be a hindrance in the race. So to we are urged to get rid of everything that would distract us from the goal, especially sin. So the "cloud of witnesses" around the disciple straining for the Kingdom of God are like the spectators in the arena cheering the athlete.
There is pain involved but there is exhilaration as well during the race. That is our experience too. It is not all pain. Life is not all a drudge. But we do get carried away sometimes with the joy of life that we try to take shortcuts and avoid any struggle. We do stumble and fall at times but the cloud of witnesses urge us on. They are the Church, the Communion of saints who pray for us constantly. We here today are part of that Communion.
Fidelity to God does not mean never making mistakes. Nor does being a successful athlete mean you don't perspire or fall and have injuries or use incorrect techniques. The great athlete is the one who keeps his heart set on the goal and does not give up on the rest.
Love and fidelity, betrayal and hate. Few in our affluent society see the need for a saviour. You just make the most of what is. People do not see themselves as needing to be freed from anything except perhaps poverty or boredom. Certainly not sin. Yet love, fidelity and betrayal, that recurring dynamic in human relationships, reveal how much in need we really are. The passion which drives people can easily miss the mark and bring pain and disappointment and even at times destruction. But we do not give up on it. The Christian disciple can pray as we did in the Psalm response with the the prophet Jeremiah and the psalmist, "Lord, come to my aid!"
Were else is there to go? Of all people Jesus shows that it is in fidelity to God and each other that life is to be found. That is certainly not easy. So much so that many have given up on it as not possible at all. Yet Jesus' mission is to invite us to that life-giving way. That way is what we participate in at this Eucharist. If the point of being a Christian is to reveal that there is a point to every life, as I said last week, then the point of every life is to live for God and one's neighbour. That is both challenging and wonderful.