This morning's commentary is an abbreviated version of the homily for Sunday.
Most of the gospels in the 29 weeks from Pentecost onward have come from Luke’s account of the life of Jesus. Luke paints a Jesus who was dynamic, wise, powerful, compassionate and deeply spiritual, with broad social appeal.
In these gospels we heard parables of the good Samaritan… a feared foreigner, who was truly the neighbour, and: of the tax collector beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” who went home justified. In the beatitudes Jesus called the poor, hungry and sad “blessed”. We see Jesus as tender and compassionate toward the hungry, crazy, diseased people and those who had no rights.
A personal favorite parable is the one we call the Prodigal Son …which would be more appropriately named the Forgiving Father. This Father loved his son, despite the insults, the financial costs and the son’s rejection of him because the Father loved the good at the heart of the person.
In these 29 weeks the gospels have shown that Jesus approached his disciples, sinners, tax collectors addressing the inextinguishable goodness that existed in the heart of each person
In the spirit of the past 29 weeks of Pentecost, Jesus is to be our model. The Holy Spirit who came to us at Pentecost doesn’t just teach us about what it is to live in the Kingdom of God. She came to cast sparks so that we would catch flame to warm and enlighten the world with the gospel.
In a sense, the Holy Spirit asks each of us at the end of the Pentecost season, “What did you learn?”, “How do you act differently in response to what I have been telling you about Jesus?” She wants to know if we have caught fire.
Michael Barret and I co-facilitate retreats for people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction using the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. During this time after Pentecost I co-facilitated two retreats one in May and another in September.
The guys come on these retreats with mixed motives. Some are apprehensive about ‘God-talk’. Some come out of curiosity or because they have heard that the food is fantastic. Some come because they want to turn their lives around and they hope that this will facilitate the process.
Many of those recovering from addiction also have criminal records. At first glance, the tattoos, missing teeth, shaved heads and loud laughter makes this seem like an unlikely group for spiritual reform. But we follow Jesus’ lead and assume that there is a deeper longing no matter how it is disguised.
Luke’s gospel in these months tells us that poor, sick, crazy people came to Jesus with mixed motives too. Some wanted to be cured. Some wanted to be entertained by seeing Jesus work a miraculous cure. Some were hungry and wanted to be fed. Some were sad and wanted consolation. Jesus called them all blessed in Luke’s gospel that we heard three weeks ago
And Jesus cared for those who came to him, regardless of why, because he saw in their yearning a more fundamental need for engagement with him. The gospels show us over and over that Jesus addressed the God-given goodness at the core of each person, despite distorted attachments or how society viewed them or no matter how ashamed they felt about their lives.
Following Jesus’ lead, we assume that each person was made in the image of God and that the light that God implanted in the person, cannot be extinguished. And, despite their motives for coming, the retreatants were touchingly open.... about their joy at seeing their children, sometimes for the first time, after months in prison: their gratitude for parents or partners who supported them in their journey to become clean and sober, and: their remorse for the pain they had caused others.
We begin with a true story about a violent thug who demonstrated startling generosity towards a young woman and her child, to describe what is possible.
Not by our eloquence but by following the gospels’ example of Jesus and by the grace of God we have witnessed remarkable transformations in these unlikely people over the past six years.
Three years ago a heroin addict, with a long criminal record for running drugs and gun violence came to a retreat. He knew that if he didn’t change his life he was going to die …or be killed. He was wired and a bit scary.
Yet we approached him as one of God’s prodigal children, seeing the spark of light that God put at the centre of his being and that could not be snuffed out.
It was like watching someone get struck by lightning… in a good way. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus was no less dramatic.
He has been working as a chef for the past two years at the Jesuit retreat Centre, Villa St. Martin, on the north shore of the island of Montreal and he co-facilitated the retreat in September of this year. His personal story inspires others.
The gospels of these past 29 weeks show Jesus’ love for the inextinguishable goodness at the core of every person, no matter what they have done or how often they have failed.
In the past 29 weeks I have become more deeply aware of how Jesus saw each person as created in God’s image with a hunger…sometimes distorted…for good, that echoes the words Augustine in his Confessions, “Our hearts were made for you Oh God and they will not rest till they rest in you.”
The retreatants delight in the realization that they can be forgiven, that they can start afresh and flourish and many of them come away from the retreat energized to start following the gospel and letting their goodness flourish.
While this has been my testimonial of the gospel’s influence, God calls each of us to live out the gospel in our own situations. If you do not see some growth in your living of the gospel in the past 29 weeks then ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you, and make you catch fire so that you can live the gospel for yourself and others.
This is where we turn to the Feast of the Reign of Christ. This morning’s gospel takes place on Golgotha with an ironically intended sign that read “king of the Jews”. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion two criminals were hanged with Jesus. One said ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
Christ’s kingdom will include happy, grateful former criminals, and probably some joyful recovering addicts and prostitutes.
Christ does not bless us for our success at being holy but for who we are in God’s eyes. For which I thank God.