7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – February 19, 2023
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-19; Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
Introduction to THE STORY
Today we mark a sort of new beginning on our “Rerouting…” journey. Today we begin The Story. And this isn’t just any story. This is The Story that responds to the human condition, all of those questions we have been discussing the past four weeks. The story responds to the questions of, “Why am I here? Where am I going? How do I get there?” This is what stories do: they orient and guide us. But not all stories are created equal. The story that our culture tells us—and it is telling us a story, giving us a narrative for how to understand our life—the story our culture tells us is killing us, and tearing us apart, and not solving anything. It is pushing us deeper and deeper into the “fog”—and the statistics on that are clear.
But what if there was a different story? What if there was a story we could share that would change everything in our life, and the lives of those around us? And, what if (more than just being a nice story) it was true and resonated with the deepest experiences of your life and mine?
Over the next several weeks, we want to simply propose this story. And the story can, perhaps, be simplified, or “boiled down” to three things: Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. But this sounds really “churchy” to me, and kind of dry. So I like to phrase it as three questions: 1) Why is there something rather than nothing? 2) Why is everything so obviously messed up? And 3) what, if anything, has God done about it? And we can make this even easier, and use three words to sum it up: created, captured, and rescue. We want to propose this story.
The Church has fancy words for everything. And the Church’s fancy word for this story is called the “gospel.” Not the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But the “gospel.” Gospel is a word that means “good news.” But not just good news, like, “Good news: Chiefs won the Super Bowl.” No. “Gospel” is a specific genre of story that the early Christian community used because a “gospel” is life-changing, world-changing news. St. Paul, in his letter to the Christian community in Rome, wrote that the gospel is “power.” And the word he used for “power” is the same word from which we derive the word “dynamite.” In other words, this good news is explosive, amazing, life-changing news! This news, this story has the power to change your life. WHY? Because it is a story that not only promises nice things, but delivers on its promise. And that’s why we’re proposing this story: we don’t just want you to learn more facts, but to encounter God in and through His Word; and by encountering Him, be changed by Him; and to experience personally His call that we heard in our first week, “Come, follow me.”
So today as we begin this story we want to answer three questions: 1) What am I reading when I open the Bible, especially Genesis? 2) Why is there something rather than nothing? And 3) What is God’s original plan for humanity, for me?
What am I reading when I open the Bible?
So what am I reading when I open the Bible, especially Genesis? Back when I was at another parish, I got called into the middle school one day because, and I quote, “The kids are becoming atheists.” Which shocked the teachers, but not me. I’ve seen all the research and the studies. Statistically, middle school is it: the median age people leave the Faith is 13—they check out. And 60% leave because they have a problem with something the Church teaches. And one of the top reasons? Science. Kids get to middle school, they start learning about science and evolution and the Big Bang, and then they hear Bible stories about creation—and they see what seems to be a conflict. So they conclude that science is right, the Bible is wrong, and wait until they get to college and their parents can’t force them to go to Mass anymore, and then they stop. They conclude, “The Bible isn’t true, so why waste my time on being Catholic?”
But what is the Bible? What am I reading? Well, the Bible isn’t a book, it’s a collection of books, all written and gathered over a thousand-year time span. And the books have different genres, and are written by different people in different cultural and historical settings. It contains so many genres: poetry, epic narrative, letters, collections of sayings, legal texts, songs, history, myth, apocalyptic, and more! And do you want to know pretty much the one genre it doesn’t contain and doesn’t claim to contain? Modern empirical science according to the scientific method developed about fifteen-hundred years AFTER the last book in the Bible was written.
So if you’re not familiar with the Bible, and you don’t know what you’re reading, it can be very confusing, very quickly. The Bible communicates truth, but it communicates truth in a variety of different ways. The temptation is to think I can crack open the Bible, read one line, and think, “Ah, got it.” No! We have to first ask questions like, “What genre am I reading?” And, “Who was the intended original audience of this?” And then we can answer, “What is the truth being communicated?” Genesis 1 and 2 are a great example of this. Genesis 1 and 2 are not trying to teach scientific truths. How do I know? Because in two consecutive chapters we have two accounts of creation … and they’re different. The Bible itself is telling you, “Don’t read this literally.” Genesis 1 and 2 don’t teach science, but they do teach truth!
What is the truth they are trying to communicate? What question is the text trying to answer? Well, the truth being communicated is not, “HOW was the world made, what is the material process for how this earth was formed?” No, the question Genesis 1 and 2 are trying to answer is not, “How?” but, “WHY?” “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Genesis 1 isn’t claiming to be a modern scientific textbook, and so we shouldn’t read it that way. (As a side note, do you know who came up with the Big Bang Theory? A Catholic priest from Belgium: Fr. Georges Lemaître.) So this is the point: in Genesis, God isn’t so much interested in revealing to us how God created, as much as why we exist at all, why anything exists: why there is something rather than nothing.
The Absolute Uniqueness of the Creation Stories in Genesis
And you know what? Creation stories are very common in the ancient world. There were a lot of them written around the same time as Genesis. Everyone had their creation story. Why? Because these stories provided the worldview, the lenses through which a culture saw everything. A creation story tells you why people act the way that they do. And you know what? Out of all of them, Genesis is absolutely unique.
All of the other creation stories go something like this. There are many gods, and none of them are any good; they’re violent, and capricious, and waring, and lustful and greedy. At a certain point, through violence or war or strange sexual practice, man is made—just the male, and for one purpose: to be the slave of the gods, so that they could have more time to fight and party and such. Later, the female would be made for one purpose: pleasure and child bearing. And so think: in a world like this, if this is how you see the world, there is no meaning to anything. No meaning to life, or marriage, or family, or sexuality, or work. And in a culture where there is no meaning, where this is how people see the world and understand the world, what’s going to be the prevailing mood? Despair. There is no point to any of it. So what do you do? Maximize pleasure, minimize pain, and try to enjoy life as much as possible. This was the original answer to the question: why is there something rather than nothing? And you know what? This is still the story so many, and even some of us, believe to this day. Sure, we take out all of the part about the gods and stuff—but we just replaced “the gods” with science, and the Big Bang, and evolution, and chance. And what do we see around us? The fruit of believing that story: the prevailing mood is despair—look at the stats. And so people just try to maximize pleasure, minimize pain, and enjoy life as much as possible—because there is no point.
Into this worldview came the absolutely unique revelation that is Genesis 1 and 2. Genesis 1 and 2 are communicating a different story, and it goes something like this. There is only one God, and he is really good. And he creates not through violence and war and sexual deviancy, but effortlessly, through speaking, with no other motivation than love. This is it! Why is there something rather than nothing? Because God loved it into existence. God didn’t need it, but God wanted it.
Why does this matter? I matter. I have meaning/purpose. I am loved.
But Genesis doesn’t stop there. Get a load of this: the highlight of everything he creates—is the human person, male and female. Not anything else in this universe—the stars or the ecosystem, or eagles or puppies, or whatever. No, the human person is the highlight and the crowning gem of everything. We’re told that humanity, male and female—both are made in his image, His divinely appointed representatives on earth. And they’re not made to be slaves; they’re made for friendship, relationship, communion—they are made to share this one God’s own life! And their destiny is to be “divinized”!
This is why there are no unimportant people. I was only 8 at the time, but I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. Watching TV all day. And I went back and was watching YouTube videos of this and came across a video of a news anchor. And while he was on air he was handed a piece of paper. And as he reads it, he gets very somber. And he says, “I’ve just been handed a report: apparently, those flights fly back and forth from Boston to L.A.” And then he looks straight into the camera and says, in all seriousness, “I bet there were some important people on those planes.” Some important people? You mean people like you: people on TV, actors, politicians, athletes. The other people—the moms and dads, the teachers, factory workers—they’re not important. The audacity. There are NO UNIMPORTANT people. THIS is what Genesis communicates! C.S. Lewis wrote that, “If you were to see the person sitting next to you as they will be in heaven, you would be tempted to fall down and worship them.”
This is the answer to the question what is God’s original plan for humanity, why do we exist rather than not exist, why do you exist? Because God loved you into existence. God doesn’t need you; God wants you.
Do you see how everything changes? What is life like when this is how you see the world? When this is how you see everyone and everything and yourself this way? You discover that everything matters! There is a purpose and a meaning for everything. There is a purpose to life, to marriage and family and sexuality, to everything! You matter. You matter to God. You have a purpose to being here, for existing. You are loved.
Which story resonates with your heart?
Again, people very easily throw out the talking point, “I don’t believe in the Bible because of science.” And that’s rubbish. One, because they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. But two, because they are proving the point that the Bible is trying to make: they do believe in a creation story, but not this one. The modern “creation” story being told now is simply a different version of the other stories of creation: we are a comic accident, slaves to the system, destined to die; so enjoy life while you can, get power while you can, don’t let anyone tell you what to do or how to live your life. And the results of believing this story are the same now as they were then: despair, nihilism, selfishness, self-sufficiency, and on and on and on.
But the story that has been proposed to us begins with this simple truth: in this universe, which is 93 billion lightyears across, there is one creature that this God who is love and created out of love—there is one creature he loves the most … and it’s you. Not “y’all.” You.
While our culture is riddled with fear and anxiety and uncertainty and confusion—they they are careening through the fog at a hundred mile per hour—we are given the deeply comforting and healing and emboldening truth. Genesis saying that God is the “creator” isn’t trying to make the claim that we don’t believe in science, or that we are young-earth creationists. The claim, the truth proposed, the vision given—the claim made by Genesis is that the reason all of this exists, why this, you and I exist, is because God, in His love, in His desire to share His life with us, breathed it into being. The truth is that you are loved, you matter, you are chosen. And in this Mass, in this Eucharist, He calls you to share in his divine life.