06 Sep Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deacon Blaine Barclay
I wrote this homily sitting in my dad’s favorite chair. A chair he spent a lot of time in the last number of years as his health declined. As an aside, let me say how much I appreciate your prayers for my father during his long struggle with cancer and blindness, and for your continued prayers for the repose of his soul.
Today’s homily however, is unusual not only because of where I sat when it was written, but because I felt compelled to preach on the second reading rather than on the gospel. Because most Catholic preaching tends to focus on the gospel, particularly in the Sunday homily, we sometimes miss out on some buried treasure hidden in the margins of the first or second reading, or in the psalm.
Today’s second reading is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. In the 4th century, St. John Chrysostom referred to the letter to the Romans as St. Paul’s ’spiritual trumpet’. What we have before us today are too short verses taken from the later section of this trumpet song (Rom.12: 1-2).
St. Paul begins,’’ I appeal to you… by the mercies of God’’. The appeal is one of both solicitude and authority. The first century Roman Christians were struggling with the incorporation of gentiles, pagan, non-Jewish, Greco-Roman Christians into the, until now, primarily Jewish Christian community. At the time of Paul’s writing, the majority of Christians living in Rome were non-Jews, and the Hebrew-Jewish Christian minority were having a hard time with this demographic shift. For St. Paul, all of us, Jew or Gentile, are on equal standing before God, for as he says elsewhere in Romans, ’’all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’’. He has been arguing throughout this letter for the priority of mercy and grace in salvation. We are saved by grace, not by the works of the Law. Our works, our deeds, our actions, our ethical or moral lives, are a liturgical response to the ever prior mercy of God. He says, ’’Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, wholly acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship’’. Notice how ’spiritual worship’ is identified with the presentation of our bodies. Christian faith is an Incarnational, an embodied faith. The worship of God cannot be bracketed off from the whole of our lives. It is not just a theory, a worldview, a meaning construct. ’’Is this not the fast that I choose, says the Lord”, through the Prophet Isaiah; ’’to undo the heavy yoke, to let the oppressed go free’’. In Jesus, the Word has become Flesh, the invisible as become visible, the spiritual has become embodied, the universal has become particular, the abstract, concrete. St. Paul tells us that this Incarnational concreteness is foolishness to the Jew and a scandal to the Greco-Roman mind, for whom the body was a prison house from who’s tyranny we need to escape.
We, on the other hand, are told by St. Paul to present our bodies, our concrete everyday lives, as a liturgical act, a ‘living sacrifice’, an act of thanksgiving which is ’holy and acceptable to God’; at the same time both ’embodied’ and ’worship’, a way of life set apart for God, a transformed way of life.
How do we do this? Saint Paul first states it negatively, ’’Do not be conformed to this world’’. Some translations speak of ’’the form of this world’’. Just as the Prophet Jeremiah in our first reading was seduced by the word of God which then burned like a fire in his belly until he let it out; so, it is easy for us to be ’seduced’ by ’the form of this world’; it’s prevailing cultural patterns, pop culture, advertising, twitter feeds, the news and entertainment cycle with its toxic mix of fear and distraction.
We, on the other hand, are called to cultural resistance, to live counter cultural lives. To, ’’be transformed by the renewing of your mind’’. Literally, the turning around of your mind, repentance and conversion of lifestyle. The Greek word translated here as ’transformed’ is the same a word used to describe what happened to Jesus in the transfiguration, ’metamorphosis’. Rather than being conformed to the spirit of the present age, the ‘zeitgeist’, with our minds colonized by prevailing cultural forms, we are to cultivate a converted mind, a changed life, formed in the image of Jesus Christ. Only then will we be able to rightly discern, and put into practice, ’what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’.