Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C 2019
“No worries” is our Australian response to “Thank you”. But for a migrant coming to Australia for the first time, “No worries” can make the person worry. I found myself in this situation on my first arrival in Australia. It wasn’t funny! I have a dog phobia. Guess what! “A sniffer dog welcomed at the Airport”. That wasn’t all, everybody I said, “Thank you” to responded, “No worries”. At first, I didn’t worry, but when the fourth person said No worries, I became worried.
We can take many things out of my story. First, we can draw the link between “Thank you” and “No worries”. In other words, where there is gratitude there are no worries. Second, we can as well ask the question, why did I suddenly become worried? No doubt, your answer is as good as mine. “I shifted from savouring the surprise of the new environment to the consciousness of myself and then started interpreting my new experiences in terms of how they affected me”.
This latter lesson was what Christ prevented the 72 disciples in the Gospel from Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20 from experiencing, when He gave them the command, “Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road”. That is, they shouldn’t make themselves the centre of attention. The mission is not about them. It is about the Kingdom. It is about the surprises of the in-breaking of the Kingdom: the healing, redemptive and transformative Presence of God.
For when we become too conscious of our own presence; how we look, what we need, what people are thinking about us or saying behind our backs, we tend to lose sight of the presence of the other. Worse, we may even forget we are creature and make ourselves our own creator. Thus, we stand in the way of the Kingdom. We stop announcing “The Kingdom of God is very near to you”, and we begin to announce our own kingdom corrupted and depleted by self-love.
About “self-love”, this is what Patrick McCarty, the author of Jacques Derrida: Introduction to Deconstruction said, “The phrase that gets tossed around is ‘self-love’ run amok. But the narcissist seems more other-nihilating than in love with himself. It is true, he tends to be self-justifying to an extreme… I prefer the word nihilating… because he is so deeply negating, in particular of the reality of other people in their own immediacy, their needs and their desires”.
Self-love, narcissism none of them foster the spread of the Kingdom. None of them make it possible for us to be men and woman of peace. Perhaps, we lack peace because of self-love. We are still at the stage when we feel it is all about us. We have not grown spiritually to say like St. Paul in the Second Reading from Galatians 6:14-18, “The only thing I can boast about is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world”.
Now, when we look at the cross, we see open arms reaching out to the other, not folded arms holding back and protecting oneself. When we look at the cross, we see open eyes, searching other hearts and inviting all to come and be healed, not closed eyes showing indifference to and turning the other off. When we look at the cross, we see selfless love being spelled and defined: willing the good of the other, not self-love that nihilates the other. Boast of the cross!
Again, boast of the cross. Boast of its power to free us from self-love. Boast of its power to draw us into the life of Christ, the Prince of Peace. Boast of its power to make us an altogether new creation. Boast of its power to enable us to sing with the Psalmist Psalm 65, “Cry out with joy to God all the earth, O sing to the glory of His Name. O render Him glorious praise. Say to God: ‘How tremendous Your deeds! Before You all the earth shall bow; shall sing to You.”
The cross is so powerful that it gives us a complete sense of the other without destroying our individuality. It enriches our individuality as it draws us all in, pointing us forward to the Kingdom. So, the cross doesn’t stand in the way of the Kingdom rather it leads us to the Kingdom. It is in fact the Kingdom of God when we look at the cross with the lens of John’s Gospel. On it, Christ our King reigns. And with the cross we overcome the powers of the world.
We can see why the only thing St. Paul could boast about was the cross. Paul’s sense of boasting is synonymous with thanksgiving. This takes us back to the first lesson of my story, the link between “Thank you” and “No worries”. Fr. Nicholas Obi, my seminary formator once said, “Show me a grateful heart and I will show you a worry-free heart”. It is not that thankful hearts don’t have things that worry them, but gratitude opens their eyes to see God in those things.
And when they see God in the things that could worry them, they realise they have no need to worry at all. Why? God is bigger than those things. With Him on their side, who can be against them? What situation can take away their peace? Or as God Himself asked Abraham in Genesis 18: 9-15, “Is there anything too difficult for the Lord?” No! Therefore “No worries”. And where there are no worries, rejoicing is effortless. This is what the First reading is on about.
“Rejoice, Jerusalem, be glad for her, all you who love her! Rejoice, rejoice for her, all you who mourned her! That you may be suckled, filled, from her consoling breast, that you may savour with delight her glorious breasts. For thus says the Lord: Now towards her I send flowing peace, like a river, and like a stream in spate the glory of the nations…” (Isaiah 66:10-14). We can also rejoice, and like the 72 come back to the Lord each day rejoicing when we let go of self-love.
Fr. Francis Afu