Aug. 14, 2016: 20th Sunday Ordinary C
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As I watched videos of the flooding on TV and social media this weekend, I could not help but wonder the exasperation of the people whose lives are changed by the continuous rain, resulting in rising creeks and rivers and flooding. We pray that our Compassionate God who is the source of all comfort, bring comfort to those whose lives are affected by the flooding, strengthen their hope to rebuild, and give them the grace to face the future without fear.
Sometimes a change in our lives comes upon us without us ever asking for it. The change arrives unannounced at a time when life seems hopeful and purposeful. All of a sudden circumstances conspire to break up the peace and calm in life via an illness, a break up of a relationship, a significant disruption in plans, or even a flood. Such change teaches us that we are not in complete control. We may call it suffering, purification, or growth, but a more apt image would be a dark night when our previous experiences and our intellect offer no sense of direction or comfort.
My parents faced such a night 17 years ago when I told them that I wanted to enter seminary to study to be a priest. For my mom and dad who counted on their only son to take care of them in their old age, it was devastating news. The ideal picture they had of their old age--babysitting and going on trips with their grandchildren--was shattered. Out of exasperation, my dad said, “I will disown you if you enter seminary,” and the only thing that came out from mom were her tears of hopelessness. The call from Jesus for me to change was also a call for my parents to change, but the call to change was about to bring division and discord.
We don’t picture Jesus as someone who would sow division in families, yet this is a real mystery of our faith. Jesus of Nazareth loves, heals, and calls people to change because God is offering them wholeness of life. To answer His call, however, requires a change that will threaten to shatter relationships and status quo. We may sense in our lives a call to reach out for God--an attraction to freedom, to wholeness, an aspiration to be more than what we are now. Yet also working within us is something that resists this call. There may be unvoiced fear that invokes anger and hatred toward change. So Jesus’ call for us to change feels like fire.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus touches lepers, hears the cry of blind Bartimaeus, dines with tax collectors, and talks with women of ill-repute. He goes to the edge, bumps against the margin, and reaches out to those who are in trouble, who are despised, weak, or ignored. Jesus is the living image of God who wants everyone reached, saved, and touched by His presence. He is an example of what it means to put new wine in old wine skin, causing it to stretch and burst. When he gets into our ‘boat’, into our very soul, His fire of the Spirit purifies our soul of self-centeredness and pride, which is the root of our hostility toward transformation. We just do not like to relinquish control.
We have to admit that we do not understand the way of God. Our mind is too limited and is not able to see God’s horizon. Jesus is asking for substantial change-–to be called upon, to renounce what we have made our own, to renounce our anchor. We are afraid to let go of our control because it makes us uneasy and we find it threatening. When we work on changing ourselves, we provide an example to others that they can follow and also change. By changing ourselves, we influence our family, our neighbors, our friends, and the world. St. John of Cross said it beautifully, “Travelers cannot reach new territory if they do not take new and unknown roads and abandon the familiar ones.” Our life is a pilgrimage involving numerous call to change, and our main virtue that will sustain us is our trust in God. What we have to rely on is that the God who has invited us to change, will stay with us on this pilgrimage and pull us up when we fall.
For all those experiencing change, especially those impacted by the flood, Lord reminds us that He is our refuge and our strength in times of trouble. He reminds us not to be afraid and to have hope. St. Paul’s words are encouraging here: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses...let us persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”
-Fr. Paul Yi