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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Homily for Matthew 11:25-27

          I understand that in this passage scholars portray Jesus as the incarnation of Lady Wisdom who stands on the street corner and calls any ready person to come into her camp. While that may be so, I conjure up an image of Jesus as a very relaxed man filled with bubbling-over delight. I can picture him sitting on a rock under the shade of a tree - just feeling happy. I like paying attention to the human emotions of Jesus.

          If Jesus represents the mind, heart, and attitude of God, then I want to know and acknowledge how he feels. I don't think we do that enough. If we were to read the Gospels with an eye toward understanding what Jesus and the main characters feel, our intimacy with him would grow much deeper. We would understand his life better as an historic man. After all, our faith is based on knowing the person of Jesus of Nazareth as a 100% fully human person. Sadly, our religious education conflates stories of the four Gospels into one cohesive portrait. It distorts the way we think of Jesus - because most Christians see him as an omniscient, all-powerful God stuffed into a human body. Our faith is based on the reality that he is not a mixture of God and human, but completely, irreducibly human - just like you and me.

          Jesus pauses in the midst of his public ministry. He takes a break from the most meaningful work there is on earth. (Therefore we can take a break once in a while.) He give thanks to his Creating God for what God is actively doing in his life. He cherishes those who have been given to him and acknowledges that everything is handed over to him by God. It is a mutual delighting in one another. It is a passage I like to linger over.

          However, I do not like to linger over Isaiah's passage. I don't like hearing about the Lord's anger and destruction towards other nations. Arrogant Assyria is judged harshly for she has oppressed her people and is a godless nation. Assyria is held up as a warning to Israel. God will punish whole nations for their disobedience for a covenantal break. Ouch! ~ However, the Psalmist reassures us that the Lord will not abandon his people, but I can't help but remember that God permits suffering.

          Can you imagine the countless cries of suffering the walls of this room have absorbed over the years? Some of the tragedies of life seem senseless and purposeless. We've been victims of other peoples' malice that springs from their unmet needs. Formation within our families has produced indelible reservoirs of toxic shame. Abuse from trusted people and institutions have taught us to withhold our generosity and trust. We learn to protect our true selves so much that we no longer recognize our real identity. Year after year, deaths and losses mount and weigh us down. Each of us fragilely suffer - mostly silently. When we speak of it, we delicately bring it before one another on a superficial level.

          When I hear Jesus speaking about the revealing to those who are childlike, I almost always think of my older sister, the first-born of seven. In an adult body, her mind and soul were innocent and simple. My sister was born with profound mental retardation through negligence of a doctor in 1956 who filled in for my mother's regular obstetrician. Her life was dotted with many happy moments, but the last years of life were marked by suffering in a most excruciating way possible with no relief except death.

            My sister's illness taught me to look squarely into the face of suffering long and hard. The last seven years of her life found her muscles atrophied and constricted where she could no longer swallow or be fed, where pain wouldn't let her sleep, when her voice could not express meaningful words, and with eyes catatonic. Her pain was so great nurses and doctors wanted her discharged because her moaning frightened them and other patients. All we could do was to hold her and caress her to let her know we were around and to stare into those eyes that infrequently recognized us. I was free enough to get angry with God in prayer and scream because no god ought to allow this sort of suffering. Seven long years of suffering after a harsh life and Jesus only spent 3 hours on the cross. I pleaded until I was spent. I let God know of many strong feelings.

            Astonishingly, it was by peering into her suffering eyes that I found Jesus hanging on the Cross broken-hearted, sobbing, weeping for my sister. His outstretched arms and broken body were much like hers, except that they could hold her soul in ways no human could. By gazing into this void of silence and aloneness, I met a vulnerable Christ whose compassion places himself at risk. Jesus becomes vulnerable because both suffering and love fundamentally changes a person. Love and suffering are twins. They turn us very intimately toward the other. I met a God who hurts when we suffer and whose paradoxical greatest moment of love, that is, the Cross, gives meaning to life and suffering. Suffering, with its tendency to isolate, can also heighten our sensitivity to others' suffering.

            We have a fundamental decision to make about our suffering. Jesus cannot avoid the Cross; we can't look away from it. We can try to avoid it and think of our pain as distractions in prayer or we can figure out how to accept it and enter into it. We just can't escape it. It is painful and unpleasant and we do not want to recall awful memories because their sting is too great, but accepting the cross means that we have to do just that. Memories are to be transformed. It is the reason we prayer the Suscipe: Take Lord, Receive...

            Jesus sits under that tree and tells us of his great desire to reveal God's love to us. We want that and yet we know love and suffering cannot be separated. He wants to hold our suffering in his heart. He is reaching out to us to give us God's promise to be with us - even in our worst suffering. He knows it is awful to look at our suffering alone; He does not advise it because he had to go it alone. He went to his death, according to Mark and Paul, believing that his Abba Father failed to show up. Because Jesus is alive to us, we can look at our suffering with him who is bringing it forward in our consciousness. He is asking us to look at our memories with him with his characteristic compassion because he wants to reveal to us something new. God knows it will hurt us, but Jesus is doing it so we can have relief. He wants to bring meaning to our suffering and to give us new freedom. Jesus will reveal his cross to you. You must decide how you will respond to it.

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