May 2, 2015
In looking at this week’s readings we are presented with quite a mixed bag. On the one hand we have the misunderstood Saul/Paul. The disciples were afraid of him because of his bold proclamation, indeed the entirety of Acts is laced through with a little paranoia. In the Gospel we have vines and grapes, a thorny and entangled question if there ever was one. We also have John, placid, hopeful and very different in tone. One thing these seemingly disparate passages present however are images of ourselves.
I have been thinking a good bit about our attitude toward ourselves this week. Perhaps this is a reasonable meditation as we approach the end of the semester, the end of the year and we become, in times of stress, our truest selves.
This one goes off the deep-end. This one is now completely catatonic. This other one is in a frenzy of extroversion.
I wrote a paper for the class I am taking at CUA on the paschal mystery. In the paper, I stated that I believe that our main problem with discipleship is that we become focused on this or that and that thing dominates our ability to think about God. I think most of us, like so many others in the Church focus on a single thing and I think that thing is hell.
Today’s parable of the vine ends (or at least we think it ends) where we expect it to, in the fire.
Jesus is going to throw out the trash. How can we ward that off?
Our lives are so entwined with sin that we can scarcely hope to see the light of day, much less the perpetual day of heaven.
We think that most of the Bible, especially the words of Jesus are a threat.
But that isn’t the message of the Gospel at all, the message of the Gospel is salvation
The message of the Gospel is Christ taking us to himself, disciplining us, yes, but so that we can be his very own disciples, preparing us for a reward that, literally we cannot begin to conceive.
This past week I had the privilege of being asked to speak at Marian College in Indianapolis. The topic was hell, I mean that was the actually topic, not an evaluation of a difficult topic. Everything seemed to go well. I had a lot of Dante material to draw on but my message was not so well-received.
I later learned through the source of all information, that is, Keucher, that my talk was criticized for being too lib. That may be a first for me but that’s alright because the main thing I wanted to convey was that hell is probably too difficult for most of us to get into. I mean that.
It’s hard to go to hell. You have to envision things pretty carefully.
You have to have an overarching plan, a plan that needs to play out over decades.
You have to have a desire within you to truly appreciate its infernal landscape, lust for a connection with its citizenry, relish its awful achievements.
It’s hard to go to hell. And yet so many of us believe it is too easy.
People in our parishes are afraid of hell
Our Church, and the life of faith is often constructed around staying out of hell.
We know the sins, or should I say sin that will send us straight to hell.
Go to confession, another get out of jail free card.
Today we have the vine and the branches but the message is not infernal, the message is one of prosperity and hope.
Vines are interesting. They take a great deal of cultivation and here is the core of the matter: They can only be about one thing.
What is it saying that we so readily accept the fact that we are just so useless and unneeded that we are constantly in fear of being gathered into the fire and destroyed?
What is it saying when the parable wants to show us the exact opposite, Christ intends to make us shine.
Thankfully we have the words of St. John today
God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
Because our hearts, O our hearts
Our hearts are broken, brothers and sisters. We cannot love others because we cannot love ourselves.
Our hearts are desperate, we long for the one thing and yet, how often we do not know that thing for which we long and so we wander in search of lovers that can never satisfy.
The heart is a lonely hunter
And yet …
God knows everything.
He knows what we do and what we don’t do
He knows the brokenness that I mask with anger and despair
He knows the warmth I seek because I try to be so cold
He knows the knowledge from which I divorce myself because I think I am so smart.
He also knows something else, something we do not always know.
God knows, he loves us and he desires us to be his own.
That is something we have a hard time swallowing
That is scandalous grace.
Grace is a scandal because it confounds our expectations that just beyond the horizon of our imaginations there is a pit and in a moment we are ready to fall into it.
Grace is the voice that speaks to us saying: That death is not for you, that desctuction is not your end.
Grace is the arms of God that grasp tightly even as we violently fidget away so that we can fulfill our own imagined destiny.
Grace scandalizes us, because it points out that God wants us more than we can ever imagine wanting ourselves.
That scandalous grace brings us to the precipice and whispers in our ear: This is not for you.
I am for you. I want you.
Grace scandalizes us because it presents the fearsome all powerful, thundering God of hell in a vulnerable light, in the warm light of personal desire, and that person is us.
I know: All of this is too lib. You say: We need a bit of hellfire and brimstone to send us off this year.
Well, how about this? I will let you mix that little cocktail in your rooms.
Here we enter the halls of liberality. Christ has died and he is risen.