Sunday, February 5, 2017

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany- Year A

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. John  Forbis, OHC
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany- Year A - Sunday, February 5, 2017

Br. John  Forbis, OHC

Since November, I have been falling deeper and deeper into a trap, and I feel particularly penitential about this preaching to “agents of peace”. I engaged in some violent rhetoric that was bandied about for the last year and especially in the last few weeks. This behavior continued in the preparation for this sermon, with the initial conviction that being contentious and full of rage meant being salty and full of light. As one placard said during the protests that occurred a few weeks ago, “love hates Trump”. Now think about the statement … love hates? 

My voice joining that one is just all part of the cacophony of the last year only adding bitterness and rubbing into wounds that have cut deep and been open for millenia. This use of salt kills taste, and causes victimization. Thus, I have thrown it out and trampled it under my own feet through accusations and scapegoating while avoiding looking at my own role in perpetuating injustice and toxicity, thus rendering salt as nothing because it restores nothing.

This morning’s text from Matthew is part of the Sermon on the Mount, which we have been looking at over the last few weeks. If we examine what Jesus is saying in this context, we are presented with a very different and distinctive image.The Beatitudes are a direct contradiction to what I think I know and believe. Blessed are the meek, the poor in Spirit, the persecuted, and yet, blessed are those who are peacemakers and show mercy. Blessed are the marginalized, the dependent and those who live the kind of life that some in positions of privilege and power reject and despise. He throws our expectations of what is acceptable on its head. 

And yet, James Allison, the Girardian theologian, wrote,“the beginning of a Catholic moral life is a stumbling into an awareness of our own complicity in hypocrisy, and a becoming aware of quite how violent that hypocrisy is. Starting from there we can begin to stretch out our hands to our brothers and sisters, neither more nor less hypocritical than ourselves who are on the way to being expelled from the “synagogue” by an apparently united order, which has an excessive and militant certainty as to the evil of the other. Let us then go and learn what this means: “I want mercy and not sacrifice.”

It does go both ways, and that is the difficulty of the distinctive, seasoning saltiness that Jesus is talking about, that enhances taste and not smothers it.  Salt has been a precious commodity for many centuries because of its restorative and preservative powers both for food and human beings.

Also, light is to shine, not burn. Burning only creates more darkness. The Epiphany is an eternal light shining into darkness without flickering shadows.

Despite all that surrounds us at this moment in history, despite the division that is between us in this country, Jesus’ life and preaching show us a very distinctive way of being, an illuminating way of life that is seasoned and ignited by love that can be seen and tasted by all.

In the passage from Isaiah, the fasting and sacrifices of the people of Jacob mean nothing to God.  It is not what God seems remotely interested in.  God longs for bonds removed, freedom of the oppressed, the hungry fed, the homeless to have a home, for the naked to be covered.  And even more so, God longs for us to do this.  In this we become people of light, people of salt,  people who have not lost our humanity.  God longs for us to be “repairers of breaches and restorers of streets to live in.” This is the criteria by which God accepts our covenant relationship with him, the fast that he chooses.  God is interested in our very salvation.

Following Christ does come at a cost.  It means that we must give up our desire to oppress, “quarrel and fight”, “pound with wicked fists”, and brace ourselves to receive the relentless, unconditional reconciliation and forgiveness that God offers and thus offering them to others.

What Jesus tells us is that we are salt and light. Jesus gives us our identity through his own example of being merciful, compassionate and sacrificial even to the cross, where he forgives the people who put him there.  He neither calls for nor tolerates violence.  His own distinctiveness is the love he shows us daily as we remember his passion and rejoice in his resurrection, the love stronger than death itself. 

God does not consider us as nothing.  We do.  Jesus comes not to abolish the law but to save it, to fulfill and take it to another level beyond what the scribes and Pharisees and any other leaders, who might believe that they are beyond reproach, can consider.  By our bestowed identities, Jesus seems to think we are capable to exceed their righteousness.  Jesus gives us the Great Commandment.  He gives us the grace to love as God loves, the power to be just, merciful and compassionate even to those we might consider our enemies.  Our survival, humanity and salvation may very well depend on this.  Amen.       

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