Out of the Box


Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, December 8, 2013

Luke 13:10-17 (10th Sunday of Luke) 

I am always moved when I hear of or see people who act with the courage and compassion Jesus displays in today’s Gospel reading.  Jesus breaks a religious law or two to heal a old, sick woman, on the Sabbath, in the synagogue. The ruler of the place gets angry. What else is new?  Jesus had to know what he was doing.  Isaac Asimov wrote, "Don’t ever let your sense of morals keep you from doing what’s right." Sometimes donkeys and even sci-fi writers have been known to prophesy.  Jesus never let the law stand in the way of love. 

Morals are governed by laws, but love answers to no authority.  So Jesus heals on the Sabbath because he answers only to his Father. He is love Incarnate and was hated for it. But, as Andre Gide writes, “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.”  The Christian message is that we are like him. The problem is that we don’t yet know it.  When this light dawns in us (and it will) we will be just like him.

For being Light and Compassion Jesus is crucified.  The world, so in need of light and love, it seems, cannot bear it for long.  This is so paradoxical!  It makes no sense, but remember, Jesus was not hated because he was irascible. He did not come to condemn the world. He came to save it.  Have we forgotten the Gospel?  If the people hate us because we are hateful, then we are not following the example of Jesus. Who can blame them?  If we are hated because we love too much, then that’s the right reason!

I think the world is secretly hoping we might one day actually live out what we say we believe.  Gandhi once said that he liked our Jesus very much, but that he wasn’t terribly fond of Christians. Who can blame him?  A true Christian or two might have convinced him.  St. Paul wrote in Romans that the creation moans in travail waiting for the revealing of the children of God.  Not just the great, big impersonal cosmos, but your world and my world.  Even we who should be living it long to see the same thing! We long to see love incarnate in our time, in our homes, in our cities and towns!  Why wait? Why not us?

To do this, to BE this, I’m afraid we must be bold and courageous like Jesus.   Taking the narrow path of love invites the wolves to gather.  “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you,” Jesus said.  We have to be willing to say, “So be it!” and forge on ahead anyway.  It demands a kind of iconoclasm of our selves and of our perceptions; dying to self and thinking outside the box. It is an old box.  Its walls have crumbled like the temple cult and the world will never return to it.  This is not a hindrance for us. It is an opportunity.  “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  How much more outside the box can you get?  We must discover what kind of death we must embrace to spread love to our world.

I have a story to tell you that we heard last Monday night about the crazy kind of iconoclasm I am suggesting, the kind that could turn the world upside down.

A prisoner at the prison we visit every Monday has an aunt he loves very much.  She always supported him.  He is a lifer. A murderer. He found the courage to ask her forgiveness for his crimes and, of course, she gave it.  Hearing about the Pope’s random calling of people around the world he decided he would ask the Holy Father to call her!  Crazy, right?  Going through the Papal Nuncio he faxed the letter to the appropriate person and a few months later, while his aunt was on vacation in Florida, do you know what happened?  The Pope called her!  Yes, he did!  And left a lovely message on her message machine. She carries the machine with her and plays it for people!   I would too!

Papal protocol has taken a back seat to compassion and it is reported that the churches in Italy are filling up once again with people. I want to be like this. Like Christ.  And now this amazing Bishop goes into the streets at night to be with the poor and has ordered the papal almsgiver and his staff with the Swiss Guard out into the streets and train and bus stations as well, wherever the poor are to give them food and money and clothes!  Who could be more inside a box than the Pope?  Not any more, I hope.

The churches in Italy, once empty, are filling up with people. Reach out with love and all of a sudden people respond!  This is not rocket science. It is the Gospel.

Let me paraphrase a wonderful section from Joseph Campbell’s book THOU ART THAT.  He writes that the proper function of religion today is to awaken the heart. Instead we get a lot of preaching about political and ethical and moral issues. He calls this is a betrayal of the human race. I think it is a betrayal of Jesus who did not care about politics and only obliquely referred to ethics or moral issues.  If his kingdom were “of this world” he would have done that. Campbell continues, “The substitution of social work, or heavy involvement in regulating the intimate decisions of family life has nothing to do with the calling of the clergy,” which is, “to open to their people the dimensions of the meaning of the Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus.”  “These,” he adds constitute a system of symbols that works perfectly.”

These truths, Campbell calls “symbols” ( just like we call the Creed a “symbol”) are not a box, but a doorway.  Love destroys boxes.  I think we need to go out and kiss some lepers.