21 Oct 2018
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Whenever we come to worship God, we usually sing songs of gratitude or praise. You know, we sing words like: “Here in this place new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away;” or “The God of all grace has blessed us this day, all of creation joins us in praise;” or “Sing a new song unto the Lord, let your song be sung from mountains high, singing alleluia!”
And these are songs of a free people; a people who’ve seen the difference between a life without Christ and a life with Christ. They’re songs of people who are not captive anymore, but are free in spirit. Christ has unlocked their “prison door” and they’ve begun to experience a new way of living. They’ve begun to live God’s vision of a “new humanity.”
The question is, though: Are we these people? We hear today that: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”—a ransom from all the things we can be a slave to, without even knowing it. Have we allowed ourselves to be ransomed by the Lord?
When I was in college, there was a young woman (probably in her early 20s) who had told the class she was Catholic (I think we were each describing who we were). And she seemed pretty normal and was a good presence in the classroom; you know, kind and helpful; she always wore a crucifix on her necklace. And then there was another young lady there who was just the opposite: she had a foul mouth; she was confrontational and overbearing, and didn’t believe in a god of any sort.
And by the end of the semester, we had two foul-mouthed girls in the class, who were rude and couldn’t care less about other people. And we had one less Catholic—she was a captive, and she did what was popular rather than what was right. She was in prison again, and she didn’t even know it.
Of course, that’s the struggle of so many youth today—to be a free person in Christ, or to be a slave to popular opinion. It’s a rather tragic thing to see a young man or woman in church with a face that says: “I would rather be anywhere else than here.” An expressionless face, a stoic and unmovable face that says (even if they don’t know it): “I am a captive.” And it’s sad to see someone who is unable to sing the songs of Christian freedom; who might sing the words on the page, but maybe doesn’t feel them in his or her heart.
And that’s not just a struggle for youth today; it’s also a challenge for many adults. The old idea of “keeping up with Joneses” keeps a lot of people captive. “My neighbor has a new car, and all I have is my old Buick with 120,000 miles on it.” Or “my friend Joe over here can run a marathon, but I can’t even run around the block.” It’s easy to be held captive to images of what we think we should be like.
And then we come to Mass and sing, “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.” But do we? Are we really so free and able to “place our trust in” God and be at peace about life? Or are our hearts and minds held captive and bothered by other things? I would imagine the answer is probably: “It depends. Sometimes I’m free, and sometimes I know I’m not.” But it’s a question we each have to answer for ourselves.
The thing about it, though, is that there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer. And that’s because, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” He didn’t come to strong-arm us into saying yes to him. Jesus is Lord, but…he doesn’t lord it over us. He never says: “I am the Son of God: the Ruler of the world.” Instead, he’s the much weaker “Son of Man,” who invites people to follow him; he never forces us.
He serves us by inviting us to be his friends. His disciples follow him because they want to, not because they have to. And they follow him because they know he’s “set them free” from their captivity to…popular opinion, or the latest gadget, or the idea that they have to change themselves in order to be lovable. The disciples of Christ are freed from all that, and they just follow him with trust, hope, and adoration.
And they follow him into something new—into a new way of living, into a new way of being human. Jesus shows us a “new humanity,” as Pope Benedict XVI calls it. And what this “new humanity” looks like is: interior freedom; kindness; a life of trust and fidelity toward God and others; a life of hope and integrity; a life of greatness and inner radiance; a life of happiness and peace; a life of service (that is, love) for God, others, and ourselves; a life of commitment and self-offering; a life of always looking forward and upward; a life that treasures the ancient and the old, and reveres and nurtures the new.
The Son of Man came to “ransom us” from our old selves, and to open the way to a “new humanity.” Of course, that “new humanity” comes with a price. And Christ has already paid the price on the Cross. But the price continues to be paid every time we try to “own” the freedom Christ offers us.
For many of our youth, the price of living as a free person in Christ is the fear of what others will say. What are others going to think if I’m actually happy that there’s at least one person in life who loves me unconditionally? What are others going to think if I say, “I can’t go out tonight because I just want to spend some time with my family.” The Cross happens again every time they put their love of God ahead of their concerns about what others think. The same can be said for adults.
But the beauty of choosing to be a free person with Christ, and embracing the occasional pain that comes with it, is that God’s vision of the “new humanity” comes to be a reality in us. In the 2nd Century, St Irenaeus saw very clearly that “the glory of God is humanity fully alive, and the life of humanity is the vision of God.” The flowers in the field, the birds in the sky give glory to God because they are what they’re made to be. And the glory of God, the radiance of God is within us when we are what we’re made to be: and we’re made to be free.
And that’s not only God’s vision, but it’s ours as well. James and John asked if they could sit with Christ “in glory.” And we’re just like that. We want “glory,” happiness, peace; we want life to be good and fulfilling. We know we’re made to be free.
So why remain captive to all those things in life which stop us from becoming part of God’s “new humanity?” Why remain captive to others’ opinions of us? Why remain captive to the social ideas that our human worth comes from our appearance, or the kind of house we have, or whatever? Why remain captive to all that when the Son of Man came to ransom us from that and to show us a better way, a happier and more glorious way?
Christ shows us a “new humanity,” a new way to live life. And he frees us from everything that holds us back. All that’s left is to take the first step: the first steps from captivity to freedom in God. And maybe it starts by taking to heart the words we sing at Mass: “Glory and praise to our God, who alone gives light to our day, many are the blessings he bears to those who trust in his ways.”