Dismantling Our Boxes

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time | August 23, 2020

See today’s readings here. Video recordings of the Sunday evening Mass, where Fr. Brian regularly preaches, are available on Facebook at Delaware Koinonia. The archive of all of Fr. Brian’s homilies can be found hereSalesian Sermons

So a few days ago, a recent graduate sent me a letter, a reflection on his high school experience and the role I had played in it.

And as I am reading the letter, I am completely caught off guard by one of his paragraphs.

It seems that I had not made a strong impression on this young man in our first interaction.  Or to be more accurate, I didn’t make a strong favorable impression.

I guess an awkwardly skinny, utterly unathletic, total nerd who is way too excited for the beginning of school was a bit much for him to take.

He judged me.  Placed me in a box.  And moved on to surviving his freshman year.

And if this is where the story ended, it would have been disappointing, but not an unexpected ending.

But this young man did something that is so painfully rare it caught me off guard.

He changed his mind.

He challenged his prior judgments.

And he chose to enter into relationship with someone he had once written off and dismissed.  

It is hard to imagine my time at Salesianum without this young man.  And realizing that it could have so easily never happened if he had allowed his initial judgments to stand was quite a revelation for me.

Which is probably why his letter was on my mind as  I reflected on the readings for this weekend.

For in many ways, this Gospel reveals Jesus as someone who knew the boxes people were placing him in.  Who knew the snap judgments that led people to assume that he was John the Baptist.  Or Elijah. Or one of the other prophets.

And it wasn’t that these assumptions were bad per se.  But they were incomplete.

They kept Jesus in old categories.  And refused to allow him to be something radically new.

But more importantly, they were made by people who didn’t truly know him.  Who had not spent the time to understand his mission and identity.

Which is why Peter seems so refreshing.

For in his answer, Jesus apparently hears a confirmation of who he truly is.  That in the person of Peter, he has found someone who has come to know and love him as he is.

I say apparently.  Because just a few verses later, Peter will reveal that he didn’t actually understand what Jesus meant by the Messiah.  It seems Peter had his box as well.  And even though he had been with Jesus for years, he still failed to understand exactly who he was and what he was destined for.

It seems that familiarity does not shield us from making judgments after all.

My friends, each and every one of us finds ourselves in both the roles of Christ, Peter and the crowd at different points in our life.

Each of us has known what it is like to be judged, to be placed into a box, to be told the limits of who we are and who we can become. 

How many of us have been told:  You’ll never make it.  You don’t deserve that. That’s too hard for you.  You’re not that smart.  You can’t do that. 

Hmm I never thought of you doing that, saying that, choosing that?  It seems so unlike you.

How many of us have endured the looks and whispers of those who will never let us forget our inevitable mistakes and poor choices that are a part of life.  The photos and videos that still circulate, getting airdropped whenever we forget our place or strive to define ourselves as other than our worst moment. 

And yet at the same time, we are also painfully aware of how we in turn judge others.

How we attempt to prevent those we love from changing.  How we freeze them in our mind.  Refusing to allow them to become someone other than who we believe them to be.

How we casually make snap judgements every moment of every day about each person we encounter.

Even when we are not conscious of it.

How we clutch our purses tight or suddenly cross to the other side of the street when the black teenager walks towards us or we see the homeless gentleman sitting on his bench.

How we assume how a child will perform in our classroom based on the clothes they wear, the language they use, or the family situations in which they grow up.  How we assume a colleague will fit in with our office 30 seconds into an interview.  How we assume a person’s character by who they vote for.  How we assume we know someone simply by the meme they choose to share.

But in this Gospel, we are reminded of the alternative path we are called to take.  The path my student so bravely walked.

Which is the one in which we choose to reevaluate our judgements.  To dismantle our boxes.  To admit that we are often wrong.  That we missed the whole picture.  That there is more to the story.

When we see the limitless horizons that define each human life.  When we see the infinite complexity that is a human being’s identity.  When we shatter the labels that merely serve to control one another.

When we too embrace the truth that Peter declared.  The truth that we too are a daughter or son of the living God.  The ones on which Christ will build His Church.

May God be Praised.

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