29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – October 16, 2022
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Exodus 17:8-13; Psalm 121:1-8; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8
Think back to Good Friday. Every Good Friday we hear the Gospel of John’s version of the Passion. John recounts one simple thing Jesus says as he is about to hand over his life: “I thirst” (John 19:28). For what? Well sure, for water, something to drink. But as saints and scholars alike have pointed out for the past two thousand years, he was thirsting for something else as well.
What is it that Jesus wants from us? What does God want from us? For those of us that have been on this retreat today, we have taken a deep dive into the great story. The story of creation: how everything in this universe isn’t some by-product of violent, raging gods, not some random accidental collision of atoms, no. This is the result of a good God bringing all of it into existence; who’s greatest treasure is you. And yet, how all of that went so horribly wrong. How through the sin of our first parents, all of us, the entire human race, was sold into captivity to a tyrant against whom we cannot contend. Up and down the ages, we have seen the horrific destruction—in the world, but even personally—when we connive with this Tyrant, fall for his deceptions hook, line and sinker, and also when others connive with him and we get caught up in it or are the target of it. And yet, that in the fullness of time, this good Father sent someone to rescue us.
So how are we supposed to respond? What does he want from me? What does he thirst for? That’s what I want to focus on today: 1) Is there a particular response God wants, from me personally? And 2) Does God have a preferred way of being thanked?
What Is the Response God Wants From Me Personally?
So to the first question, “Is there a particular response God wants?” or, “What is Jesus thirsting for? What is the Son of Man thirsting for?” Well, our Gospel gives a pretty cut and dry response: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith?” (Luke 18:8). Faith. That’s what Jesus, that’s what God wants.
And we have been talking about this for a few weeks! How “faith” is not just random things we sprinkle on top of our real life (going to Mass, praying the rosary, and so on). “Faith” is not a feeling, or blind, or “believing something with no evidence,” that’s not faith.
Faith is … entrusting yourself to a person, freely placing your life into the hands of another because you trust them, handing them control. And we do this all the time! Every time you get on a plane it is an act of faith: you’re entrusting your life to the pilot, the engineers, the manufacturers, the whole system. When you go to the gym and listen to your trainer, you’re entrusting your physical health to them—you will do what they say, eat what they tell you to eat. So many other examples! Point being: this is life! Life operates on faith.
And so what God wants from us, the response Jesus wants from me, and from you, from each one of us—the response is faith: entrusting ourself to him, surrendering our life (the totality of our life, every part of our life) to him. Jesus didn’t say, “When the Son of Man comes will he find you saying prayers, or being a good person, or something,” as important as those are! He said, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith? Will he find people who have entrusted their entire life, the totality of their life, everything and every part of their life to him?”
Faith & Idolatry
Faith has two parts. The first is the one that we like talking about: faith is clinging to Christ, clinging to the one who has rescued us. We love this! We wear crucifixes, we get tattoos, we tell people we believe in God, say a quick prayer when we feel like it. “Jesus? Oh yeah, big fan!” It’s the second part of faith that no one like talking about: releasing the other things we hold on to; we have to let go of, surrender these other things we hold on to. Think of the military example: it’s like you’re surrendering, but you say, “We’re going to keep all of our land and our weapons and still be in charge.” Uhm…that’s not surrendering! Faith, surrender, is clinging to Jesus alone.
The problem is I’m already clinging to some other things. Maybe you are too. If I’m clinging to these things, I can’t cling to him, I can’t surrender to him. In the Biblical story, this is what is referred to as idolatry: we are clinging to idols. “Come on! We’re 21st century Americans! We don’t have idols! We’re not worshiping little statues in our homes. I would never bow down to a golden calf thinking it could give me happiness and freedom.” Really? What is an idol? An idol, as one author puts it, “is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. Anything that is so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. If anything becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity, then it is an idol” (Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods).
Can you think of a few of your idols now? You want to know what they are? Look at your calendar and how you spend your time. Look at your Visa statement, where you spend your money. Check the screen time on your phone. What is it that absorbs your heart and your mind? Anything so central to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. Imagine sports being cancelled—oh, we can. Remember COVID? How did that go? Bringing back sports was one of the most important things during the pandemic because their absence was having such an adverse effect on people’s mental health. Empty nesters: kids move out, and suddenly they don’t know what to do with their life, and watching TV and playing golf becomes their life. Finish the statement: “I can’t imagine my life without _____ .”
This is why faith is always paired with repentance. Repentance in the Greek is a fancy way of saying, “Change your way of thinking. Stop thinking as the world thinks, and see things in a new way.” This is why we begin Mass, every Mass, by calling to mind our sins, by repenting. We recall those places and parts of our life when and where we have not surrendered completely to God. This is the hard part: letting go. Think right now: “Where are my idols?” Because this will be the pitfalls of faith for you, the places where you have not yet totally surrendered to God. Faith is just something sprinkled on top of our “real life” when we are still clinging to our idols.
The Mass: God’s Preferred Way of Being Thanked
So ok! We’re in! The response God wants is faith. But also, it seems like an appropriate response to the God who has rescued me would be to thank him. But how do you thank God? He doesn’t need anything. We literally can’t repay him. So does he have a preferred way of being thanked? And the answer is, “Yes.” But it’s a really surprising answer. So how do we get there?
The biblical story (like any story) is filled with incredibly rich foreshadowings. The Old Testament is filled with these—people, places, and things that foreshadow something in the New Testament. Famously, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”
So in the Old Testament there is something at the very center, at the very heart of the story. And the center is an EVENT. And everything builds up to it, or is looking back at it (and hoping for a new one). The EVENT is a dramatic rescue from slavery. The Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for 430 years. They had no life, no hope. But suddenly God did something. He rescued them from slavery, drew them out of this place of bondage.
And this EVENT has a meal connected with it. And this meal has instructions for it, given by God through a man. And the instructions are very precise. And throughout the rest of the story (and even today, our Jewish brothers and sisters) when they celebrate this meal, they believe that the EVENT becomes present once again. There is a passage in the Psalms which describes this saying, “The Lord has established a MEMORIAL for himself” (Psalm 111:4). And the Greek word used there is Anamnesis. That word doesn’t just mean “remembering,” or “recalling,” but “making present,” it is present here now. This is extraordinary! And the Psalm says that God established this memorial (not them). Why? So that they could constantly recall and relive and partake in this RESCUE. This was their thanksgiving to God.
What about the New Testament? The fulfillment of all of the foreshadowings? The New Testament also has a center: everything is leading up to it, or looking back at it (and anticipating the consummation of it). And this center is also an EVENT. The EVENT is Jesus’ death and resurrection, what is also called the “Paschal Mystery.” This too is a dramatic rescue. But rescue from the slavery from Sin, Death, Satan, and Hell, and everything that goes along with them.
And this EVENT also has a meal connected with it. And God gives the instructions for this meal too. Except, not just through a man, but through the God-Man, Jesus. And in the course of those instructions, Jesus says, “Do this in MEMORY of me.” Want to guess what the Greek word for memory is? Anamnesis. So when this meal is celebrated, the EVENT is not just remembered or recalled, but it is made present. The EVENT, the Paschal Mystery is MADE PRESENT. As the Christian movement begins, this is what they celebrate every first day of the week, every Sunday—this is the MASS … this is extraordinary! It’s not just a MEAL, but in the context of the meal we become contemporary with the EVENT. We relive and partake in this EVENT, this RESCUE. Today, Jesus doesn’t give us a list of ways to rescue ourselves, an example of how to enact our own rescue. He is present; his rescue is still present.
Friends, if we don’t know the story, if we don’t walk in with the right lenses, if “church on Sunday” is just a time to come hear a nice message, and hope the priest has a point and is kinda funny, and it doesn’t last too long—then yes! This is ridiculous! When we look at this through the “lenses” of: “Is it entertaining? Is he funny? Is it fun? Do I like it?”…those are the wrong lenses!
Rather, think about those videos where people meet the person who donated an organ that saved their life. Think about people meeting the fireman that rescued them, the police officer that rescued them. They are in tears! “You saved my life!” That is the attitude we’re meant to carry into the Mass. He is present! The Paschal Mystery is made present! We are contemporaries with the EVENT, with the rescue. “He saved our life!”
The scandalous claim that Christianity, that the Catholic Church makes is that the Creator of the universe, the eternal God died for you, to rescue you, to save you. Why? Why would He do that? Because you matter. You are worth the trouble. And love does such things, because “God is love.”
And what does love want? It wants many things, yeah. But love wants union. This is why a man and woman, when they love each other and they get married it is not enough to say, “I love you” — although they should; it is not enough to buy gifts — although they should; it is not enough to perform acts of service; to spend quality time together; it is not enough to be physically intimate. Love wants union. Total union. Thoughts, actions, time, shared goals, physical intimacy, emotional intimacy. Total union. God, this God who is love, wants union.
And this is the surprising answer to the question: “Does God have a preferred way of being thanked?” Because the answer is, “Yes. He wants to give you something. He wants you to let Him give you himself.” He wants union. Body, blood, soul, and divinity. Union. This is what happens when you come forward and receive the Eucharist: God gives you himself, and we can be in union with him.
This is why Sunday is so important in the Biblical story, and in our lives today. From the beginning, Christians would gather Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. They described it as the “Day they cannot live without.” Why? Because it is liberation day, the day we were given hope. And on that day they would proclaim the scriptures—tell the story. And they wouldn’t just “remember” or “recall” it, but the story would be made present, it would happen NOW. They became contemporaries of the Cross, contemporaries of the Resurrection, the Ascension—and would have a foretaste of the “banquet” that is heaven. They couldn’t live without it. This was their “thanksgiving,” their Eucharist.
And as that gathering would end, as the Mass ends, there is a simple instruction—three little words in Latin: Ite misa est. Which doesn’t mean, “We’re finally done, you can go home now. Chiefs play at 3:25.” It means, “Go, she is sent.” Who is the “she”? The Church, this group of followers founded on the Rock of Peter and guided in this world by his succor the Pope. It’s us—incorporated to Christ by Baptism, sharers in his Mission by Confirmation, made his body through the Eucharist. And if that’s not you and you’d like it to be, join us! We’d love to have you.
“She is sent.” Sent to do what? To announce the gospel of the Lord, to announce the good news, the explosive news, the new story, the new vision, the new FACT at work in the world. And how? “Glorifying the Lord by their lives.” Living this story, this change in vision, this union…each and every day of our life.