32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – November 10, 2019
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38
In our collect today, the opening prayer for today, we heard this: “Graciously keep us from all adversity, so that, unhindered in mind and body alike, we may pursue in freedom of heart the things that are yours.” We prayed that God would keep us from adversity, from difficulties, from problems. Why? To keep our bodies and our minds unhindered. Why? So that we can freely pursue everything that is God—so we can pursue all that is true, and good, and beautiful, and just—everything that we long for, everything that will give us the satisfaction and happiness we seek.
That is an incredibly important prayer! But what does it really mean? If we prayed that prayer, and all of you just said, “Amen,” to that prayer, what does it mean? Really, you just prayed that God would give you teachings, give you laws, give you guidance, take care of you, recreate you—so that everything that gets in the way, everything that causes problems, all that hinders and weighs down our minds and our bodies, everything that holds us back in our lives—we prayed that God would give us a way past that adversity, so that unhindered in mind and body, we could finally have the freedom to pursue what will truly make us happy, truly give us fulfillment.
Do you see how counterintuitive that is? Usually the way we live is trying to get rid of the need for guidance, for authority, for rules. Think about it! As you’re growing-up, one thing you constantly think about is the day that you can do what you want, the day your parents can’t tell you what to do anymore. We live our lives constantly trying to get rid of the need for anyone else.
I was talking to a person once about the faith, about God. And they just didn’t believe any of it. And finally he asked me, “Don’t you realize that man has been to the moon?” (Waters, The Human Person: A State of Emergency) In other words, he was cleverly trying to say, “Why do you believe this? Why do you believe in God? With all that we’ve discovered, all the progress we have made, why do you need this? Don’t you realize that man has been to the moon? Don’t you realize that we don’t need God?”
In all the advances we have made in technology and science and everything, we have slowly eliminated our need to think that we need anyone else—and certainly we don’t need God. For example, did you know that people used to get directions from the stars? You had to look at the stars to figure out where to go. But now, we don’t even need the stars! We have GPS on our phone. Or did you know that to eat you used to have to grow you own food? Weird, I know. Milk your own cow, grow your own vegetables. But now: Grubhub, order on your phone, shows up at your door. “Don’t you realize man has been to the moon?” We have the freedom to do what we want.
With that in mind, go back to our first reading. This is a story from the book of Maccabees about seven brothers and their mom who are arrested and tortured, all because they wouldn’t eat pork (because Jews are not allowed to eat pork, that’s part of the Jewish Law). It’s easy to miss, but that’s what’s going on. There is a lot cut out of our reading, because it gets a little gross. But here’s the story: “the king…gave orders to have pans and caldrons heated.…and he gave the order to cut out the tongue of [one brother], to scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of his brothers and his mother [watched]. When he was completely maimed but still breathing, the king ordered them to carry him to the fire and fry him” (2 Maccabees 7:3-5). Again, why is he willing to suffer all of this? Why are all seven brothers going to suffer and die? For the Law. They say, “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.…It is for [the King of the world’s] laws that we are dying.”
How many of your would be willing to suffer and die because of the rules your parents gave you? Someone says, “You have to break your curfew or I will torture and kill you.” What are you going to do? You’re going to break that curfew! No doubt! What you think about “the law” as oppressive rules, parents’ rules, curfew, restrictions, “you can’t do that”—when you think about it like that, of course you’re not going to die for that.
Think of it a different way. What if your mom told you, “There is a big storm coming in about 10:00pm, so I want you home by 9:30.” But you were at a quinceañera, you just wanted to hang out with your friends, and everyone else’s parents said that they could stay at the party—how would you feel? All of your friends get to stay, but you have to be home by 9:30. Well, you’re probably going to think that this law, this rule, this curfew from your mom is taking your freedom away.
That’s what I mean! We usually think about law as a threat to our freedom! Having someone in authority over you is a threat to your freedom! And God’s laws? Those must be the ultimate restrictions on my freedom! And so we start to tell ourselves, “Don’t you realize man has been to the moon?” In other words, “We have the freedom to do what we want.”
But that’s not “the law.” Those seven brothers were not about to go through that torture, getting their hands and feet cut off, getting fried alive, because of some oppressive laws. The Law, God’s law—again go back to the opening prayer—God’s law is something that is meant to help “keep us from all adversity, to keep us unhindered in mind and body alike.” We have a bad experience with laws and rules—but that’s because we usually focus on the one’s we don’t like.
But there are a lot of laws you follow and that you love and that give you a ton of freedom! For example, let’s say you really stink at doing make-up, and you want to learn how to do your make-up. What do you do? Just start smearing it on? No! You get on Youtube and watch tutorials for hours, you get on Instagram and look at pictures and watch tutorials, for hours! What are you doing?? You are submitting yourself to an authority! You are submitting yourself to the laws of doing makeup! And what happens? Your freedom to do makeup is ignited! The rules give you freedom, they make you happy because your makeup looks good!
Or, for example, let’s say you want to play soccer. Do you just run all over the field and kick the ball? No. You submit yourself to the rules of the game, you train, you practice, you let coaches yell at you, you don’t eat certain foods because you have to stay in shape. What are you doing?? You are submitting yourself to an authority! You are submitting yourself to the laws of soccer! And what happens? Your freedom to play soccer is ignited! The rules give you freedom, they make you happy because you keep getting better at soccer!
Or let’s say you finally got a car, and now you’re free to drive yourself around! Finally! But with your car, you can put gasoline in the gas tank or you can put Kool Aid in the gas tank. You are free to do either one! The oppressive and restrictive rules say, “No! Only gas.” Screw ‘em. Do what you want! “Don’t you realize man has been to the moon?” But no! The law of putting gas in your tank isn’t meant to control you; it’s meant to free you to drive the car, to allow your car to flourish. You race? You put the best gas in your car!
As I was growing-up, I learned to play the cello. And when I was learning to play the cello, I had to submit myself to an authority, to my teacher. And Quinn was not some tyrant, thrilled with the ability to control and dominate. I was not enslaved and suppressed by her authority. Rather, as an authority, as a “law giver,” Quinn didn’t suppress my freedom but ignited it! Although I was constantly frustrated at my inability to exercise my freedom, although I felt shackled—Quinn was a sustained presence of authority, a lawgiver. I wanted to be free to play. I became more free in playing the cello by adhering to her teaching.
Do you see the point I’m trying to make? Yes, laws can be used to control us, to try to dominate us. But law can also ignite and enflame our freedom to do things we never thought imaginable! You have a desire to do makeup? Follow the laws and listen to teachers and you’ll get there. Want to play soccer? Submit yourself to a coach and a training program. Want to use a car? Better put gas in it and change the oil. Want to play cello? You have to listen to a teacher, practice every day, and follow the rules. And what happens? You become free to do all of those things!
BUT, “Don’t you realize man has been to the moon?” We have the freedom to do what we want.
“Have you been to the moon?” Do you find the freedom you seek? Are you fulfilled? Are you happy? “What difference does it make to your life that another man has been to the moon? Are your hearts’ questions answered by this knowledge?” What if your parents were to “unshackle” you? You could do whatever you want. But what if that meant you had to do everything yourself? House, car, food, water, electricity, etc. Would you be more or less free?
Those brothers were willing to be tortured and die for God’s law, because those laws are what kept them in relationship with Him. Those laws guaranteed that they would be free. The laws, our relationship with God—all of this keeps us from all adversity, unhindered in mind and body so that we can pursue in freedom of heart, unburdened and not weighed down by so much stuff we don’t need—so we can gain the promises of God.
And what does God promise? The Resurrection—he promises that even death cannot keep us from him giving us life, giving us the fulness of life.