Sunday, August 17, 2014

Homily for 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Aug. 10, 2014
Matt 14: 22-33
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

“When it was evening, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.  When it was evening he was there alone” (Matt 14: 23).

What we hear in the gospel today immediately follows last week’s story of how Jesus miraculously fed “the vast crowd” with 5 loaves and 2 fish (Matt 14:13-21).  In St. John’s account of this episode (6:1-15), the people react by wanting to make Jesus their king; they want to overthrow Herod and replace him with Jesus.  And Jesus flees.  Matthew doesn’t voice that concern, the danger of a political revolution.  But perhaps it lies behind Jesus’ sending his disciples away; he doesn’t want them catching any revolutionary fever from the crowd and misunderstanding what his real mission is—they already misunderstand it badly enuf!

In any case, Jesus is alone, and he turns to prayer.  Have you ever noticed, as you read the gospels, that Jesus is the only one who prays?  The best the disciples can do is ask him to teach them to pray—and that’s mentioned only once, by Luke, as coming from one disciple (11:1).  Even when he invites them, pleads with them, to pray with him in Gethsemane, all they can do is fall asleep (Matt 26:36-45).
Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (detail),
Marian Shrine, Haverstraw, N.Y.

Jesus alone prays.  Jesus alone is totally united with the Father.  Jesus alone does God’s will completely during his earthly life.  He speaks truth, does good, is always faithful.  All of that is grounded in the union of his will with God’s will, a union that comes—as regards Jesus’ human nature—from prayer.

If we wish to be faithful disciples of Jesus, people who live the truth and do good, people completely devoted to God—holy Christians, in other words—we must pray.  When that one disciple asked him to teach them to pray, he taught them the Our Father, which is the model for our prayer, whatever words we may use, whatever aspirations may surface in our hearts.

Only prayer unites us with our Father in heaven, as it kept Jesus in his human nature united with the Father thru temptations and trials.  A song from Jesus Christ Superstar poses the possibility that Jesus could’ve abandoned the Father’s will:

Nazareth, your famous Son
Should have stayed a great unknown
Like His father carving wood
He'd have made good.
Tables, chairs and oaken chests
Would have suited Jesus best--
He'd have caused nobody harm, no one alarm!

It’s thru his humanity that Jesus redeems us, and without his human cooperation with the divine will, we wouldn’t have been saved.  Only prayer enables us to discern God’s work in our lives and his will for us, that we might speak and act the way he wants us to—as followers of Jesus.

The gospel passage stresses that Jesus is alone as he prays.  There is another meaning, another implication here, another necessary lesson.  However important community is for us, however important God’s people is in our lives, in our spiritual growth, in supporting us—each one of us is responsible for himself or herself before God.  No one else can take our place in developing and maintaining a virtuous life, a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ and his Father, a life full of love for God and neighbor.  No one else will have to give an account of our lives to the Supreme Judge.  At that tribunal we’ll be alone—with our dearest friend and our Savior if we have personally given ourselves to him and have lived for him as best we can.  Or we’ll be alone and terrified before the Judge if we haven’t been faithful Christians, haven’t kept the Commandments and practiced the Beatitudes (which Pope Francis said last week every Christian should memorize because they’re the path for happiness for every person and are “a portrait of Jesus and his way of life”)[1]; we’ll be alone and terrified before the Judge if we don’t recognize him because we haven’t spoken with him and lived with him.  Only we can commit ourselves to Jesus.  Only we can make the choice to follow him.

If we do walk with Jesus, of course we’ll never be alone, and we’ll never have to fear.  He repeatedly tells his disciples, as he does today, “Don’t be afraid” (14:27)—don’t be afraid because he’s with us.  If we walk with Jesus, we will not sink (cf. 14:30).  If we walk with Jesus, we may dare to call [God] our Father,” as today’s Collect says, and be confident that we do come before the Judge of the World, “we may merit to enter the inheritance [God has] promised” to his sons and daughters (Collect).

                [1] Audience, Aug. 6, 2014.

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