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Homily: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2017

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This weekend our Sunday readings may have provided some confusion. For Jesus tells us to carry his yoke in order to find rest and Paul talks about not loving our flesh and yet it really has nothing to do with our bodies. This is the challenge when we put 21st Century connotations on first century scripture.

So what is the real meaning behind these readings? And what impact does it have on the way you live your life? Check it out!

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Homily: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2017

  1. 1. 8 July 2017 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Princeton, NJ This Sunday we begin three weeks of walking through the 8th chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans - the only letter Paul wrote to a community he had not yet visited and is considered to be his best thinking on salvation and faith. And it is this week we hear Paul speak of the difference between flesh and spirit. But unfortunately the translation of the Greek word ‘sarx’ to mean flesh or body has given a false sense of what Paul was really talking about. For Paul never intended for people to feel that their bodies were bad – after all God took on a human body in Jesus. Rather, sarx carried a different connation in the 1st century. What Paul was talking about was our trapped selves, our small selves, or what some, like Thomas Merton call, the false self. The ‘flesh’ Paul was speaking about means human nature that is self- centered rather than God centered. Conversely Paul’s use of the word ‘spirit’ speaks of the whole self – the true self – human nature that is God-centered rather than self-centered. Once a soldier who persecuted Christians, after his conversion Paul’s eyes were opened to the paradox of life which is filled with both/ands versus either/ors. That life is law and grace, faith and works, Jew and Greeks, male and female, and what we heard in today’s reading: flesh (or a word closer to what Paul was referring to – ego – and spirit. But for many of us we rather live in a black and white world where we do not have to wrestle with paradoxes – where we pick one side and live in a fight or fight mentality. The reason being is because we are conditioned to be people focused on performance that feeds our self-being – our sarx – our flesh. For our ego loves the performance game. My house is bigger, my kid is smarter, my job is better. A world where I follow all the laws, go to Church every Sunday, vote for the right candidate – and whatever else is in your mind that justifies who are think you are and what you think earns you a place in salvation. But by taking a “sarx” position and judging people according to your standards, your measurements and your guidelines, you inherently believe that just about everyone else is doing it wrong, Psychologist and best-seller author Debbie Ford writes in her book, “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers”: “Most of us long to experience peace of mind…[which is] a task that calls for nothing less than embracing the totality of our being. Discovering the gifts of even our most hated qualities is a creative process that needs only a deep desire to listen and learn, a willingness to release dysfunctional judgements and beliefs. Your true self makes no judgments. Only our fear-driven egos use judgements to protect us – which ironically prevents us from knowing who we are. We must be prepared to love all that we have feared.” And the reason for this is because God’s love for us has nothing to do with our performance. Nothing. As Paul writes later to the Romans: “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ: anguish, distress, persecution, nakedness, peril of death. Paul goes on to say that neither death, life, angels, principalities, present things, nor future 1 Deacon Jim Knipper
  2. 2. things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ.” So Paul’s point in question for us in today’s second reading is this: while recognizing that we should care for ourselves, are we too preoccupied with only ourselves (sarx/flesh?) Or is our focus on caring (in other words our Spirit, our love) for others? Do we live a life that is community centered? Catholic activist and actor Ramon Estevez, better known as Martin Sheen said in a recent interview with Krista Tippett: “Piety is the road, not the destination. If piety leads you to a form of personal acceptance to a higher power than it has its purpose but it has to be discarded in the larger picture in favor of the community. Piety is something we tend to do alone. True spirituality is mainly achieved when we are in communion with those around us.” But what does that communion look like? Look around… indeed, we are all in this together. Our lives are divinely interconnected to each other. it is one reason why we come here each weekend – to be in communion – and community with and for each other in order that we move away from self-focus and move towards a childlike-love for others - the kind of love that allows us to stand in a different place and looking at each other and the world with the eyes of a young child. Christianity is meant to be a loving way to live life now – not just a system of beliefs and requirements that we hope will earn us a later reward in heaven. This is what Matthew was speaking about in today’s Gospel passage when he says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take MY yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and your will find rest for yourselves. For MY yoke is easy and my burden light.” The burden he was referring to was that of the Judaic laws. The Pharisees regarded the spirituality of the people of the land to be inferior as they were thought to be incapable of following the strict commands of the oral interpretation of the law. The rabbis of the day referred to the Torah as the yoke. So Jesus invited the people to put down the burden of that yoke and instead take up the easier yoke which he offers. A yoke that is focused on knowing and loving Christ and on loving others – a yoke of meekness and humbleness. The love we long for is the knowing that we are loved despite ourselves. Learning to love is a lifelong project of accepting our own messy realities, our own human-ness and moving away from our flesh and our ego. Once we embrace that – we will see others totally differently than before…and in turn we will be seen differently, as well. For if you love anyone then you have already learned to accept them despite their faults. So as you leave today be willing to take up the yoke which Christ offers…be easy on yourself and be available to others. Take up this invitation by God to participate in the process of spiritual growth by going out of your way for someone else – for each other – for your own sake – and in doing so find the much needed rest you seek in Christ. 2 Deacon Jim Knipper

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