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 the second and Gospel readings.
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time | November 5, 2017
Every time I hear this Gospel, I can’t help but recall one of the more bizarre interactions of my Oblate life.
I was in my 1st year of seminary and I was walking in downtown DC when a street preacher noticed my clerical attire.
He pointed at me with venom in his eyes and said, you defy the word of God.
I was genuinely confused, until he explained, no one on earth is to be called Father. By taking that title, you dare to be like God. You are definitely going to Hell.
Now, I must admit, I was young and still in my infatuation stage with the Oblates, so I felt honor bound to defend the priesthood, mother Church and everyone in between.
But after 45 minutes of debate, I came to accept that this argument wasn’t going anywhere. For he took every word in Scripture as literal. And when he tried to convince me that Jesus wrote the New Testament in English and shipped it to America, I knew I had to just walk away.
I walked away so convinced that I was right and that my street preacher friend was wrong.
But 10 years later, as I reflect on that debate, I wonder if there was not some truth in the man’s fear. If maybe he had
For in taking on the title of “Father” or “Teacher”, I do dare to be like God.
And with that position of authority and power comes great responsibility.
Responsibility that continually humbles me each and every day that I walk this journey.
Every time an individual walks into that confessional and shares the burdens that cling to their soul, I am humbled.
Every time a student stops by the office to share what they are struggling with, eagerly seeking advice, comfort and strength, I am humbled.
Every time I walk into that hospital room, every time I stand by that family member at the foot of the casket, every time I stand before a congregation, I am humbled.
Because I have come to realize how inadequate I am for any of these tasks.
I am too young, I protest.
I don’t have the answers to why.
I’m exhausted. I can’t do it all.
I too am a sinner. I am not perfect. I am not a saint.
Why do people trust me? Why do they listen to me? Don’t they see who I truly am?
But then I re-read the letter from St. Paul and I realize that I am missing the most important part of our readings for this weekend.
Which is that we can only dare to be like God because God first dared to be like us.
And it is in us and through us that God continues to work in the world.
Let’s be real, Paul knew that he had not earned the position that he held within the early Church.
He had a bit of a temper problem.
He wasn’t exactly the most dynamic of public speakers.
And, oh yes, he spent most of his early years persecuting Christians and having them executed.
Not exactly a great resume for the most important missionary our Church has ever produced.
But Paul realized that God’s work did not depend on his own initiative, his own power, his own flaws, failures, and sinfulness.
It depended on his willingness to allow God to work through him. To allow God to take the initiative in his life. To draw on God’s power and strength, God’s wisdom and mercy. God’s infinite, unconditional love.
And if he remained open. If he continued to say yes. Then what he was able to accomplish would truly be limitless.
My friends, all of the titles that we claim for ourselves on any given day, force us to face the truth of the sidewalk preacher.
For we too dare to be like God each time we claim to be
And if we rely solely on our own gifts, our own talents, our own strength, our own authority, it will never be enough.
We will constantly feel that we are inadequate for the task. We will constantly be reminded of our weaknesses, our failures, our brokenness.
But if we can walk in the footsteps of the apostle, we too can realize that each of these titles is simply another way in which God is choosing to work in the world.
His beloved children.
We too can be vessels of God’s word and work in the world. Pouring ourselves out for the sake of those entrusted to our care.
All we need to do is say Amen. Amen to the God who waits for our yes this day.
May God be Praised