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Homily - Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time C - Bishop McKeown


Last week we listened to be beginning of Luke's version of the Sermon on the Mount. There Jesus talked about the poor being blessed. Today we hear Jesus dealing with thechallenging subjects of compassion and forgiveness. What might that say to us today?

Firstly, we live in an argumentative age. There is much confrontation and condemnation of others. In some quarters, anger is seen as a virtue. Jesus probably knew that in his own time as well. When he spoke of loving your enemies, many of his listeners had no problem identifying some enemies whom they were happy to despise. For many Jews, it was the Romans and the tax collectors. For some in authority, it was the lazy and the cheats. For the religious leaders, it was those who failed to keep all the Laws. Some things change little.

Condemnation can give a great sense of superiority. Many seem to enjoy dismissing other because of their deeds or actions. Loving your enemies, on the other hand, will often entail taking a risk. And Jesus is personally prepared to take that risk. He touches lepers and dines with Romans. He goes to the house of tax collectors and sinners. For him that means condemnation and rejection by many. Indeed, his whole life and ministry meant that he took on himself the sin of the world so that hurt might not permanently drive us towards revenge for the pain that we have suffered. He did not just talk an impossible ideal about loving those who have hurt us. He forgave his killers on the Cross, for they did not know that they were doing. This concrete teaching and example of Jesus speak into our culture where we have known much conflict. He tells us that we have the capacity to rise above pettiness, the desire for revenge or sectarianism. We cannot choose what might happens to us. But we can choose how to react. We see that in the first reading, where David is tempted to take revenge on King Saul. And Jesus speaks into our culture where some think that the best way to run a society is to inspire fear, bring in more laws or build more prisons. Jesus is always relevant to modern temptations. The more accurate he is, the more liable we are to dismiss him as irrelevant. Uncomfortable truths have a way of getting below the skin of those who want to find security in certainty rather than in generosity.

When it comes to renewal in the Church, that will not be found merely in angry condemnation of sinners. It has always come through generous people who go beyond the temptation to expect little from ourselves.

by Bishop Donal McKeown
Secondly, Jesus is not talking about imposing a burdensome obligation on his followers. He saw enough of that in the cold teaching of the pharisees. In everything that we do, he focuses on the best that we can be. In a culture that exalts the banal and the bizarre and taking the easy way out of situations, he calls us to greatness. Saints are those who have taken this divine call seriously. Often, they were laughed at for not being sensible for the temptation to be selfish is strong. But Jesus teaches that there is no happiness to be found in expecting little from ourselves and from others.

When it comes to renewal in the Church, that will not be found merely in angry condemnation of sinners. It has always come through generous people who go beyond the temptation to expect little from ourselves. It comes, not from those who demand more from others but from those who expect great things from themselves. As with Jesus, it is their example and not merely their words that open up new horizons for human greatness. It is those are unreasonably generous to others who really open up glimpses of heaven. Jesus is calling us in every generation to great love which overcomes all fear.

Thirdly, Jesus is not just calling us to human greatness on an individual level. When he talks of 'a full measure pressed down, shaken together and running over" he presents an image of an abundant crop of grain. Our world is crippled by shortages of food for many, because economic policies promote selfishness and meanness. We hoard and waste so much. The passage tells us that a culture of love will bring about a world of abundance. He speaks to those who want to find false security in hoarding. He urges us to find joy in sharing. There is no love and no community without generosity of spirit. Jesus shows us at the multiplication of the loaves and fishes that grace can do great things with little. A spirit of generosity brings out the best in people and leads to abundance for all. We don't have to be slaves to the market's laws of childish competition and hoarding born of fear.

We gather each weekend, not to satisfy a law but to be fed. In the week that lies ahead, can we reflect on what Jesus teaches?

Can we pray about our hurts that can often lead to anger and a desire to get our own back on someone? Can we be aware the urges to be divisive or to condemn? Can we ask forgiveness for the time that we have been vindictive rather than compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate? These temptations need to be brought before the Lord for healing.

Then, can we think of the people who have inspired us through their generosity, despite adversity? It may be saintly figures that we have read about or individuals in our lives whose example has touched us. It is in forgiveness and not in condemnation that we have seen the grace of God at work.

Then, can we be mad enough to imagine a way of living that gives priority to sharing and to using resources carefully?

Jesus was not merely talking to poor people suffering from Roman oppression. He speaks to people in every generation who are oppressed by anger. He invites us to stop being our own worst enemies. In his own day, many chose not to follow him. We, too, have to make up our minds whether we want to take him seriously.

+ Donal McKeown

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