30th Sunday in Ordinary Time | October 23, 2016
Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World. To see the archive of all his posts, just click here: Salesian Sermons
PROTIP: You can take a look at the Sunday readings here. This homily focuses on the second and Gospel readings.
As I was reflecting on the readings for this weekend, my mind kept returning to one of my best friends.
See, this friend is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.
I have been with him during most of his journey.
I remember him in college as he skipped days of student teaching because he was nursing a raging hangover from his bender from the night before.
I remember getting the phone call when he was busted and his entire life seemed to crumble around him.
I remember the anguished sobs as years of lies and cover-ups were made known.
I remember his decision to become sober and the painstaking steps he took to slowly rebuild his life.
I remember watching him in a hospital, struggling with the intense pain of a major injury that he was enduring without pain medicine because of his fear of a relapse.
And through it all, I have come to realize how much my friend inspires me.
For in his honest assessment of himself and in his determination to become a better version of himself, he stands as a model for what it means to be a disciple.
In many ways, my friend is a modern version of the tax collector in today’s gospel.
A man so aware of his own brokenness and his need for God that he not only experiences God’s forgiveness and love in his own life, but shows others how to encounter God in their own lives.
As men who have experienced both the highs and the lows of the human experience, my friend and the tax collector continue to teach us, both in their words and in their witness.
I still remember the words that my friend shared with me years ago.
He looked at me and said, “You know what is the hardest part of being an addict? It is the fact that I never get to stop fighting this. There will never be a day in which I get the luxury of letting down my guard. For the day I stop fighting is the day the alcohol and drugs win.”
Humble. Honest. And yes, difficult to hear.
And in his reflection, I could not help but hear echoes of another figure whose honesty and humility continue to reverberate throughout our tradition.
St. Paul, especially in his reading from today.
For both Paul and my friend have come to realize that this Christian journey is never a once and done thing. We never have the luxury of saying yes once and then moving on.
We must continuously recommit ourselves to the race, to the journey.
And only when our life draws to a close do we have the chance to bask in the glow of a life well-lived, a race well run.
Paul understood this better than most.
For his life was a continuous array of trials and tribulations.
He faced combative listeners among his various Gentile audiences and hostile Jewish compatriots threatened by his Christian Gospel.
He faced the indecisiveness of fellow Christian disciples who struggled to agree on the truths of the faith and the dangers that came with travel in the Ancient world.
He was stoned and flogged, arrested and exiled for his preaching.
And yet he never stopped moving on.
Literally and figuratively, Paul always kept pushing forward. To the next city. To the next Christian community. To the next encounter that God prepared for him.
And in his faithfulness he worked countless miracles, spreading the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean World and ensuring that the Christian faith was open to all, both Gentile and Jew, woman and man, slave and free.
My friends, each of us is on the same journey. The journey of discipleship that we inherited at our baptism.
And like each of the figures held before us this day, our journeys often have their share of struggle.
We have known the daily grind of trying to juggle work and a family. We have known the exhaustion that comes with waking up throughout the night to care for a colicky infant, a sick toddler, or a restless parent suffering from dementia.
We have looked in the mirror and seen our own shortcomings. We have replayed the gossip that we have spread or the cutting remarks that we have launched against another. We have nursed our bruised egos when we were not given the spotlight or center of attention. We know the lies we tell, the promises we’ve broken, the lives we’ve burdened by own cruelty, ignorance, or neglect.
We have faced our own demons that come in many forms . . . in the addiction that we succumb to or the anxiety and depression that paralyzes us. In the cancer that stalks us or the divorce that looms before us. In the grief that clings to us or the prejudice and hate that poisons us.
And yet, as Christians, we too must keep moving on.
Day by day. Step by step. Trusting that our God is by our side.
As we face our demons and overcome our struggles. As we persevere in our daily routines. As we seek and grant forgiveness. As we gently accept our own limits, all the while striving to become better versions of ourselves. As we learn to let our light shine/ As we learn to love as God love.
And in so doing, we too will finish the race. We too will be brought safely home. May God be Praised.