26 October 2012

WWJD? Set the world on fire!

29th Week OT (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Recently, I saw a poster on Facebook that read: “Remember—when someone asks, 'What Would Jesus Do?' Freaking out and throwing tables is a viable option.” The poster has a line drawing of Jesus. . .freaking out and throwing tables. When we wonder whether or not anger is an acceptable Christian response, we think of Jesus in the temple courtyard, thrashing the moneychangers. What gospel scene do we imagine when we wonder about the acceptability of feeling and showing frustration and impatience? May I suggest this evening's gospel? Jesus accuses the crowds of hypocrisy b/c they continue to hesitate in accepting the truth right in front of their faces. They can read the signs of an impending storm. And they can read the signs for a sunny day. So why can't they see that he's come to fulfill the Law and free them all from sin? Just a few verses before today's reading, we read Jesus saying, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” Impatient? Frustrated? Well, what would Jesus do? He'd set the world on fire. 

Lest you think Jesus is threatening an actual conflagration, let me quickly point out what he says immediately after this, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” Baptism here refers to his sacrificial death on the cross, the sacrifice that must occur before the world can set ablaze with the Holy Spirit. If his reference is a little obscure, his feelings on the issue aren't. He's frustrated, impatient. And the dumbstruck crowd milling around him isn't helping matters much. Keep in mind: he's anxious to be about the business for which he was sent—our salvation. So the reluctance of those who listen to him to accept their own redemption must be extremely aggravating. As understandable as his frustration might be, why does he accuse these poor people of hypocrisy? When they see a cloud in the west, they know it's going to rain, so they scramble to prepare for a storm. They see the sign and act on it. Here he is—a living, breathing sign of the Father's mercy—and most of them just stand there gawking at him. A few want more evidence. Some even demand miracles. Fortunately, there were no tables or moneychangers in the crowd that day! 

New Orleans is populated by hurricane experts. We know how to interpret the weather in the Gulf, but we know how to interpret the present time? We do, even if we sometimes forget that we do. Let's be reminded. The present time is a gift from God. Let's call it a Saptiotemporal Gift, the divine gift of space and time in which we always live and thrive. As a gift, the present time—right now—is the only moment we have to acknowledge our total dependence on God and give Him thanks for giving us life and keeping us alive. Every second we are alive affords us the opportunity to renew and reinforce our gratitude to God; every second we're alive grants us the chance to receive His mercy and grow in holiness; every second we're alive Christ dares us to set this world on fire with his Good News. We can interpret the present time b/c for us (as followers of Christ) the past, present, and future all come together in one explosive moment of all-consuming grace: the doors of heaven are slammed open, and we are set on fire by the glory of God's love for us. One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all. What would Jesus do? He would die so that we all might live. 

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  1. Right on! Really liked all the "every second we are alive...." phrases.

    Frustration/impatience - why can't they see? how can they not see? how can they think THAT is more important?....

    This "fired" me up, but as usual, left me with lots of questions. Well, maybe just a couple of big ones. Keep it up - and one day I'll find the answers (OK, I already have the answers, but just can't grasp them yet). :-). Thank you!!

    1. As always, Shelly, I appreciate your feedback! Keep it comin'. . .