Second Call: A Roman Catholic Woman Priest Considers Discipleship-Homily 24th Sun OT-9/13/15
“Jesus summoned the crowd and the disciples and said, ‘If you wish to come after me, you must deny your very self, take up your cross and follow in my footsteps’” (Mark 8:34, TIB The Inclusive Bible).
“Okay then” as my foster son Marley used to say mocking Pet Detective Ace Ventura in a slow questioning voice when reckoning with a hard truth, actually meaning “let’s head for the hills.” I can still hear him at eleven, at fourteen, and in his thirties and see his face as he says it. Sometimes it was said when homework was due greater consideration, sometimes when reprimanded, sometimes when things did not turn out the way he initially envisioned it, sometimes when he himself discovered daunting effort was needed in sports or doing a job. He then had to make up his mind if that effort would be given. In today’s Gospel (Mark 8:7-25) we have an “okay then” Scripture. And in the Hebrew Scripture of the day we do as well, Isaiah 50:4-9 is part of the prophet as “suffering servant“ writings. And the Epistle of James (2:14-18) reminds us that if good deeds/works do not go with faith, faith is dead.
Today we have a group of hard scriptures-hard if one envisions life without suffering and hard selfless work. Hard if we see faith as a form of religious ecstasy or self- gratification. Hard if it is about saving myself and not necessarily others. Hard if we have been faithful in living the Gospel of love and justice and are tired from the many efforts, only some fruitful, that this implies. I can identify with this last level of hardness telling God that I am tired and need a rest from service, and I can even sometimes hear God responding: “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden”. True, but I would sure like that rose garden!
In the Markian Gospel , Jesus is telling Peter and his other disciples, and I bet Mary of Magdala and several women were there too, “the Promised One had to suffer much, be rejected…be put to death, and rise again three days later. Jesus said these things quite openly.”(Mark 8:31-32 TIB). Now, some of today’s scholars think that Jesus did not say this –how could he predict his own death? Certainly, they reason, this is not in oral tradition, Mark is putting this on Jesus lips some 35 years later knowing about the Cross. Well, ask Martin Luther King, Jr. how he knew he would not get to the promised land? For he said “I may not get there with you…” Ask Nelson Mandela if he knew he would be jailed and tortured. When one knows that one has been prophetic enough to totally aggravate the powers that be- civil and religious, it is not a big jump to know the consequences and the likelihood of sustaining them. Jesus knew the world of Roman occupied Judea, he knew that people who offended Rome and the religious hierarchy hung on crosses and died in torturous public humiliation. Peter, in faith, had just identified Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Promised One, but he was not willing or ready to think of the costs of such a job description and how this may end. He began to rebuke Jesus for saying this, probably wanting a happy ending with all his heart. But for Jesus, who still had to remain faithful to his calling and take on the powers that be, Peter was only a hindrance at that moment to Jesus, and his sense of what Jesus should be was a deception. (Jesus called him Satan, which in Aramaic simply means deceiver, hindrance, not another-worldly force). This is the same deception Christians tell themselves and others when they preach Christ without a cross, and discipleship without the hard work of loving until it hurts and then some, and seeking justice when there is none to be found. One of my dear friends, a religious Sister from Australia introduced me to the concept of “an airy fairy God”. She served mentally ill homeless women at home and could not envision a Christian life without selfless service-she said often that she cannot believe in “airy fairy theology”. We got along well because neither could I. Peter was happy with the Jesus who was a great orator, teacher and healer, a wonder- worker. He was not happy with the Jesus who gave it all away, including his very life.
We are having an adult baptism this week at Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community. Brenda, in her fifties, is a woman who has faced many challenges in life. She had epilepsy and was in Special Education. She was rejected by family for some of the early choices she made and trouble she got into, and reconciliation barely came before both parents died earlier this year. She has been serially homeless and grieving her many losses. Yet, Brenda is a woman of strong faith that ultimately gets her through a disproportionate amount of hard times. She feels connected to Jesus who ,as she says, “suffered lots more than I did or ever will” She feels loved by God and beloved in her church. Church is home for her. She has been part of our church since we met in the park in 2007. She moved out of Lee County and we still remained in contact. Finally after many more trials in life she came back to Fort Myers and to our church last March. Although homeless once again, having lost everything except her little dog, she simply announced: “I’m home”. Once housed she became our greatest ambassador, bringing many others young and old to church. She also helps to shepherd our littlest kids on Sunday, coloring with them and sharing stories from a children’s Bible. Her prayers each Sunday moved many to tears in their depth and compassion for others. It did not dawn on me that she had never been baptized, but a few months ago she came to me and asked if she could be baptized. She wants to be part of our Church and she wants to be strengthened in following Christ. I truly believe that she does know what this means.
The words of James 2: 16 hit me like a ton of bricks this week when I had to tell some callers who wanted financial help to be saved from eviction the equivalent of “we don’t have it, good-bye and good luck”. We had just been through another costly save from homelessness for a family of seven reduced to living in a rented van so money to help was low, but I am putting down my cross if I don’t find some way to help. For the cross we carry in Good Shepherd Ministries is the cross of the poor and all it entails. Jesus challenges us: “take up your cross and follow in my footsteps”-show by your love and service to whom you belong. There are crosses of illness and troubled relationships and personal crosses that only you can define that you must take up to do the work of the Gospel, the work of love and inclusion as Jesus did. This also means for all of us, not just clergy or religious, to take up the cross of the poor, the outcast, the marginalized and the hated. Identify those issues of injustice that are close to you, in your community, and in our world, homelessness, hunger, blatant discrimination in the world and in the church against the gay, lesbian bisexual and transgendered people and the still second class citizenship and objectification of women, the plight of the immigrant and refugee, and take up that cross. Taking up the cross means “do something about it, from the gifts God has given you, do something about it!
So in today’s Gospel, Jesus is patiently giving those who would follow him a second call. It was great to be called by Jesus at the seashore, to respond to Jesus’ wonders of a full net of fish, but that entailed no hard work or disillusion. Sure we had to leave our fishing job behind, but that was a hard job and following this charismatic teacher is exciting and probably much easier! Wrong! So Jesus calls again, more explicitly-“Okay then, it’s going to be very hard work to live the law of love, inclusion and justice, it’s going to be hard work to forgive those who take advantage of you and hurt you even as you try to help them, it’s going to be exhausting and endless. It’s going to be hard to put God’s work first and your wants second. You are not going to be loved for your risk taking and your efforts to change the status quo and it can lead to your own suffering as you try. But, you belong to me, you belong to God, I’m calling you to do it so God’s kin(g)dom may reign in this world.” Wow!
Let us pray: Jesus, thank you for calling us again. We hear you. Help us to follow you wherever that leads and no matter how hard it may be. Help us to put God’s Kin(g)dom first and our own lives second. Fill us with your Spirit so we can respond to your call with our eyes wide open. Fill us with your love so we can love as you do. “ Amen.