HOMILY: The Other Thief

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe | November 20, 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 Gospel reading.

I’m not normal.

It’s a fact I’ve known for a while, but one that was really hammered home over these last few weeks of this election season.

For it seemed that while the nation were only capable of speaking of people in broad generalities, I couldn’t do that. For every time I would hear a certain group mentioned, I couldn’t help but think of concrete individuals that I have had the privilege of knowing over the years.

When I heard people lament about the white, working class industrial families that voted for Trump, I thought of the families in Brooklyn, MI who joined us for prayer each winter morning of my novitiate year, who took me to Bob Big Boys to make sure I was eating enough, who sewed me a blanket so that I could always remind myself that I was surrounded by the love of many on my journey.

When I read on my Facebook feed about the dangers represented by illegal immigrants, I thought of the families in North Carolina who allowed me to live with them for a week. Who opened their homes and their hearts to me and taught me both a language and a culture that I have come to love.

When I heard pundits breaking our nation down into our demographics, I thought of my aunt and uncle who are white evangelicals and have spent decades of their lives travelling to India to spread the Good News and build up the kingdom and I also thought of my young, black and Hispanic students at Nativity who despite all of the obstacles. . . the poverty and violence, the gang influence and the drug culture, choose every day to work for an education that they believe will be the ticket to a better future.

And when I heard a colleague ranting about the coddled, lazy millennials protesting Trump’s election, I couldn’t help but think of my friend who participated in those protests after working a 12 hours shift in an ER. My friend who on his free time donates his nursing talents to mobile clinics for the homeless.

And the funny thing is, you realize how shallow and inaccurate all of those generalities are when you actually know concrete people who fit into a certain demographic.

You realize that no meme or facebook rant, no headline or editorial will ever truly capture the fullness of an individual human being.

But if this election has taught us anything, it is that too many of us are only able to think in generalities.

For we have cut ourselves off from any groups that are not like our own.

Our facebook walls have simply become echo chambers in which like-minded people simply reinforce their own stereotypes and prejudices and fears.

We watch news broadcasts that agree with us. We click on news articles that reinforce our own opinions. And we defriend our family members and colleagues, friends and associates who no longer conform to our perspective.

Our neighborhoods and schools, our friend groups and social calendars, even our own faith communities have become segregated islands . . . divided by class and race, religion and politics.

And in the process, we no longer understand each other. We no longer understand the pain of the coal miner family who has eked out an existence for a generation since the plant closed. We no longer understand the fear of a family whose father is undocumented and the sole bread winner in the family or a muslim student who is threated for wearing her hijab. We no longer understand the anger of a single mother who did everything right and still watched her son get cut down by a bullet in the middle of the street.

And so we lived siloed with our own fear and anger and pain. Unable to see the other hurting just beyond our horizons.

But our Gospel reveals to us that this path does not have to be our own path forward.

We as disciples of Christ are given a choice.

Yes, we can choose to be like the other thief.

For in his comments, we see a man who did not actually know Jesus. He had heard about him. He had judged him. He had made a caricature of him.

But he never actually knew him.

An in his own fear and anger, he lashed out in hate towards a man he didn’t even know.

Unaware or unconcerned that the man he attacked was also suffering.

Or, we can strive to follow the more difficult road embodied by the good thief.

The one who chose to understand who Jesus was and what he was suffering. The one who reached out, even in the midst of his own pain and fear, to offer a word of comfort and consolation. The one who stood beside Christ and defended him from the false and baseless caricatures and mockery of his peers.

The one who could see Jesus’ true identity as King and Savior, despite all appearances to the contrary.

And in his choice to see Christ for who he truly was, the good thief was saved.

My friends, if we are to find salvation, we too must come to see Christ for who he truly is. The Christ who sees past all that divides us and embraces us as his brother and sister, regardless of where we worship, the color of our skin, the status of our paperwork, who we choose to love or how we chose to vote. The Christ who reconciles those who are alienated and broken, flawed and angry. The Christ who chose to wash the feet of his disciples and take up his own cross out of love for us.

And we, in turn, must come to encounter that Christ in each person that shares this kingdom with us.

In the gay couple and the white nationalist.

The high school drop out and the domestic violence victim

In the veteran and the millennial

In the homeless panhandler and the political pundit

In the stay-at-home mom and the local Iman.

Our work lies before us, my friends. The kingdom awaits. Let us go forth to love and serve the Lord.

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