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06/30/19 Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Two of Jesus' closest disciples (James and John) still hadn't understood their leader.

Even as Jesus "resolutely took" the road to Jerusalem, where he would allow himself to be rejected, humiliated, tortured, and executed, they were still eager to defend his lordship by violence and force.  On the one hand, they were right.  Jesus was the Lord, and he deserved the highest respect. Therefore, in rejecting him, the Samaritan village deserved punishment. On the other hand, Christ had repeatedly explained that he was on his way to Jerusalem precisely to accept the people's rejection. That is how he will show us the depths of his love - through his unwavering patience and forgiveness, through not giving his enemies what they truly deserve.

If James and John had destroyed the town, they would have been taking the exact opposite approach.

They would have tangled themselves up in the age-old chains of revenge and vendetta.

But Jesus doesn't let them. He reminds them that his mission is not to condemn sinners, but simply to announce the Good News and live it out. He doesn't destroy his neighbors, even when they are in the wrong. Instead, he loves his neighbor as himself, and gives them another chance.

This is the true freedom of life in the Spirit, as St Paul calls it. Christ is living for the Kingdom of God, not for a kingdom of selfishness. So he is doesn't get enslaved by the thirst for popularitypower, and worldly "success" that so often perpetuates the cycle of violence in our fallen world.

In other words, Jesus taught the Golden Rule in words, but he also lived it out in his actions.

Today, the Church is inviting us to do the same.

The reason behind this is simple.  Since we were created in the image of God, we will only experience the fullness of life - true freedom - if we are living as God lives. And the substance of God's life is love, or self-giving. God is the Father giving himself to the Son from all eternity, the Son giving himself to the Father from all eternity, and the Holy Spirit proceeding from both as the eternal, living gift.

This theological explanation of the Golden Rule coincides with common senseart, and science.

It's common sense to recognize that everyone will be better off if each person thinks about the welfare of those around them as well as their own.

In great art and literature, the struggle against the chains of evil is always depicted as the struggle for the triumph of freedom and love.  Think about Charles Dickens's unforgettable character, Ebenezer Scrooge. Until he began to love his neighbors as himself, he was imprisoned in darkness and misery. Living the Golden Rule set him free.

Science teaches the same thing. A few years ago (1982) a psychological study on the Golden Rule was conducted by Bernard Rimland, Director of the Institute for Child Behavior Research. Each person was asked to list the ten people they knew best and to label them as happy or not happy. Then they went through the list again and labeled each one as selfish or unselfish, using the following definition of selfishness: "a stable tendency to devote one's time and resources to one's own interests and welfare - an unwillingness to inconvenience one's self for others." Rimland found that all of the people labeled happy were also labeled unselfish. He concluded: "[Those] whose activities are devoted to bringing themselves happiness... are far less likely to be happy than those whose efforts are devoted to making others happy."

Have we learned to live the Golden Rule?  Do we love our neighbors as ourselves?

To some extent, all of us do, otherwise we wouldn't be here today. 

But can we live it better?  Can we follow Christ's example better? James and John had room for improvement. Even after living with Jesus for almost three years, they still fell into their temper tantrums.

Most of us don't have a strong enough faith to try and call down fire and brimstone on people who mistreat us or rub us the wrong way, as James and John were tempted to do.

Instead, we arrange more subtle campaigns of destruction.

We tear other people down in our minds, focusing our attention on their faults and their flaws.

Is that how Jesus thinks of those people?

We also have a strong tendency to tear others down with our words.  Both people we know, and also public figures we don't know. We criticize them uselessly and destructively, out of anger, frustration, and self-righteousness (just like James and John), destroy their image in other people's minds.

Is that loving our neighbor as ourselves? 

Maybe they truly did wrong and deserve punishment - just like the citizens of the Samaritan village.  But our task in this life is not to destroy our neighbors, either in thought, word, or deed. It is to follow our Lord's example and try to build them up, giving them as many chances as they need.

That's what Jesus does with us, and that's what he wants us to do with others.  He knows it's hard. That's why he is coming again today in Holy Communion to be our strength. When he does, let's promise that we'll do our best to put that strength to work.

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