Homily – 17th Sunday OT – July 30, 2017
A man and his dog were walking along a peaceful country lane. It was a beautiful day, the birds were singing, the light breeze carried the sweet smell of the summer wild flowers, the sky was a magnificent blue and the sun was warm and gentle. Everything was right with the world when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead.
He remembered dying, and that the dog walking beside him had been dead for years. He wondered where the road was leading them. After a while, they came upon a walled city with high, white stone walls. It looked like fine marble. At the top of a long hill there was an opening in the wall, a tall arch that glowed in the sunlight, and a beautiful gate.
When they reached the opening he stood before the magnificent gate. The arch looked like mother-of-pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold. The man and his dog walked toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man sitting at a desk. When they were close enough, he called out, "Excuse me, where are we?" "This is Heaven" the man answered.
"Wow, it’s beautiful” he exclaimed. “We have been walking for a long time, would you happen to have some water?" the man asked. "Of course, sir. Come right in, and I'll have some ice water brought right up." The man at the desk gestured, and the gate began to open.
"Can my friend come in too?" gesturing toward his dog, the traveler asked.
"I'm sorry, sir, but we don't allow pets."
The man thought a moment and then turned back toward the road and continued walking along the way he had been going with his dog.
After another long walk, and at the top of another long hill, they spied an old farm house surrounded by a rustic split-rail fence. They came to a dirt road leading through an old rusty farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed.
As they approached the gate, they saw a man inside, leaning against a tree reading a book.
"Excuse me!" he called to the man. "Do you have any water?"
"Yeah, sure, there's a pump up there by the house, come on in."
"How about my friend here?" the traveler gestured to the dog.
"There should be a bowl by the pump."
They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old-fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it. The traveler filled the water bowl and put it down for his dog. Then he took a long drink of cool water himself. When they were full, he and the dog walked back toward the man who was standing by the tree.
"What do you call this place?" the traveler asked. "This is Heaven," he answered.
"Well, that's confusing," the traveler said. "The man down the road said that was Heaven, too."
"Oh, you mean the place with the Gold streets and pearly gates? Nope. That's hell."
"Doesn't it make you mad when someone else claims to be heaven like that?
"No,” the man said, “we're just happy that they screen out the folks who would willingly leave their best friend behind."
Throughout history nearly every culture has had some concept of heaven. From the ancient Egyptians envisioning an underworld rivers that lead to new worlds: Peaceful waters where he leads me to repose; mountain top Kingdoms and Banquets of sumptuous foods; Pearly Gates and Gold lined streets; Mansions with many rooms. It’s fun - and comforting - to think about what the Kingdom of God is really like.
It seems as if the Kingdom of God was also always on the mind of Jesus. There are almost 150 references to God’s Kingdom in the New Testament, 52 in St. Matthew’s gospel alone. However, when Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God, it seems that most of his listeners thought it to be some other-worldly place. Perhaps because in a world damaged by sin, a Kingdom completely without sin seems completely unrealistic.
In today gospel Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a treasure buried somewhere in a field. Then, as a precious pearl, a fine jewel found by a wise businessman who sold everything he owned in order to get it. Then He said the Kingdom of God is like a fishing net filled with both good and bad fish alike. Last week it was a sower, then as leaven in dough, as light, salt and seed. He called it a ripe harvest, a royal feast and a wedding banquet.
These parables were images that people of Jesus’ day could relate to. They were everyday terms that people understood. What kind of parables would Jesus use to describe the Kingdom of God for us in our day? Perhaps the Kingdom of God is like “A clean bill of health. Your cancer is in remission”, “a country without borders”, “a safe homeland for all”, “a parish of many cultures yet all citizens of Heaven”; for Sports enthusiasts it might be described as “a perfect Round of Golf”, “a Dream Team”, a “An undefeated Season for Notre Dame” or “Purdue” or “UK” if you are the new Archbishop Charles. For the Foodie the Kingdom of God might be described as a “Sumptuous meal without the guilt of calories or cholesterol.” Jesus uses everyday terms to describe the Kingdom of God, because the Kingdom of God is supposed to be an everyday reality.
Christ taught us to pray for this every time we pray the Our Father. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done On earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom of God is Here, and is Now. It is our very life…that sacred place where the very Spirit of God lives. If this isn’t true then the Incarnation, Christ becoming human, is meaningless. The Kingdom of God is found in our relationships with each other. In all the parables, and all of the miracles, Jesus is tirelessly living in the Kingdom of God, and through his example He is pointing out to us that God’s sole desire is for human life to flourish, to be fruitful, and to be joyful.
And so Jesus cried out:
To the deaf -“Stop being deaf!” that’s not good. You have ears, so hear!”
To the blind - “Stop being blind! That’s no good. You have eyes, so See!”
To the lame - “Stop being crippled. That’s no good. You have arms and legs and hands, so Move!”
To the mute - “Speak up! It’s not good to be silent when you have something good to say. Speak!”
When Jesus met the bleeding woman He said: “Stop bleeding. That’s no good. Give God a child!” And when He met the widow of Nain holding her dead son, and wept at the tomb of His dead friend Lazarus, He cried: “Come out, and Live!”
Jesus gave life; He restored life; He repaired life; He affirmed life. He lived life among the broken lives of the prostitutes, adulterers, widows, and the elderly. He lived among orphans, street people, thieves, addicts, vagrants, and the outcasts.
Jesus despised injustice; He hated unfairness, He was sickened by sickness and disease; Jesus was repulsed by violence; He set His face like flint against oppressors. And when the Prince of Darkness - Father of Lies - tried to conquer Him, He stood in simple silence on the grounds of Truth. Even death itself could not get rid of Him. Why? Because, He lived for the common good of all human life. He lived in the Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Are we living in the kingdom? Do we sacrifice our own personal comforts and conveniences for the common good of those around us? Do we give people life, or do we drain life from them? Do we give people joy or can we be a kill-joy? Is my relationship with my husband or wife life-giving or are there blocks and barriers to our happiness? Do our attitudes and decisions bring life, or do they knowingly or unknowingly bring sadness and death to others? I used to joke with one of my Managers that I could always tell when he was complaining, because his lips were moving. He had a way of making every comment in the form of a complaint. Do we invite people into our lives, or do we leave our friends outside when that’s more convenient for us?
The Kingdom of God is anywhere that Life flourishes. Are we living to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, or are we simply biding our time and fanaticizing about pearly gates and peaceful waters…hoping for an eternal reward in Heaven? If so, I believe Jesus would say to us…stop hoping in the future and Live today!