HOMILY: A Timely Reflection on Charlottesville

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 hereSalesian Sermons

PROTIP: You can take a look at the readings here. This homily focuses on the Gospel reading.

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time | August 20, 2017

Years ago, as I was leaving Kohl’s department store, I remember walking by a gentleman whose shirt caught my eye.

It was a giant picture of the Confederate flag.  And in bold, black type, the words . . .

If this flag offends you, learn your history.

I’ve never forgotten that shirt.  For its message just confused me.  

For I do know my history.  And that is precisely why that shirt offends me.

So it probably comes as no surprise that I was thinking about that shirt as I, like many of you, grappled with the repercussions of what occurred in Charlottesville, VA.

For as I stared at the images of armed, young men with faces just like mine, screaming words of hate, brandishing swastikas and confederate flags . . . I couldn’t help but think of history.

Our history as a nation, as a people.

And sadly it is a history marred in America’s original sin.  The sin of racism.

A sin that has taken countless forms.

It has justified the enslavement of human beings and the genocide of entire peoples.

It has allowed us to deny people the right to shop, work, live and go to school.

It has endorsed the bombing of churches, the beating of innocent men and women, the assassination of pastors and the lynching of children.

It has infiltrated our policies and laws.  It has distorted our criminal justice system and hardened our immigration policy.  

And it too often sits within each of our hearts as we allow our assumptions, our stereotypes and our judgments to shape how we treat those who are different from ourselves.

And yet, this sin is not new.

It is as ancient as humanity.

And it emerges once again in our Gospel reading for this weekend.

I find this Gospel to be one of the most troubling in all of Scripture.

For it shows Jesus needing to confront the uncomfortable truth that his people, the chosen people, are just as prone to prejudice as anyone else.

In fact, their unique relationship with God made them particularly prone to this prejudice.  For if they were special, then others must not be.  If God had chosen them, then God must have rejected someone else.

And so it was natural that his disciples would keep her away.  For she was other.

For she was the outsider.  The one who was different.

And Jesus certainly had plenty of people to help who were Jewish.  So why spend his precious time on someone outside the family?  Outside the tribe?  Outside the faith?

But then something happens.  

Jesus chooses to listen.

He chooses to listen to the other.

To her story, filled with pain and fear.  Filled with hope and faith.

And in this process, both are changed.

Both are healed.

Both are transformed.

And in this encounter, I believe that we are given the model that must guide us as a nation if we are to become the people that God calls us to be.

We too must listen.

Truly listen to the stories of those who are different from us.  Those who have the courage to speak a word that we must hear.  Even if that word frightens us or disturbs us.  Even when it goes against everything we have been taught or experienced.  Even when it comes from those we do not know, do not trust, or do not like.

We must sit with the discomfort of listening to the African American activist who criticizes our privilege.

We must sit with the fear of the undocumented mother who must explain to her children what will happen if she is does not come home because she has been stopped by ICE.

We must sit with the painful memories of the Holocaust survivor who remembers our global failure to intervene until it was far too late.

And in listening, we will learn.  We will learn to see our own blind spots.  Our own prejudices.  Our own fears.

And only once we have learned will we be able to be part of that transformation that is so desperately needed.

Only then will we be able to heal the wounds that continue to scar our national landscape.

Only then will we be able to truly build the kingdom proclaimed in all of our readings today.

A kingdom in which every nation on earth is seated around the table.

A kingdom in which all who seek God will find who they seek if they comes with hearts that are open and a faith that is genuine.

A kingdom in which hatred and violence will have no part.  A kingdom in which the last will be first and the poor will be raised up.  A kingdom in which we will not hide behind hoods or shields, but will see each other as we truly are.  Broken, yet beautiful.  Both sinner and saint.

A kingdom rooted in love.  A love that binds us together as sisters and brothers.  A love that allows us to stand beside one another.  To stand up for one another.  A love that makes us one.

Yes, my friends.  Charlottesville is part of our history.  But so is Christ.

And it is his story that we have claimed.

May God be Praised.

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