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2019-11-24. The Bad News of the Gospel

Dear friends,

This is the link to Sunday’s homily: https://youtu.be/fHf1n0oI2SA

The text of the readings and the full text of the homily are below.

The Bad News of the Gospel.
Sunday, November 24, 2019 homily by Father François Beyrouti.
Ephesians 2:14-22. Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
Luke 18:18-28. Thirteenth Sunday after the Holy Cross.

Readings.
A Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians (2:14-22). 24th Sunday after Pentecost.
   BRETHREN, Christ is our peace. He it is who has made both [Jews and Gentiles] one, and has broken down the intervening wall of the enclosure, the enemy, in his flesh. He has voided the Law of commandments expressed in decrees, so that of the two he might create in himself one new man, and make peace, and reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, having destroyed their enmity within himself. And as he came, he announced the good tidings of peace to you who were far away, and of peace to those who were near: because through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. Therefore, you are now no longer strangers or foreigners, but citizens with the saints and members of God’s household: you are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Cf. Is. 28:16) with Christ himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole structure is closely fitted together and grows into a temple holy in the Lord; in him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.

Luke 18:18-28. 13th of Holy Cross.
   At that time a certain man approached Jesus and asked him, saying, “Good Master, what shall I do to gain eternal life?” But Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but only God. You know the commandments; ‘Thou shat not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honor thou father and mother.” And he said, “All these I have kept ever since I was a child.” But when Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing is still lacking to you; sell everything you own, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When he heard these things, he was much grieved, for he was very rich. But Jesus, seeing him become sad, said, “With what difficulty will the wealthy enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?” He said to them, “Things men cannot do alone, they can do with God’s help.”

Homily.
Every time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy we read from one of the four Gospels. The word gospel means the good news. So when we read the gospel we are proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ birth, life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. During the Divine Liturgy we are not only reading good news from the gospel, we are also celebrating the good news. The hope of course is that after celebrating the good news, our whole life will be good news.

We have so much good news to proclaim, like: the good news of salvation, the good news of forgiveness, the good news of a personal knowledge of a loving God, and the good news of our life commitment to respond daily to all the blessings we have received. Because it is good news we continue to discover and grow in its riches every day to the extent that when we live what we hear, everything we think, say, and do becomes the Gospel, the good news.

However, the good news that we proclaim in Church, then try to live daily can sometimes become bad news. In these situations, rather than bringing us the happiness that it was intended to bring, when it becomes bad news it also becomes sad news.

You might wonder: how is it possible that the word of God, which is not just a passive spoken word, but an interactive and dynamic invitation, can become bad and sad news? We have an example of this in today’s Gospel where a man who had already heard of Jesus’ reputation, approached him and recognized him to be a “good master” (Lk. 18:8) who is able to teach him how “to gain eternal life” (Lk. 18:8).

Prior to meeting Jesus, the man had already received the good news of who Jesus was, but now wanted to learn more than he already knew. This is great news. When the man asks Jesus about how he can “gain eternal life,” Jesus begins by reciting only 5 of the ten commandments: You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.

It is surprising that Jesus does not mention any of the commandments that relate to our relationship with God. Rather, Jesus focuses on how the road to eternal life begins with how we relate to each other.

According to the man, he has done all these things. If indeed he has, then this is not only good news, but great news. The man has first recognized Jesus to be a “good master” who is able to teach him about “eternal life” and second he has kept a good part of the commandments since he was a child.

If we have done all these things throughout our life, then we most certainly would be happy people. What more could Jesus want? What Jesus wanted from him is what Jesus wants with from of us, and that is to not be satisfied with only the basics. We should never have a false sense of having accomplished all that is good, as if we cannot get any better.

Rather, if today we are good, then tomorrow we need to be better. If today, we are happy, then tomorrow we need to be happier. If today we are generous, then tomorrow we need to be more generous. If today we are wise, then tomorrow, we need to be wiser.

However, if we settle with only what we have achieved then we are stifling our growth and stifling the grace of God that is ready to keep work in us. This was the case with the man in today’s Gospel. He became not only satisfied, but complacent with the level of spiritual maturity that he had acquired.

Spirituality, just like every other field stagnates if it is not always trying to become better. Take for example the most advanced computer that came out only 5 years ago. It may have been much better than everything that came before it, but in terms of what is available now, it is worthless. With computers and every other field, it is never enough to be good. There needs to be a constant desire to be better.

The man who approached Jesus made a mistake. For him, good was good enough, when he had the potential to become even better. Are we too sometimes like this? Are we too quickly satisfied with the basics of the faith? Do we say “I know what’s in the Bible, so I don’t really need to read it.” Or “I said some prayers today, so I don’t really need to pray every day.”

Sometimes we are satisfied simply because we can say “many people have done worse things.” Do we really think that we have accomplished something great in life simply because we have not killed anyone, we have not committed adultery, we have not stolen, or we have not lied?

On our Christian journey these are only first steps along the way. It is only when we set aside the bad news that sin is, can we truly discover the good news of a daily walk with Jesus that not only leads us away from sin, but even more importantly directs us to a life of ever growing faith, virtue, and overall goodness.

So why was this man, and sometimes we as well, blinded to the greater good that God is calling us towards? In his case he was too attached to his money? We too may have this problem, where our attachment to money is more important than our attachment to God Himself. Perhaps money has become our God.
 
However, this is not the only attachment that we have that leads us away from God and prevents us from developing our spiritual life. For some it may be sports, for some it may be work, for others is may be leisure. These things may be good, but if these take precedence over our spiritual life then they are bad news for us.

The good news became bad news for the man in this Gospel because he grasped on to his money more than he wanted to grasp on to Jesus.  If this Gospel were written for us, would it read that we went away very sad because we preferred our Sunday football game or whatever it is that we put before our invitation from Jesus to move closer to Him.

Whatever it is that we are trying to hold on to, we have to realize that the more we try to hold on to anything other than the word of God we are deluding ourselves and setting ourselves up for the bad and sad news. Earthly possessions and pleasures are only a passing and temporary phenomenon. Holding on to things that are passing, is like trying to pick up water. It really does not work very well.

If we try to pick up water, it will only pass through our hands. Water is not meant to be picked up, but is rather meant to be used and shared. When we fill a cup of water we can both nourish ourselves and others with it. If I drink from it and give others to drink from it, then I and those around me are nourished. It is the same thing with earthly goods. We can use them for good things, but the more we grasp on to them the more they slip through our fingers.

Yes, we are supposed to work hard, be successful, have sufficient goods, and enjoy them. But if we do not see these as passing pleasures then the good news of our success is bad news within the larger picture of our life.

The saddest and worst kind of bad news is when we put the things that are passing above our love for God. For this man and for all of us, what starts off as good and happy news could easily and very quickly become bad and sad news.

Today, Jesus invites us, as he invited the man in the Gospel to not be afraid to let go of our attachments to everything that will pass and to hold on to the principles of the gospel which will bring us great happiness here and also lead us to eternal life.

We may be surprised that a man turned down an opportunity to be a disciple of Jesus. We may say this is very sad. However, how sadder are we, if we keep grasping on to what is passing. By doing this we forget to hold on to the Good News which is Christ Himself who alone can lead us to the fullness of happiness in this world and ultimately to eternal life.

 

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