Homily – Of what spirit are we made? June 30, 2019
I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62 Lynne Smith, OSB
Don’t you just love James and John, the Sons of thunder? They are so overcome by their desire for revenge at being rejected by the Samaritan village that they want to blow it off the map! The power and authority Jesus gave them to preach the reign of God has gone to their heads. Jesus turns and rebukes them. I would not want to be in their shoes!
Lest I’m too quick to judge them, I have to admit that I know the desire for revenge and I have done my share of blowing off at people.
One Saturday morning as a child, I was so angry at my brother that I told him that he was adopted, and we were going to take him to the library and leave him there. It was cruel and perhaps born of some unconscious thought that there was not enough love in the family for both of us. I kept insisting it was true and when he couldn’t hold out anymore against my insistence, he broke out into great sobs and ran to my mother. She was angry, of course. “What’s gotten into you? How could you say such a thing to your brother?” But what really brought me up short was his tears. When I saw them, my own heart was cut to the quick. His broken heart was rebuke enough for me to reconsider my behavior. I thought it would feel good to be one-up over him. But it didn’t.
I wish I could say that was the last time I said something to hurt someone or put them in their place, but it wasn’t. Angry statements come out of my mouth that appall me. I’m pulled up short and have to ask myself, “Where did that come from?” My inner judge says: “You idiot! What were you thinking? You don’t deserve to be called Christian or to be a sister!” Maybe you have a voice like that in your head too. If I settle down and take some time with myself, I can trace my words back to some frustration or unaddressed need that I had buried. Father Jerome Koddell, OSB of Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas, calls these and other unconscious compulsions our “unseen masters.”
The Gospel for today includes a footnote. The text refers to a sentence included in some ancient manuscripts. It reads: Jesus “rebuked them and said, ‘You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.’”
This is not the kind of rebuke I was expecting from Jesus. But instead of the harshness of an inner judge, Jesus calls James’ and John’s attention to the spirit of which they are made, in contrast to the spirit that fueled their suggestion.
Paul tells the Galatians in our second reading: “For freedom Christ has set us free. …Live by the Spirit.” The Spirit, of course is the Spirit of Christ who came to give life not to destroy it. Jesus’ rebuke creates an occasion to reflect on who or what is driving our lives.
It is through this lens that I hear Jesus’ statements to his would-be followers. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Are we driven by our desire for security or are we free enough to find our home in the Holy One alone who is love? Jesus says: “Follow me and I will show you the Spirit of which you are made.”
Our justice system in this country that incarcerates people of color at a disproportionate rate and enslaves people asks of us as followers of Jesus: Of what spirit are we made – a spirit that destroys lives or one that saves? Many lives are destroyed by the system.
And, I have also heard people in MOSES tell of an inmate (whose name I don’t remember) whose “home” was solitary confinement for 17 years. He came out of prison not full of bitterness but deeply rooted in the spirit within himself and committed to the reform of our justice system.
To another follower Jesus said: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the reign of God.” Jesus asks: Are we ruled by society’s social norms or the church’s expectations or are we free enough to proclaim another way of being with one another in the reign of God?
It is rare for a Catholic institution to stand up to the hierarchy, but it does happen occasionally. The leadership of the Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indiana has refused to fire a teacher in a same-sex marriage against the request of the Archbishop of Indianapolis. The Archbishop decreed that the school “can no longer use the name Catholic and will no longer be identified or recognized as a Catholic institution by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.” President of the school, William Verbryke, S.J, the chair and chair-elect of the board of trustees have responded that the school is “disheartened that the Archbishop has chosen to end our formal relationship. Nevertheless, our identity as a Catholic Jesuit institution remains unchanged.” America magazine (6/20/2019)
“Follow me,” Jesus says, “and I will show you of what Spirit you are made.”
The sight of children kept in cages at our border or a father clutching his young daughter lying dead in the sand asks us, “Of what spirit are we made?
Though our unseen masters/unconscious desires may get ahold of us from time to time, we are made of another Spirit – the Spirit of the One who came giving life and calling us to give ourselves to our neighbor in love. This Spirit may be awakened in us by the tears of one we have hurt or by their forgiveness of our heartless words. This Spirit of neighbor love may be called forth by the suffering of others. We may uncover the Spirit of which we are made through the slow work of mindfulness or the faithful returning to the loving embrace of God in centering prayer.
The Spirit of which we are made is most certainly manifest in the broken bread and the wine poured out at this table available for all. Jesus says, “Come, follow me, and I will show you the Spirit of which you are made.” Amen