Ars Praedicandi: Ed Foley’s Homily on the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
by Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin

I know it is probably
a politically incorrect thing to say
given all of the conversation
and controversy
around the issue,

and I am not trying to use a sermon to start a fight,
as Jesus appears to be doing in the gospel,

But I have to say in all honesty
that I have never watched a super bowl game in my life,
and tonight will probably not be any different.

Though for the record,
I’m rooting for the old guy
quarterbacking for the patriots.

Sports, like politics,
is a hotly debated,
deeply engaging,
and very expensive enterprise.

And like politics,
it often devolves into a blame-game.
Blame for who was really behind the last election losses,
or blame for why a storied franchise is now tanking
in a post-Jordan era.

The blame-game is so rampant in sports
that the internet is populated with sites
that rate the biggest scapegoats in sports history.

They include 5 time pro-bowler Jackie Smith.
It was Super Bowl XIII (1979).
He was wide open for a pass from Roger Staubach.
dropped it,
and the Cowboys eventually lost to the Steelers.
Smith immediately retired after the game

Then there was Nick Anderson of the Orlando Magic
playing the Houston rockets in the 1995 NBA finals.
Though they were up by 3 points
Anderson missed four consecutive free throws –
Costing the Magic the win
and eventually the championship.
After that Anderson was forever known as Nick the Brick.

The most famous ump blunder in baseball history
was in the 1985 World Series.
St. Louis was leading the Kansas City Royals.
The royals batter hit a grounder to first
easily fielded for an out.
But ump Don Denkinger called him safe –
something the video eventually proved was wrong.
But this was before instant replay.
The Royals won the game and the series.
St. Louis fans were so irate that a local DJ
announced Denkinger’s home phone number on air.
So the ump got to hear from fans
through the whole off-season …

Notice my phone number is not at this website!

While there is no comparable website
listing the top presidential blunders of all time,
there is a website that tracks all presidential polling.

Notable for me is,
while Eisenhower and Clinton
left office with almost a 66% approval rating,
the approval rating of Harry Truman
dropped from 87% when he became president in 1945
to a mere 22% when he left office in 1952. Ouch.

The reason I rehearse these most-celebrated debacles in sports
or the plummeting of approval ratings of a president
is because today’s Gospel is
a continuation of last week’s story
about his preaching in his home synagogue.

Within a few short verses,
Jesus goes from being the pride of Nazareth,
the home town boy made good,
the prophet with potential,
to Peck’s bad boy,
an Equal opportunity offender,
and all out heretic,
and all during his first public sermon in Luke

As one blogger titled his commentary on this passage,
“Hell of a sermon, Rabbi.”

In the second reading,
Paul tells us that love is patient and kind.
But apparently Jesus never read Paul
and does not really display much patience.
On the contrary, he actually seems to pick a fight.

He’s come home to Nazareth,
been handled the scroll of Isaiah
reads the passage about the spirit of God upon him
to announce a jubilee.

There is initial praise, but things quickly change.
at least in part
because the Son of God moves from gracious speech
to recrimination,
from announcing favor
to predicating ill will.

He does this by seeming
to put words into his hearers mouths,
and judge them by words
the gospel never reports they said.

One wonder’s why Luke seems to present Jesus
as the Harry Truman of Nazareth preaching,
whose approval ratings plummets
in the space of one sermon,
who literally goes from pulpit to precipice,
in what appears to be a few short minutes.
From home town hero to home town boob.

The Palestinian equivalent of umpire Don Denkinger
who should have called the home town team safe,
but instead called them out.

So what’s going on here?
And why is Luke presenting Jesus the new preacher
in such an unlikable light?

One possible explanation
floated by some scripture scholars
is that Luke is compressing a series of home town visits
into one episode.

That this was not the first or only time
that Jesus returned to his childhood neighborhood,
but maybe it was the cumulative one
in which the Only-Begotten,
in a repeat performance before a smug assembly
of former soccer coaches and teachers and pastors,
of elders who remembered
what an inept ball handler he was,
how terrible he was at spelling and grammar,
and disliked his “more righteous than you” attitude.

And so Jesus lets them have it.
Not because they criticized him … again!!!
But because they reject the call of Isaiah,
the prophetic invitation he reiterates,
to embrace the poor,
free prisoners,
open people’s eyes,
stop oppressing the powerless,
and enter into God’s own jubilee.

Jubilee in the ancient Jewish sense
was not simply about a few random acts of kindness,
but a radical reversal of society every 50 years
in which slaves were freed,
debts were forgiven,
but most of all the land was redistributed,
returning all property to its original owners or heirs …

The contemporary equivalent would be that every 50 years,
no matter what the deals or laws or appropriations,
U.S. lands would all revert back to Native Americans
who first called this land their own.

Of course that is a radical, crazy, preposterous, outlandish
thing to do.
Any reasonable person would reject such moves

But, as is clear to anyone who reads the New Testament,
the God of Jesus, the God of Jubilees,
is not a reasonable person.

I don’t know if you saw the 2005 hit movie The Wedding Crashers.
In the movie two best friends crash wedding parties
as a way to pick up women.

In one of the early scenes,
the two are at a wedding ceremony;
and when the pastor announces
that the bride’s sister will now read scripture,
the one says to the other,
“Twenty dollars, First Corinthians.”
To which Vince replies,
“Double or nothing, Colossians 3:12.” 
The bride’s sister takes the podium and begins,
“And now a reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.”

It is true that our second reading today
is frequently proclaimed at weddings.
But Paul did not write it as a marriage gift
to some couple in the Corinthian community.

Rather, Paul was sending it as an antidote
to a community that was consistently
wracked by disagreements and divisions,
continuously tested in their new found faith,
saying one thing but acting otherwise.

Paul reminds the Corinthian community
that being in Christ requires radical doing in Christ,
and not just putting on the “I was baptized” T-shirt.

As many of you know,
the past three nights
Old St. Pat’s music ministry staged their own “Super Bowl” of sorts –
three smashing nights of Broadway on Adams –
31 instrumentalists and singers
pumping out 28 entertaining and even
theologically engaging tunes,
from Cole Porter classics
to new Broadway blockbusters.

As with every good production,
you get a playbill with Broadway on Adams.
But unlike most playbills,
this one reads like a series of
mini-theological reflections on the songs,
explaining why they were chosen,
and what messages about friendship or love,
inclusion or loss,
regret or hope,
and ultimately about the way we live,
are embedded in the songs.

Today’s gospel reminds me
of a Sondheim musical that was not featured this year
in Broadway on Adams,
Sondheim’s masterful “Into the Woods.”
If you are familiar with the show,
you know it is a brilliant subversion of classic fairytales.

A subversion and salvation
that takes place when the characters
physically and metaphorically go “into the woods.”

The symbolic woods into which the Jesus preaching invites us
is our dangerous, unpredictable world,
a place where some dreams are fulfilled,
and others shattered.
Where some find love,
and others experience death.
Where some get lost, and others get found.

Jesus invited the inhabitants of Nazareth,
and by extension the global community,
into a year of jubilee …
into the divine woods,
into the mystery of God’s holiness.

That is where Jesus lived out his ministry,
in a thicket of Samaritans,
a grove of lepers,
a clearing of fishermen,
a vast field of sick and sinners.

And unmarked paths
bring him face to face with a Syrophoencian mother
grieving widows,
adulterous women,
unfaithful disciples,
a virtually treasonous Simon Peter
and scheming clergy.

But despite the forested dangers,
the tree-laden terrain
that ironically would one day yield the wood
that would become the instrument of his death.

Jesus did not view his own terrain
with a suspicious eye, or jaded heart.

Rather he saw every cluster of people
as an oasis of beauty,
every new exemplar of humanity
as a blossoming of creation,
every outcast, marginalized, oppressed and lost
as rooted in ancient Eden,
and sprouting as incontestable evidence
that God’s love is patient and kind,
has no limits … and will never end.

The degree of divisiveness
in our society,
in our city,
even in our church,
makes the Corinthian community look like Boy Scout troop
working together on a merit badge in harmonious living.

And in such divisive times,
amidst too much polarizing rhetoric
and metaphorical barrier constructing,
many of us would rather stay home
huddle with like minded
similar thinking,
even comparable looking folk.

But Jesus chides us like recalcitrant Nazoreans
to embrace the jubilee,
eschew the homogenization,
rethink God’s covenant,
and risk journeying into the woods,
where the richness of God’s creation is on display,
where God’s dangerous love is rehearsed.

And where we ourselves,
sometimes blinded,
sometimes captive,
sometimes impoverished,
might be healed, liberated and enlightened
through Christ our Lord.



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