24th Sunday In Ordinary Time
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: September 12, 2021
We do not need to protect God, nor do we need to protect the church. We do not need to waste energy trying to defend God or to defend the church when attacked. Jesus was very clear to his disciples that he would have to undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and be killed. Peter’s first reaction is to defend Jesus, to protect him, to keep him safe. This was human way of thinking, but Jesus says that his disciples must be ready to take up the cross and follow him, and that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it.”
Recently I saw this quote from the spiritual writer, Richard Rohr, “God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so we should not waste too much time protecting the boxes.” We are often like Peter wanting to protect God, protect the church.
Jesus was utterly free. Free even to surrender his life. As a Christian we also need to be ready to surrender our life. Not for revenge, not to win, not to protect God nor the church. Ready to surrender our life for love, for justice. The great prophets were ready to speak the truth to those in power when they were oppressing the poor, treating people inhumanely or unjustly. They were rooted in love which was larger than their own security.
Jesus let go of his life without any clear security, he had no certainty that anything would continue after him.
We do not need to defend God. God is beyond all of us and exists in eternity. We do not need to defend the Church. The use of violence or force or anger to defend God or the Church is not faithful to the way of Jesus.
What is the difference between a fanatic and someone truly inspired by God? The fanatic is self-centred, and willing to use force, violence and hatred to impose their own vision of the truth. Everything depends on them. Extreme examples are in religious terrorists.
The one truly inspired and commissioned by God, on the other hand, is God-centred and not willing to defile their efforts with violence and hatred. No need to fight to win out over others because ultimately we depend on God alone. A disciple of Jesus ultimately embraces a non-violent vision of life in all they do and in all their relationships.
So, a truly inspired Christian will not rely on force, violence, hatred. Some of the language found on social media, including by some of us as Catholics or Christians, reflects not the way of Jesus but our own human way.
Who is Jesus? Peter responds with the great profession of faith. “You are the Christ.” But then Jesus points out that being the Christ will mean suffering, humiliation and death. Peter does not want to hear that. Jesus points out that he is thinking as humans do. We humans are usually focused on security, comfort and reputation.
On winning at all costs. Jesus realizes that God’s plan is beyond our human efforts and human victories. In war, we know that it is possible to win battles but lose the war. Jesus was willing to lose battles trusting that ultimate victory was in the hands of God. What good is it for us as Christians to win battles against others through force, anger, or even violence.
The main reason that people leave the Church or Christianity is the behaviour of Christians. Many reject what they see in how we Christians act. During this pandemic we have seen the good and the bad among Christians. Some have been instruments of peace, working to care for one another, supporting the efforts of society. Others have been full of anger, complaining about any required restrictions, working against the efforts of society.
The Letter of James states that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James says that if a brother or sister is lacking food and you say, “Go in peace,” but do nothing to help them, what good is that? We as Christians need to be true disciples of Jesus in our lives. Not trying to save our lives but ready to lose our lives for something much greater and bigger.
“God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so we should not waste too much time protecting the boxes.”
Do not waste energy worrying about protecting God nor the Church. Live as a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus surrendered his life with no certainty about the future. We are to live as disciples of Christ not worrying about God nor the Church. Both will be fine despite us.