Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary time, Year C 2019
In his famous poem, Invictus, William Ernest Henley, captures the spirit of postmodernity. He speaks of a self-determined and self-sufficient man who has no centre except himself. A man who has made himself in his own image and likeness. A man whose soul and will are unconquerable, whose head is bloody but unbowed to any power except himself. A man who can stand tall and loudly announced, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”
This announcement mimics the rebelliousness of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. It expresses the deep-seated tendency of humanity to disobey the Creator and live independently of Him. It tells the story of the Israelites in their sojourn through the Wilderness. It also reflects in a way the behaviour of the younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son; who wishing his father dead, took his inheritance and left home to a distant place far from his father (Luke 15).
But Christ, the New Man never left home. He is always with the Father. Even when He was on earth, he lived His life journeying homeward, Jerusalem, the biblical image of Heaven. In Luke 9:51, “He resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Why? To do the will of the Father who sent Him, to return home. All through the Scriptures, Jerusalem was His mission. He is to bring back to His Father’s house all His brothers and sisters who have grown old in disobedience to God.
Disobedience, evil and sin make us grow old. We age as we distance ourselves from God, Our Father. We become senile as we reject God’s Way and choose our own paths. We begin to suffer from a kind of spiritual Alzheimer‘s as we walk our own paths of atheistic and secular disillusions. There is no gainsaying the fact that many of us by rejecting God have rejected themselves. Sad, but it is the crippling effect of the godlessness of society and man’s arrogance.
Despite all this, Christ still came to us, not as a judge handing us a sentence of condemnation, but as brother offering us the New Way to the Father’s house. He came to wash off the mud of rebellion that has distorted our vision; hindering us from seeing the beauty of our relationship with Father. He came, “Not to do His own will but to do the will of the Father who sent Him.” He fulfilled this will by praying always and through prayer He aligned His will with His Father’s.
Speaking of the consistency and persistence of Jesus’ prayer life, Dom Henry Wansbrough OSB has this to say, “Luke is the evangelist of prayer. Again, and again he shows us Jesus praying. At all the important moments of His life He needs this intimacy with His Father. So, He is praying at the baptism; before the choice of the disciples He prays through the night; at the Transfiguration He is praying….” Prayer was for Jesus what water is for fish.
Jesus’ manner of prayer was a powerful witness to the reality of an intimate relationship with the Father. His disciples were not only drawn in by it, but they were also inspired to want what He has with His Father. Besides, they must have heard that John had taught his own disciples how to pray, to intimately relate with the Father. So, they came to Jesus as we heard in the Gospel reading from Luke 11:1-13, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
But there is something more about Jesus’ disciples request. Ferdinando Armellini, the author of Celebrating the Word puts it like this, “Being a disciple, that is one who, through baptism, has become a part of the Body of Christ, the disciple prays like Jesus, the Head of the Body”. For “Baptism”, according to Kimberly Belcher, “requires a death to self… a death to all false identities that stand outside the existence of God”. And it births a new relationship with God.
It is this death that St. Paul captures in the Second Reading from Colossians 2;12-14, “You have been buried with Christ, when you were baptised; and by baptism, too, you have been raised up with Him through your belief in the power of God who raised Him from the dead”. Thus, “We emerge with Christ from the tomb, sharing His life, co-heir with Him and calling God Our Father”. “From then on, whenever we call God Father, we invoke the God of Exodus”.
We invoke the Liberating God. According to N. T. Wright, “We call on the God whose Kingdom was coming, bringing bread for the hungry, forgiveness for sinners, and deliverance from the powers of darkness”. So, the recognition of the Fatherhood of God comes with the realization of His Kingdom on earth and at the same time it points us forward to the Kingdom yet to come. Note, the Kingdom of God isn’t an abstract thing out there, it is Jesus Christ Himself. It is God coming to us His children; giving us Himself and leading us all home.
This understanding of the Fatherhood and Kingdom of God challenges the postmodern man (me and you). It calls us to account for our actions and inactions, to look beyond ourselves and consider deeply the place of God in our lives. That is, we are to hallow the name of God, we are to honour Him. We are to do what He asks of us. We are to give up our false identities, give up being the centre and become His children again, gathering always around Him in worship.
It is in this gathering that we become young again and develop the boldness, the kind we heard in the First reading from Genesis 18:20-32. Abraham bargained with God because he came to God as a son, one who has allowed himself to be fathered by God. It is also in this gathering that we accept the forgiveness of God and learn how to forgive others. It is in this gathering that we are delivered from all evil, because whenever we are with God, evil has no authority.
Fr. Francis Afu