Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 5 February 2017 “Put Me in the Game!”


Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time A — 020517 — “Put Me in the Game!”

Click here for today’s biblical texts

A few nights ago in a basketball game the underdog team was losing by 20 points. Yet, it did not give up and, incredibly, found a way to win. How do athletes acquire a desire for victory, motivation to practice, confidence to compete against the odds? Does it depend on raw talent, teamwork, gutsy instincts, inspiring coaches?

Tonight’s Super Bowl game will be full of hype, political advertisements, coaching strategies and a strong desire on the part of both teams to win. It is a metaphorical reminder of the innate drive that all humans have to survive and win no matter what it takes.

Have you ever wondered if Jesus of Nazareth was athletic? We know he walked a lot but did he work out or play any sports? In every film, painting and sculpture he looks fit and trim. And, who motivated him to preach like he did, to compete against the opposition and to dream of human rights? Maybe his mother Mary was his coach. We know she was a no nonsense woman determined to speak her mind in opposing unbridled power and selfish wealth.

In today’s gospel Jesus continues the great sermon on the mount, a pep talk to his team. You are the salt of the earth! The light to the world! Get out there and play hard. Show the opposition that you are the good news that will win out against all odds. The speech was a call for teamwork similar to what we heard in the oracle from Third Isaiah concerning the ethical and religious behavior of the Israelite community. [1] Do not turn your backs on your own! Protect them. Share your food. Shelter the homeless. Your light shall erase the fears of the night.

Jesus looked for the same accountability in his followers. This gospel stresses the conduct of his teammates. He did not challenge them to become the light and the salt. You ARE the light and the salt, he told them. He encouraged them to believe in themselves and that they could succeed in their mission.

Scripture scholar Barbara Reid reminds us “Salt in the ancient world was used for seasoning, preservation, purification and judgment.” Reid also points out that Cicero (Cataline 4.6) described Rome as a “light to the whole world.” Jesus challenged that political boast. It is “not the imperial domination system but [Jesus’] beatitudinal way of life, carried forth by his disciples, that is the light of the world.” [2]

The Falcons and the Patriots tonight are ready, practice is over, the playbook is memorized. All they have to do is compete to the best of their abilities with each player making contributions.

Jesus’ game plan focused on a vision for establishing the kin-dom of God on earth. In each encounter he used a play option to resist attacks by oppressors but he could not do it alone. He needed his teammates to help win the game. Blockers to protect him. Runners and receivers to reach the ultimate goal line.

Professor Karoline Lewis (Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN) wrote that this Gospel asks each of us to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, to speak and act when anyone at all loses her way. The Gospel urges us to not to stand on the sidelines but to move into the fray, into the global arena.

Athletes work hard to succeed in their sport. For Christians, taking action to resist whatever or whomever opposes human rights is the cost of our discipleship. 

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  1. DeBona, Guerric. Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal Year A. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013), 166
  2.  Reid, Barbara. Parables for Preachers: Year A. (Collegevile: Liturgical Press, 2001), 48 and 53

 

 


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Homily – 18 October 2015 – Missions Impossible?


Twenty-ninth Sunday In Ordinary Time – Missions Impossible?

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I wonder what the interfaith leaders at the World Parliament of Religions (Salt Lake City) might have to say about this text. The Parliament, with its thousands of participants from diverse faith traditions, seem to be of one accord in its attempts to resolve problems that affect all of us, for example, women’s rights, income inequality and several others.

I wonder what the bishops at the Synod on the Family (Rome) might have to say about this text. There appears to be much less agreement among the bishops especially regarding same sex marriage and divorce, which are only two of the many topics being considered in Rome.

Created as part of Vatican Two reforms by Pope Paul VI the Synod is mandated to read the signs of the times and find fresh ways to interpret the teachings of the Church. Pope Francis is calling for mercy in every instance. Some bishops, not happy with this more pastoral approach, are looking to strengthen existing doctrines. Can our church apply a one size fits all solution for 1.2 billion Catholics living in diverse cultures?

To resolve the issues being discussed at both gatherings seems to be an impossible mission. Today, World Mission Sunday, offers a small window of opportunity to think about the complexity of the problems around the world. Just to be aware of these situations is a good first step for us even before trying to figure out what to do about them.

The discussion in today’s gospel, between Jesus and two of his earliest missionaries, is provocative. For the third time Jesus was explaining that death awaits him, that the road to glory is not easy, that hard work and endurance are essential. To be a missionary of Christ you have to give something up.

However, the apostles did not comprehend what Jesus was talking about. They were confident that he was the messiah, who would atone for all the sins of the world. Scholars generally agree that the understanding of Jesus as a suffering servant is a reference to the prophecies attributed to Isaiah. Also, the Letter to the Hebrews, which we read today, presents Jesus as a high priest who, like Old Testament priests, would atone for sins. But, Jesus was a layman.

Thinking that Jesus is the savior and that there was nothing left for them to do the disciples negotiated with him about who would have a lofty place in heaven, without doing any heavy lifting. More exasperating they apparently were not at all concerned about the other disciples. [1]

Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, would say “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” Jesus rebuked his disciples who wanted special favors, “can you handle the work load first?” “Can you drink from the same cup I am?”

What does that question mean for us? Pope Francis reminds us: “Those who follow Christ cannot fail to be missionaries.” Maybe we join local coalitions working for justice. Maybe we help agencies who assist poor people. Maybe we take a closer look at our diocesan and parish budgets and our priorities. Maybe each of us chooses to do something, large or small, to make a difference in the lives of others.

Learning to be a 21st century missionary is a hard thing to do especially for those among us who struggle with daily necessities. Popular author, Marylynne Anderson, wrote recently, Christianity is meant to be hard. We realize then why these familiar biblical challenges, the Words of God, are important to our faith tradition. No mission on earth is impossible when we work together for the common good.

Pope Paul VI wrote, “The grace of renewal cannot grow in communities unless each of these [communities] extends the range of its charity to the ends of the earth, and devotes the same care to those afar off as it does to those who are its own members.”

Watching those televised images of refugee families fleeing their countries in search of new life is overwhelming. I think of the small children in my family and how blessed we are to live in a country that is free and full of opportunity.

I do not know what I can do to ease all the pain that exists abroad. I am more aware, however, that large numbers of God’s creatures are vulnerable and poor while only a few humans have way too much power and wealth. I am grateful for the leaders and missionaries of all faiths doing what they can do to help people in a merciful way. I am thankful for this chance to think about my responsibilities as well.

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1. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2008) 166 ff.