Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 8th, 2018

Deacon Blaine Barclay


St. John of the Cross, one of our great mystics, says about the Lord; ‘My Beloved is the mountains… strange islands… silent music.’.  How evocative these powerful images are, ’mountains’…’strange islands’…’silent music’…. Contrast this with the response of the people in the synagogue in today’s gospel.  They meet Jesus, listen to his words, are even ‘astounded’ by his teaching, ’bump up against him’, so to speak, like the crowds in last week’s gospel, and yet they do not really encounter him.  Not because he is like a ’strange island’, a surprising unexplored territory.  How do the police, the temple guards, in John’s gospel, put it? ’No man ever spoke like this man’.  No, the people in the synagogue do not hear him, do not see him, precisely because he was ’familiar’ to them. They thought they knew him, were in the habit of recognizing him, assumed he was just another part of their everyday experience and horizons. The Jesus they knew was a ‘domesticated’ Jesus, tamed by their pigeonholing assumptions

In contrast, the God of the Jews, the one Jesus scandalously called Abba, Father, Papa, is a God of the wilderness, who speaks from burning bushes, liberates hopeless slaves, raises up prophets to take a stand in the middle of a rebel nation.  How can you tame the whirlwind?  Except with attentive stillness that hears the still small voice that speaks in the middle of the storm.  But I digress.  Back to our Gospel and what it has to say to us today. Do I think I know God?  Do I think I know Jesus?  So did the people in our gospel.  Am I really any different from any of them?  Or, am I still able to be surprised by Jesus?  Or, am I like the apostle Nathanael, who in John’s gospel says, ’Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’

Like the crowds in our gospel, says, ‘Isn’t this the carpenter, don’t we know his mother, his family, all his cousins? Perhaps they were thinking; Who does he think he is?  This young whippersnapper who grew up next door?  He didn’t even study at one of the better Rabbinical schools, isn’t even old enough to be called a Rabbi, what can he teach us about the Torah, the law and the prophets?

And yet, here he is teaching in their synagogue, and across the years, speaking to us today in this beautiful Cathedral.  Kicking down the door of our hearts. ‘Shattering our deafness’, as St. Augustine says. How does the old 1976 hit country song put it? ’Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life’. Yes, I know, Jesus is gentle and his invitation is often whispered close to the ear of our heart. We have to be very quiet in order to hear it. And, I know, the door of our heart only opens from the inside.  But let’s not tame Jesus too much. After all, he is the Lion of Judah. And, as C.S. Lewis says in the Narnia tales of the Lion Aslan who represents Christ, ‘You can’t keep him, its not as if he were a tame Lion’. He is wild in love with each one of us.  Like in the story of the short tax collector Zaccheus, Jesus is bold, presumptions even, invites himself, without being asked, to sit with Zaccheus and with us, to break bread with us, at the table of our hearts.  Revelations 3:20 says, ’Listen!  I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me’.

Do I let myself be surprised by Jesus?  Am I not just a little bit scandalized by the Incarnation and the Cross?  The scared hands, the wounded flesh, that cries out, ’I love you this much’.  As St. Paul says to the Corinthians, ’We preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles’.  Is my life is not overturned by the person and teaching of Jesus, like the tables of the money changers in the temple?  Does the Sermon on the Mount no longer make me uncomfortable?  Do the parables of Jesus no longer disturb me, overthrow the petty little kingdom or queendom that I have builtup to protect my fragile ego? Jesus teaches ‘the upside-down kingdom’, the great reversal, the turning around of our hearts and lives. Repentance, the conversion of lifestyle that our times so desperately need.  Now is the time of decision, now is the day of salvation. The time for turning weakness into strength. Can I hear him, can I see him, or, am I hiding behind what I think I know about him?