7th Sunday in Ordinary Time | February 19, 2017
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 readings here. This homily focuses on all of this week’s readings.
So I must admit, I am not really looking forward to this week. Because on Thursday, my former student Brandon Wingo would have turned 16 years old.
But there will not be a birthday celebration.
Because Brandon was murdered last May. Three men approached him on the way home from school and shot him point blank.
And every day since then, I have had to grapple with the surges of anger and hate that have threatened to overwhelm me.
But what keeps me in check is the example of Brandon’s mother.
For I was with her the day she got to see her son in the funeral parlor. Before they had done anything to the body. Before they hid the wounds.
And I was with her outside when she began to hyperventilate. The tears were streaming down her face and the anguished sobs made her words barely comprehensible.
And yet, it is the words that I will never forget.
For she looked into my eyes and said . . . I so badly want to hate them. I want them to feel the pain that I feel. I want them to know how much it hurts.
But if I do that, then I simply become them.
And none of that will ever heal this wound. Only love can do that.
Only love can do that.
My friends, let’s be honest, we are a nation that is drowning in hate and anger.
In recent months we have watched as white supremacist groups have rediscovered their voice in the public square, making it abundantly clear who is welcomed in their vision of America.
We have watched protests and counter-protests, in which the raw anger and hate that bubbles just beneath the surface comes flowing out . . . directed at a president or a party, a movement or the opposition.
We watch as Facebook walls become battlegrounds as terrible insults are lobbed at one another, stereotypes are taken as normative and violent threats are presumed a normal part of “dialogue” today.
And as has been the trend throughout history, the greatest targets of our rage and hate are the “other”. The outsider. The one who is different from us.
The immigrant who speaks a different language. The refugee who prays to a different God. The gay couple demanding their rights. The transgender child who simply wants to use the restroom.
The feminist. The homeschooler. The gang member. The Trump supporter. The millennial. The convict. The fundamentalist. The atheist. The Muslim. The Republican. The Democrat.
Because let’s be real. It is always easier to hate the person we do not know. The one we do not understand.
And yet, this hatred and anger is merely a mask that we wear that hides the more vulnerable parts of who we are, as individuals and as a nation. A shield that we believe will protect us. That will protect us from all the fears that we grapple with.
The fear of the other. The fear of change. The fear of the future. The fear of the past. The fear of losing. The fear of failure. The fear of death.
A shield that will guarantee that we will not get hurt again.
For we have suffered enough wounds at the hands of another. Wounds that feed our fears. Wounds that drive us to build these very walls that will supposedly keep us safe. Protect us from future harm. Even if those walls are built with anger and cemented with hate.
For if the anger and hate will help me forget the pain, even for a moment, then today becomes easier to bear. For it is one less moment that I don’t have to weep for what I have lost.
But what is so comforting to me about this Gospel, is I believe that Christ understood this dynamic. And he did not judge us for it. On the contrary, his heart was moved with compassion for us.
For throughout his ministry, he spent the bulk of his time addressing the underlying realities so that people would not need to resort to anger or hatred.
He proclaimed again and again the mantra . . . Be not Afraid as he worked to dispel the reasons for their fear. He calmed the stormy seas. Fed the hungry crowds. Expelled the demons.
And he spent most of his public life in the ministry of healing.
Healing broken bodies and shattered hearts.
Healing fractured relationships and distorted patterns of thinking.
Healing images of God and individual’s self-worth.
But as we see in this Gospel. Christ was still well-aware of the cost of living as his disciple.
He made no false promises. He did not say that we won’t get hurt. He did not offer us safety and security.
And yet, he still asked us to be not afraid. He still asked us to turn the other cheek. He still asked us to love our enemies.
For like Brandon’s mom, he understood that only love could truly gain what we desire. He knew that the anger and hate were dead ends that would only feed our fears and aggravate our wounds.
Only love could truly set us free . . . from the shackles of fear, anger and hate.
Only love could truly heal the shattered heart.
Only love could build the kingdom.
Only love could make us perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect.
And that is why, when given the choice, Christ chose love. Even hanging on the cross, enduring the hate and anger of others.
Let us do the same, my friends.
Let us choose love.
May God be Praised.