Here is a homily from a few weeks ago on the 11th Sunday in Ordinary time. My friend deacon Robert Kinghorn talks passionately about our God of many chances.
Deacon Rob told me that he was not particularly inspired by Fr. Robert Barron’s (click here to listen to Fr. Barron’s homily) take on these readings, especially his scholarly approach to David’s story, so he wanted to take a different approach. I think my friend has, in fact, found the message in the readings and while Fr. Barron has more readers on the Internet than Robert, I doubt he can match Rob’s reach to those on the streets of Toronto.
Celebrating the God of second third and more chances-Homily by Deacon Robert Kinghorn
OK listen up. I am warning you there is going to be a test today in the homily. So don’t say I didn’t warn you. I am going to talk about the gospel today and then I will tell you about something that happened to me last week; something that tested me and maybe you too.
I have been listening to an interview with John Vanier who for the past fifty years or so has had ministry with those who are handicapped. He always talks about the brokenness which we all have, but which is particularly seen in those who are weak and powerless, and in his case with those who have severe mental and physical handicaps. But it’s not just with the people that he lives with, but also the people that you and I may know; people who are helpless in nursing homes, people who are addicted, people that the world would say, “What to they contribute to society.” In the interview Jean Vanier said, “The big thing is to love reality and not live in the imagination of what could have been or what should have been and what can be. But somehow to love reality and discover that God is present, even when it is a harsh reality.” Isn’t this what Jesus came to teach us and to show us; to love reality, to discover that God is present, and to learn how to respond?
Look at the reality in the gospel today. Jesus was dining at the house of a big-wig from the city and a prostitute crashed the party. Now I have to say I doubt if she selected a fine dress to wear for the occasion; she probably felt it was a “come as you are party” – which come to think of it is the only type of party that Jesus ever went to as far as I can see. And the reaction of the people there was probably what ours would have been, “AWKWARD! Get her out of here. She’s a sinner and no good can come from her.” But the big thing as Jean Vanier said is to love reality and to discover that God is present. Others saw the label on her forehead, “Sinner”, but Jesus saw the love in her actions. This was his focus; on the present moment, on this person in front of him and her repentance. Not on her past.
So here is the test. This is what happened to me last week. As many of you know I go downtown to the streets of the city late on Thursday evenings to the parts where you will find the drug dealers, prostitutes and addicts. I turned on to George Street which is the only street really that scares me. There are drug dealers lurking under the trees and their clients are circulating. It tends to be an unpredictable street especially in the summer. So as I was walking up I looked into the distance. The only people I could see was a group of four men standing under one of the groups of trees where the drug dealers stand. So I put on my brave, nonchalant face and walked up the street. The men were clearly not going to vacate the sidewalk for me so I moved past them on the street and as I usually do I nodded and said, “Nice evening.” They looked at me and one of them said, “Hi father.” So I kept walking rather relieved that I had passed safely. Then one man broke off from the group and said “Hey father, I’m going to pray for you.” He took my hand, a little too tightly for my liking I have to say, and looked at me intensely. And I mean intensely, such that I was not sure what he was going to say or do. Then for about 2 minutes he prayed for me and praised God for bringing the Word to the street and prayed that people would respond to God’s word. This went on and on and I have to say I was getting a little uncomfortable with his intensity. Then he slowed down and ended with, “Praise the name of Jesus.” So I said “Amen.” And he said, “No, repeat after me, praise the name of Jesus.” So I obediently repeated it. And he said, “God bless you father.” I said to him, “Let’s continue to pray for one another.” And I continued up the street hoping that as I walked away he was going to be Christian enough not to kick me in the backside.
So what do you make of that? Was this a game? Was he trying to make fun of me? He did it all in front of his three friends which, trust me, is not exactly the way you get respect on the street. As Jean Vanier said, “The big thing is to love reality and discover that God is present.” The reality was that this was someone saying a beautiful prayer and so I can choose to believe that God is present in these words or else dismiss it and say, “Sinner, no good can come from him.” It’s not an easy decision, but in the light of today’s gospel, which would you select? It seems that Jesus in the gospel today is telling us to be present, and to find God in this meeting and all meetings that you have with people in the harsh reality of brokenness.
You see, we need to keep this message of brokenness at the forefront of our church. We know only too well the message of power and self-control, and we have heard it from the church for many years. That through “getting it right” God will be happy with us. But it seems to me that this is no more than the law of karma, that if you do good then good will come to you. But this is not the message of Jesus. We have to hear the message of brokenness that Jesus preaches with his actions today; that through our failure and sin we are healed and given another chance, again and again and again. In the first reading we also heard the remarkable story of King David, the greatest king in the history of Israel. We heard he committed adultery and was a murderer, and yet this is the King David whose psalms we read at mass. David simply said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And he was forgiven.
Today we celebrate the God of second chances; and the God of third, and fourth, and fifth, and seventy-times seven chances. We are always accepted as we come back, again, and again, and again. As my new-found prayer friend on the street would say, “Praise the name of Jesus.”