FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 14th SUNDAY IN ORDINAY TIME, July 5, 2020:
If you’re like me, over the course of the last few years, I find myself watching less and less news, and trying to spend less and less time on social media. News media on every side today seems to be engaged in simply planting the seeds of division, giving a voice to polarization, and reinforcing a system that tries to convince us that there is more that divides us than unites us. That dynamic then moves on to social media which just becomes an echo chamber that amplifies the same division and polarization that leaves us angry, anxious, tense, and fearful.
In our world today, gentleness is not as highly regarded as it once was. There was a time when the best compliment you could receive was to be called a gentle person. The word “gentleman” testifies to this. Today, however, our culture values divisiveness more than gentleness. It means to maintain a constant state of anxiety and fear. Thankfully, though, our Scriptures today offer us another option. Zechariah told us, “Your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek… he shall proclaim peace to the nations.” And we heard Jesus say today, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.”
We are being reminded that our call is not to mortal combat, but the call of the believer is to meekness, humbleness, peacefulness, and gentleness. Jesus is the perfect model of this gentleness. Just think of the way He handled the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was gentle not only with her, but also with her self-righteous accusers. He didn’t shout or rave. He didn’t yell or scream. He didn’t condemn and decry. He simply wrote in the sand gently with His finger. His gentle and loving compassion towards the woman stood out like a clap of thunder in the silence of a summer’s night in comparison to the violent accusations of the crowd who sought not healing, change, and reconciliation – but only hot-blooded vengeance.
Jesus repeatedly gives us gentle examples to imitate. He held up for us the shepherd in the Parable of the Lost Sheep who didn’t react angrily to the sheep that ran away, but instead placed the sheep gently and lovingly on his shoulders. Or the father of the Prodigal Son who didn’t shout at or reject his wayward son. Instead, he hugged him, he loved him and welcomed him home.
Gentleness heals. Gentleness reconciles. Gentleness opens up the possibility for something new; something transformative; something holy. A favorite book of mine is by Marilyn Robinson called Gilead. It is the fictional autobiography of an elderly congregational pastor writing letters to his young son for posterity. In one passage he writes, “When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, what is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, this is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faith, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, well then you are free to act differently than the circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own light. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent the person. Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behavior.”
My friends, we have been freed by Christ to act differently than the rest of the world; differently than our circumstances might ordinarily dictate. We have been called to be the artists of our behavior and to paint the world with the love of God, consciously responding to the challenges of our world in ways that don’t merely magnify division, but instead transform them into something new and holy. This is the invitation of today’s Gospel, “Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.”
And so, let us respond to the people we encounter with gentleness and warmth. Let us engage those who have wronged us with compassion and understanding. Let us build up the people we encounter carrying heavy burdens with tenderness and sensitivity.
Pope Francis said, “The language of Christians is the language of gentleness and respect. It’s terrible to see people who say they are Christians, but who are full of bitterness. The Holy Spirit is gentle and calls us to likewise be always gentle, and to always respect others.”
“Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.”
May the Lord give you peace.
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