June 9, 2024

Deacon Tim Papa Homily
Accept What Jesus Offers

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle B

Genesis 3:9-15; 2 Corinthians 4:13:5:1; Mark 3:20-35

I learned an important lesson when I was in the Navy. The way that a naval career is structured, a person’s first assignment after basic training is a three-year sea tour, assigned to a particular ship. You then rotate to a shore assignment, typically for two years, and then return to a sea tour assignment, usually not on the same ship you had been on but on whatever ship is currently in need of that person at that time. So those in leadership, those with seniority, have generally been on one or more ships besides the one that they currently serve on. Experience is a good thing: it allows a person to apply situations from the past, both good and bad, to their decisions about the future. The problem is when a person said, “Well, on my last ship, we did it this way…” Now this is usually said in good faith, as a way of indicating that there is another way of doing things and it has proven to be effective in the past. The problem is: no one takes it that way. What they hear is: “You are not as good as we were.” Or: “I want you to do it my way instead of me having to adapt to your way of doing things.” This happened a lot in the Navy due to frequent rotations, as I’m sure it is also in other branches of the military. It happened so often that we gave it a name in the submarine force: Usetaboat. This is the way that we used to do it on my old boat.

But this is not just a military phenomenon. It happens in all walks of life. And it is happening in the Gospel today. Jesus’ family is coming to him and telling him that he is not doing what they think he should be doing. A little background is in order. This Gospel is in the third chapter of Mark, which has sixteen chapters. In other words, Jesus is, at the time of our reading today, only just beginning his public ministry. He’s just been baptized, called his first disciples, and performed his first miracles. He now returns home to Galilee, and what happens? His family are ready to give him advice. You need to read between the lines, but all of us have grown up in families and know what is going on.

He is being told that: your father was a carpenter, and that you should stay a carpenter. What’s all this about preaching? Preaching doesn’t pay the bills like a steady job of woodworking. You can’t be a rabbi – you haven’t studied in Jerusalem. You are making the powerful men that control our temple and synagogues unhappy. You are hanging around a bad crowd. Just imagine: eating with tax collectors and other sinners. You should come home and do what your father and his father before them used to do.

I think we can all see the family of Jesus doing this. Haven’t we all done this with our relatives and friends? Don’t we all offer advice that we see as parental, if they are our kids, or friendly, if they are distant relatives or acquaintances? The problem is that what we see as advice, most people – as happened in my Navy experience – see as meddling or condescending. And to make matters worse, enter the scribes from Jerusalem. They don’t just think he’s crazy for not taking the usual career path of following his father’s occupation, they accuse him of being in league with the devil. It is to this situation that Jesus gives one of his hardest teachings to understand: “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin” [Mark 3:29 NABRE]. To understand what this means, we need to understand that it is being said in response to the accusations of the scribes and, to a lesser extent, his relatives.

What blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is, according to our Church, a refusal to believe in God and in the teachings of God the Son, Jesus. We sin against the Holy Spirit when we won’t listen to that voice that tells us not to sin, to love our neighbor, to not put ourselves before the needs of others. God is willing to forgive all of this. But we blaspheme the Holy Spirit when we refuse to acknowledge it as sin even when taught so by Jesus and his Church or, even if we know it is sin, refuse to ask forgiveness for it. We don’t receive forgiveness from God not because God is unwilling to forgive us and show us mercy but because we will not accept it. So Jesus is warning the scribes that by not accepting his teachings and instead attributing them to Satan, they are in grave peril. Fortunately for Jesus’s family, they came to see that his teachings were from God and came to believe in him. James the Younger, our patron saint, was a cousin of Jesus who very well might have been among those in our Gospel today. He however will be the first Bishop of Jerusalem and a martyr.

So what lesson do we take away today? There is a saying that can be tracked back to the fifteenth century and used by many writers such as Cervantes and Shakespeare: all comparisons are odious [ https://www.dnj.com/story/opinion/2016/01/19/life-happens-comparisons-od... ]. Jesus’ family is comparing his career as a preacher and teacher to what they think he should be, and the scribes are comparing his teachings to what they think he should be teaching, and therefore both are critical. But both groups are judging Jesus based on their ideas and are not judging what he is actually doing, seeing its merit and interpreting the signs Jesus is showing as being from God. We here today can easily, in hindsight, see this. But what situations do we experience today in our lives where we judge people based not on the merits of their actions but by the expectations of what we think they should do?

Do we judge our children based on their siblings or other children? Do we offer young people career advice based on what can make them the most money and not based on doing what they love to do? Do children compare their parents based on other parents who they see making different rules based on different situations? Do we judge our parish staff based on what usetachurch, our old parish, used to do rather than what seems to work for our congregation? Jesus is asking us to accept him, his teachings, his love, his mercy. Jesus is teaching us that we should evaluate those around us based on the results and not on what we would have done in their stead. If we judge others by our own standards, we always think that someone is “out of his mind.” If we judge them by God’s standards, we can understand them, love them, and then truly be there for them.

As we continue with our Mass, may our partaking of the Bread of Life help bring us into communion with one another. May we follow in the footsteps of our patron Saint James and truly understand the redemptive teachings of his brother, our brother, Jesus Christ. May we all accept the love and mercy of God, understanding that God will give it to us but that we must, for our own part, willingly take it.

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