May I never boast except in the cross

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 7, 2019

St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS

Isaiah 66:10-14c; Psalm 66:1-7, 16, 20; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

There is a question that we can easily ask God when we are in difficult situations. And the question is: God, why can’t things just be how I want them to be? Why can’t life go how I plan? Throughout our life, we have a plan, we have a goal, we have our passions and interests, we have people and relationships and experiences that we do not want to lose. But things don’t always go as planned, as we hoped. We can feel alone, in the dark. It can get so dark we almost wish it was never light. And yet, at at the same time, I think we have all had those moments where, all of a sudden, it hits us, and we get it; everything becomes clear. We have been in the dark, but all of a sudden a light shines in the darkness (c.f., John 1:5). We realize that the Lord had a plan, that the Lord was truly at work, and that the Lord had not stopped being faithful for one moment. And yet, time and again, we seem to be so surprised that he is so faithful to us.

The death of our brother Sergio Escalera, a beloved husband, father, musician—a man of deep faith—Sergio’s death leaves us in a situation like this. He was the best of us. And when you really start to think, you begin to ask questions like, “Why does God take the best? Why would God allow this to happen?” We would have planned things differently. If we were in charge, Sergio would be here with us. And so it comes back to that simple question, “God, why can’t things just be how I want them to be? Why can’t life go how I plan?” And it is this question we need to be aware of! Because as Christians, as followers of Christ, as disciples of Christ, as little-Christs—this is fundamental.

In the waters of baptism, we die with Christ and are reborn to new life, to a life in the Spirit, to a life in the Body of Christ. And like Christ, we are given a mission. And that mission involves a life of the unexpected, the unforeseeable. It involves a life of utter dependence and reliance on the Spirit, a life of deep and abiding faith. With that dependence and reliance on the Spirit, with that faith—the power of God, the power of the Kingdom of God shines forth. Without it, without this dependence and reliance on the Spirit, without this faith, when we rely only on ourselves and what we think and what our plans and expectations are—everything collapses.

In our Gospel, Jesus sends out seventy-two disciples. And very importantly, he gives them that important instruction: “Carry no money bag, not sack, no sandals.” In other words, he tells them, “Rely on nothing but the Lord’s providence. Rely on nothing other than the fact that the Lord will be faithful to you as you carry out the mission for which you are sent.” And they return rejoicing! And in a manner of complete astonishment, in almost complete surprise, they begin sharing all that happened! It’s as if they are completely surprised that the Lord was faithful to his promises. By complete dependence and reliance, not on themselves, but on the Spirit, they are able to manifest the Kingdom of God, the power of the Kingdom. The wise man would have packed a money bag, taken a sack with clothing, and an extra pair of sandals. But to those with the faith and dependence of children, through them the power of God is manifested.

This is the way of the Kingdom, this is the way of the Lord. It’s upside-down, it’s not how we would plan things, it’s not how things are supposed to be. And that is precisely how the power of the Lord is manifested: the Lord’s power is revealed in an upside-down way. It’s exactly the upside-down logic that we hear from Paul in our second reading: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Boasting in the cross. Again, we can hear that and think nothing of it! We hear it so often, we see images of the cross everywhere, and we forget—boasting in the cross is as upside-down as it gets. That’s nothing to boast about.

But that’s precisely it. When the disciples saw the Lord being led to his death, when they saw him die on the cross, when they laid him in the tomb—do you think they rejoiced? Do you think they were saying, “We won!” No. This threw them into confusion. Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah, he was supposed to restore the Kingdom. But here he was, dead. In their view, in their thinking, in their plan—everything had been lost.

What they had missed was Jesus’ mission. They had missed that Jesus had embraced all of this in complete and total reliance on one thing and one thing only: the will of the Father. Jesus embraced the cross, the lowest and most humiliating form of death. And by his resurrection, Jesus changed the cross into the sign of hope, the sign of of conquering. It’s upside-down, it didn’t make sense. But that’s the way of the Kingdom of God. When we embrace that dependence and reliance on the Spirit, when we embrace the life of faith—the power of God, the power of the Kingdom of God shines forth. Because it means that even in the most unexpected and darkest of times, “the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants” (Is. 66:14). Sure, we would often plan things differently. But our mission is not to plan the situations, but to rely on the Spirit and his gentle providence.

With the death of Sergio, with any event in our life that leaves us asking, “God, why can’t things just be how I want them to be? Why can’t life go how I plan?”—we want a simple answer that will solve everything; we want to know the plan. But the power of the Kingdom, the power of God is manifested by that simple reliance and dependence on the Spirit. In unexpected and unforeseeable ways. It is this kind of reliance that will one day lead us back to the Lord rejoicing., just like the seventy-two disciples. Yes, like Paul tells us, it will involve suffering and sacrifice and accepting that life is not everything I decide it to be—it will involve the cross, someone leading us where we do not always want to go. But it is in the cross that we boast. It is in the cross we place our hope. It is power of the cross that we receive from this altar today. It is from this altar that we celebrate that even in the most desperate of circumstances, the Lord remains faithful to us, he remains near to us, no matter what.

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