Fourth Sunday of the Year A (30 January 2011)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Entering the Kingdom
Let me begin with a fable by Aesop.
On returning to his own country, a man who had traveled in foreign lands boasted very much of the many wonderful and heroic feats he had performed in the different places he had visited. Among other things, he said that when he was at Rhodes he had leaped to such a distance that no man of his day could leap anywhere near him as to that, there were in Rhodes many persons who saw him do it and whom he could call as witnesses. One of the bystanders interrupted him, saying: “Now, my good man, if this be all true there is no need of witnesses. Suppose this to be Rhodes, and leap for us."1A moral applied to the fable is, “Deeds, not words.”2 Of course, true as the moral is, it isn’t so simple because we can boast by how we act.
To boast suggests having my mind made up. Made up suggests needing to be open to nothing more. That seduces us to see ourselves as the center. The Corinthians were so high on their religious experience, which began with Paul’s preaching, that they thought they had a lock on their new life in the Spirit, that they alone reached such spiritual heights.
They boasted in themselves not in the Lord, who had given them great gifts. They forgot who they were: Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Yet God chose them to receive the Spirit of risen Jesus not for themselves but for the world.
For St. Paul self-boasting was the root-sin; it was idolatry. Idolatry is more than worshiping a stone. Idolatry lives in the dangerous illusion that I save myself. Jesus saves us. Having the Spirit of risen Jesus shapes us to express the power of his Spirit given us by how we live.
Living that power does not draw attention to self. Humble and lowly, to use the prophet’s phrase, has nothing to do with no sense of dignity or value. Humble and lowly has every-thing to do with recognizing the source of our dignity and value and of each person, our Creator and Redeemer. Living that power flows from the desire to align our desires with God’s.
Jesus expressed God’s desires in the Beatitudes, and Jesus named the conditions to enter the kingdom he proclaimed. If we heard Jesus announce his Beatitudes in his language we would hear blessed as a summons not as a passive description. We would hear Jesus welcome people, whose experience made them aware of their limited as well as marginal lives to notice God working through them and to set themselves on the right way to attain those godly goals: poor in spirit; no strangers to tears; meek; single-hearted; deeply desiring God’s justice, mercy and peace.3
Jesus did not sanctify limits and suffering. He sanctifies us and empowers us to live with him as our refuge and to see ways in which we can broaden our solidarity with Jesus as solidarity with others. A recent TV ad captures this well. The scene is a soup kitchen; a man serving food, speaks: When I was homeless I came for food; now that I have a job I make sure that others have the food they need.4
Recalling our limits changes how we live. Recalling Jesus’ promise, the kingdom of God is within you,5 allows us to live the kingdom by our deeds. Each leap of action boasts in the Lord and transforms us and our world.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, place yourself in the presence of the Trinity. Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus. Praise Jesus for giving himself to you and giving direction to your life in his Beatitudes. Ask Jesus for a deeper felt-knowledge of Christian humility and to let your thoughts and actions flow from it with renewed conviction and strength. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words, forgive us...as we forgive others, on our lips help us not only to reconcile; prayed sincerely they align us more closely with the desires of God and keep us in the heart of God’s Son.
- Aesop. “The Boasting Traveler.”
- Moral in this translation.
- Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica’s insight into the Aramaic verb ashray, which Jesus spoke.
- This is a paraphrase of a TV ad in January in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
- Luke 17.21.