Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time 'B'

Saturday October 3, 2009

It’s all about the human heart

Were my grandmother here this morning, having reared seven children, she might caution me, “Anyone who knows as little as you do about marriage would do well to stay out of the pulpit!”

Notwithstanding the temptation for the preacher to call in sick, this is one of those occasions on which the homilist is tempted to dilute the meaning of the text with well-meaning exegesis or on the other to get bogged down in a ‘catch-22’ moralistic diatribe.

There is something more going on in this exchange. For one thing, the Pharisees were playing games with Jesus. One commentator referred to them as “gotcha games “. They were attempting to discredit Jesus before his listeners. There were two schools of thought, each claiming to have the truth on their side. If Jesus took one side, he would lose the other. It was a no win situation.

Instead, “Jesus turns it all upside down, as he so frequently did. It’s not really about legalities of divorce all; it’s about the human heart.”

The Dali Lama said: “We humans are social beings. We come into the world as the result of other’s actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from other’s activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with one another.” (Dali Lama of Tibet as quoted in Preaching Resources, CELEBRATION: A Comprehensive Resource, Celebration Publicatioins.org.2009)

People who are truly in love do not marry with the intention of splitting up but divorce happens when something as precious as love withers and dies. It’s a symbol of brokenness, failure and pain in which we all share when love loses its energy. Genesis gives us a very different picture of Adam as he cries out, “At last I have a companion who is my equal, made as I am. Of my very own flesh and bone.”

My friend and mentor, Fr. George Wilson summed it up in these words: “He is tapping into one of the deepest desires in the heart of every human being, of you and of me. We long for intimacy with someone who is a peer, a partner, a companion on our life journey; someone with whom we can share ourselves fully, safely and without fear; someone we can face eye to eye; where there is no higher and lower, no superior and inferior – whether that supposed superiority is based on gender (male is superior) or race (white is better) or clerical status (priesthood is higher) or class (rich controls poor) or national pride (America will never a partner, it stands above all the other nations). We are drawn by the dream of a world where no one of us is the caretaker of another. We long to be able to be transparent and know that we are fully accepted.” (George Wilson, SJ, St. Agnes, Cincinnati, 2006)

Thomas Merton was a man in search of pure love that he discovered through his many conversions could be found only in his total surrender to God and in the love of humanity. One is not possible without the other. On one of his visits to Louisville for a doctor’s appointment, as he stood on the corner of 4th and Walnut Streets gazing at the busy shoppers and passersby, of a sudden he was overwhelmed with the reality of God’s presence in all those people and that somehow he felt a solidarity with all of them. It was a moment all too brief but it transformed his monastic vocation as one that could not separate him from the world but which connected him with the good of all humanity.

But that vision didn’t last and he continued for the rest of his life to wrestle with the demands of love knowing that, in the words of St. Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts will not rest until they rest in you.”

Marital love is one form of intimacy that is a paradigm for the love that God has for all humanity in Christ. Monastic life is another. “Faithfulness is more than filling a legal commitment. It’s all about the heart. It is possible to fulfill all the legal requirements of marriage and never be physically unfaithful and still miss the point, as is possible in all our relationships, with each and with God. We are all partners with God in the continuing work of creation. It’s all about being a peer, being equal and not making the other an object or a plaything; of knowing the other as flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, looking eye to eye.” (Ibid.)

Robert Fulgham tells the story about a touching experience he had with his daughter. “It was Molly’s job to hand her father his brown paper lunch bag each morning before he headed off to work. One morning, in addition to his usual lunch bag, Molly handed him a second paper bag. This one was worn and held together with duct tape, staples, and paper clips.

“Why two bags?” Fulghum asked.

“This one is something else,” Molly answered.

“What’s in it?”

“Oh, Just some stuff. Take it with you.”

At lumch time as he ate his lunch, he tore open Mollys bag and shook out the contents: two hair ribbons, three small stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny sea shell, two animal crackers, a marble, a used chap-stick a small doll, to chocolate kisses and thirteen pennies.

Fulghum finished his lunch and empted everything into the waste basked.

On his return home, Molly asked him, “Where is my bag?”

“What bag?”

“You know the one I gave you this morning?”

“I left it at work. Why?”

“I forgot to put this note in it. And besides, those are my things in the sack, Daddy, the ones I really like – I thought you might like to play with them but now I want them back. You didn’t lose the bag, did you?”

Molly had given him her treasures — all that a seven year old held dear. Love in a paper sack, and he missed it. Back to the office he went.

After supper he asked Molly to tell him about the stuff in the bag. Everything had a story or a memory or was attached to dreams and imaginary friends. He himself had given her the chocolate kisses and she kept them for when she needed them.

Oh, on the note she had forgotten to place in the bag was written, “I love you daddy.”

Fulghum concludes the story: “Sometimes I think of all the times in this sweet life, when I must have missed the affection I was being given. A friend of mine calls this – “standing knee deep in the river and dying of thirst.”


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