Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

There are some very unpopular people in the world; people like dog-catchers, the cop who catches us going 50 m.p.h. in a 35 – mile zone, the parent who says “NO”, the boss who gives his secretary six letters to type at 4:00 PM on Friday, and the neighbor who starts mowing his lawn at 6:00 AM on Saturday. 

As we reflect on the readings for today’s Mass, there is another category we can add to the list of unpopular people – namely prophets. The prophets of yesterday and today seem to have a way of losing friends and turning people off.

The prophets of yesterday and today seem to have a way of making us angry. Like a parent who says “NO” they tell us that there are things, we cannot do just because everyone else is doing them. Like a demanding boss, they make unreasonable requests of our time, talents, and gifts. Like a noisy neighbor, they wake us up from a good night’s sleep.

The Old Testament prophets were not afraid to “tell it like it was”. They did not fear the reaction of the people – what they feared was their damnation if they watered – down the message of God and didn’t live up to their prophetic call.

In the first reading, we are told that the prophet Ezekiel was sent to “rebels who have rebelled against God”. The people refused to listen to God’s message and to the messengers He sent. But that rebellion of the Old Testament Jews didn’t start with the prophets, it had its roots in Original Sin.

Adam and Eve were rebels; they wanted to be free from obedience to God’s law! They could determine for themselves what was right or wrong. That rebellion continued on the part of the people as they rejected the message of the Old Testament prophets right up to the time of Jesus – and it continues even now – 2000 years after Jesus’ death and Resurrection.

We, continue to say no to God, no to His Church, no to His Commandments. The reaction to the Old Testament prophet was momentary amazement followed by a yawn. “We’ve heard it and seen it all before. Big deal!”

Jesus met the same reaction in today’s Gospel, as He began teaching in His hometown synagogue – He was rejected. We are not told in the Gospel what He taught in that synagogue, but it’s a safe bet to say that His teaching was not much different from points He had already made in other instances, points like: “Reform your lives and believe in the Gospel!” “I have come to call sinners, not the self-righteous” “Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to Me.”

Jesus’ audience didn’t take long to realize that He was not there to entertain them or dazzle them with a meaningless message. Jesus did not come to this earth primarily to obtain for the Jewish people, nor for any people, total and immediate happiness and peace. Nor did He come with a message that had no challenge or content. Rather, Jesus was there to call people to conversion; challenge people to reform their lives, to forgive their enemies, to help the poor, to support widows and orphans, to give food to the hungry and clothes to the naked, to stop living lives contrary to the Gospel!

Jesus challenged the people in the synagogue that day: No wonder they took offense at Him. But don’t we react in the same way as the people in the synagogue? Don’t we try to keep watering down Jesus’ demands? Don’t we look for shortcuts and detours around His commands? Don’t we excuse ourselves too quickly from living the full and complete Christian life that we know very well Jesus expects us to live? Don’t we sometimes turn off those who teach in the name of Jesus – the Holy Father, the Bishops – when they say things that challenge our comfortable existence and call us to reaffirm our values? Don’t we prefer to ignore the Church’s clear teaching against cohabitation before marriage abortion all forms of discrimination?

Each week – each day, Jesus is here making His rounds in Marietta, still teaching, still looking for our faithful response to His teaching. We can yawn and justify our lifestyle with the old excuse that Jesus is just too much for us; or that His message does not really apply to us.

We can remain smorgasbord Catholics picking and choosing what we will accept or believe. Unlike the people in the Synagogue, we can listen to the burning, and challenging words of Jesus, and let those words change our lives. So what will it be? “Ho-hum, I’ve heard it all before!” Or “Wow, I’ve never heard Him speak this way?” The response is ours to make.  

Today, we celebrate the 245th birthday of America. On this holiday weekend, as we ponder the freedom and success we enjoy in America, we know that the secret of America’s success is that freedom still demands a willingness of individuals to make a sacrifice for it – as our servicemen and women are doing in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and all the other problem areas of our world. It demands living according to the laws of God.

Jesus did not come to this world to entertain or dazzle us with a message that has no challenge or content. Rather, Jesus came to call us to conversion, to challenge us to reform our lives, to forgive our enemies, to help the poor, to support the widows and orphans, to give food to the hungry, and cloth to the naked.

In the Gospel today, Jesus challenges us as He challenged the people in the synagogue, to make a sacrifice and freely choose to follow Him as a disciple – sent to preach to a world that has been corrupted by secularism, greed, and in many instances corrupt politicians and governments. We are sent to proclaim the “Reign of God” by the way we live.

If America is to be an example, then all of us who are America must accept all of the moral values and teachings of Jesus Christ rather than the false, artificial values of a violent and godless society.

As the ideals of America’s Founding Fathers have been watered-down to suit political and cultural demands, the teachings of Jesus – preserved and guarded by the Church have been watered-down looking for short – cuts and detours around living the full and complete life which Jesus has given to His Church. Jesus not only has the solutions to our personal problems and our National problems; in fact, He is the solution!

The world will never hear the message of Jesus if only the Pope, bishops, priests, deacons, and religious proclaim it. Each of us by the way we think and live is called and sent into our part of the world to proclaim the presence of the Reign of God.

As we celebrate America’s birthday this weekend, may each of us be more committed to making America great by living the moral and ethical values of Jesus, and calling our nation to do the same!