Friday, February 25, 2011

Just Do It

Y'all remember last week Jesus drove the Temple staff crazy right in front of the Temple! Imagine someone coming into your house and yelling at your parents...who would stand for that? The scribes & priests got so fed up with Jesus that they wanted him dead. Tell me again, who ran Judea? Caesar? Yes, and who did Caesar put in charge of Judea? He washed his hands at Jesus's trial...Pontius Pilate! Yes, the Roman Governor, who had the power to sentence criminals to death. So the priests told Pilate that Jesus wasn't just a religion problem, but a political problem, too. Crowds of people thought Jesus was the Messiah, a new King like David; that would make Jesus a rebel. So after knocking over tables in the Temple Court and chewing out Pharisees, Jesus had only a few more days to live.

In these last days Jesus was still busy telling parables; let's look at a couple of them. Remember when I read parables, imagine ya'll are in ancient Jerusalem listening to Jesus tell 'em.

"What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not'; but afterward he repented and went.  And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?" The first one! Yes, that's easy. Jesus isn't too interested in what people say they believe, he's interested in what their faith makes!  Yes, because Jesus expects us to! Yes. Then Jesus told the chief priests and Pharisees, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you." I bet their heads were about to explode! Tax collectors and prostitutes weren't part of decent society...but they're going to heaven first? Jesus means that people like the Prodigal Son who repent of huge sins will do better than people like his older brother, who won't repent of their small sins. Then Jesus says, "John the Baptist told everyone to repent; and humble sinners did repent. But y'all are too proud." And without repentance, there's no...forgiveness?  Yes. And no forgiveness on fire...pitchfork in the butt...Hell! That's it!

Tonight my favorite Sacrament is Marriage, because it figures in this next parable. "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son..." OK, this is a parable, so tell me who the King is...God? More specifically...God the Father. Yes...and the son is...Jesus. Yes. The father "sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come." OK, now this half of the class is Chosen People, Sons of Abraham; the other half are non-Jews, what we call Gentiles. Which group is invited to the wedding feast? Chosen People! Yes, but they didn't come. This doesn't mean every last person didn't come; it just means a lot of them didn't, even though they were God's family.

"Again he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.' But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them." Now, who might one of these messengers be, whose message the Pharisees ignored? Jesus? Good guess, but who is the son in this story? Jesus. Yes, so he can't do two parts.  Who was the messenger who came before Jesus...his head got cut was put on a plate...John the Baptist? Yes. "The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the highways, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.'  Which group is this? Us! Yes, the Gentiles, people not part of God's Covenant. And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. "But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment..." Who has been to a wedding feast, what we call nowadays a reception...lots of y'all...tell me about it. It's fun and there's good food. And? People dance and there's music. Yes, a great time. And how do people they're gonna cut the grass? No they dress nice! Why? Because it's special! Yes...I mean, why do people dress nicely when they attend something special? You just have to dress special if you're going to something special. Yes, that's how we show with our bodies that our minds and souls believe it's special. Daughter, if I came to your wedding in a t-shirt & flip-flops, how would you feel? I wouldn't like it. But suppose I said I know this is your special day, and I'm so glad I came, but I don't like wearing a suit and tie, they're not comfortable like jeans. I wouldn't care. Right. You wouldn't want someone to behave badly at your wedding. But clothes aren't the same as behaving. Well, in some ways, it's a kind of behavior. How you act, smell, sound, and look are all parts of behavior. 

And the king says to this guy who had no wedding garment, "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?" I love that: "how did you get in here?" The king can tell just by looking that the man doesn't have respect for the king, and how wonderful the feast is.  "Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." What's the outer darkness? Hell?  Yes. Now what banquet is the parable about? We have it on Sundays....Mass! Yes. But something is missing from this wedding feast...we have the groom...we have the father of the groom...there's no bride! Yes! Who or what is the bride...who is Jesus's bride? Jesus didn't get married. Yes, you are right. But this is a heavenly, spiritual marriage; like when Isaiah said Israel's husband was God.  Jesus's bride is the Church. He loves the Church like I love my wife; well, actually it's the other way around. And that's why we call the Church "she," like a ship. Do priests get married? No. Right: they imitate Christ, who had no bride on Earth. But who is Jesus's heavenly bride? The Church.  So if priests imitate Christ, they marry...the Church too? Yes. How can she have a thousand husbands? It's not identical to an earthly marriage. By the way, speaking of spiritual marriage, whom do nuns marry? Nobody. I said spiritually. Ummm, the Church? Is the Church a bride? Yes. Do women marry brides? No. So do nuns marry the Church? No. Women Yes; so nuns marry...ummm, Jesus? Yes. Priests give themselves to the Church and nuns give themselves to Jesus; and my wife and I give ourselves to each other. It's all very romantic.

Here's our last parable from chapter 25 of Matthew's gospel: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne." That's Jesus quoting Daniel again.  "Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left." So the sheep go to...heaven, and the Hell. Yes. And he says to the sheep, "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'  Once again, Jesus wants to know what you do, not just what you claim to believe.

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

When Jesus says "the righteous" in this way does he mean people who are really, truly righteous? No, people who just think they're righteous. Yes; people who think they aren't bad enough to need to repent, and do good works. And in this parable, how does Jesus expect us to take care of him? By taking care of other people? Yes, because Jesus is in all of us.

[I pull out a picture book about this person:]

 Who's this? Mother Teresa. Yes, nice to see some of y'all know who she is; tell me about her. She takes care of sick people. Yes, she used to; she died a few years ago...the Church may make her a saint in your lifetimes. [I show some pictures in the book] She lived in India, where very poor sick people may lie on the sidewalk until they die. She made it her business to take care of as many of them as she could. She had been a schoolteacher, but one day on a train, Jesus spoke to her. He asked her to love him by loving the least of his children, just like Jesus said in this parable. So her life permanently changed at that moment.

Who's Jay Leno? He has a TV show! Yes, the Tonight Show. About 30 years ago, I saw Mother Teresa on the Tonight Show. In her photographs she always looked grumpy, but I was surprised to see how lively and happy she was in real life. I couldn't understand why she was happy, since she spent all her time dealing with scabby, smelly, sick, dying people. But she said she saw Jesus in all those people; and she was happy to do stuff for Jesus. She was just doing what Jesus said to do in the parable. Anyway, for years after watching her on TV, I felt guilty about not doing anything for anybody like Mother Teresa did. One day I told my priest I liked Mother Teresa's example, but I never saw sick people lying on the sidewalk in Greenville. So he started me going to the hospital to visit sick people and bring them Communion. At first it was odd: I can't stand the hospital, didn't know any of the patients, and felt unworthy of bringing them communion. But after a couple of months I got used to it, and learned to see Jesus in those kidding. Now y'all remember Moses' stick and Jesus's cloak with the tassels, were those things magic? No, they were just...well, God's power went through them. Yes; they were media, like the TV that mediated Mother Teresa into my house. Well, over the next few years of going to visit the sick, I realized I was being a medium for God's grace; there were times when dying people were so happy to see me, but it wasn't me in particular. I think it was God coming through me to so:

One time I went to see a woman, who of course was a total stranger. I knocked & walked into a dimly-lit room. There was a very old, thin woman in the bed, the skinniest thing you've ever seen. She wasn't moving, but her eyes were open. Her daughter, a grownup like me, was trying to feed her some yogurt; and her two daughters, about your age, were there too. The old woman's daughter was stressing out and getting frustrated because her dying mom wouldn't eat any yogurt, but she was supposed to. And the two granddaughters were worried and stressed because their mom and grandmother were stressed. The whole room was unhappy. I told the daughter I was there to bring her mom Communion if she could receive it; sometimes people are too dehydrated to receive Communion. The daughter said her mom would want to, but she was too dry, couldn't swallow, and wouldn't eat any yogurt, which would moisten her mouth and throat. I said, do you mind if I try? She said sure, go ahead, and sat in a chair, just exhausted from taking care of her two girls and her mother. I took the cup and spoon. As I got closer to grandma, I saw she was so dehydrated that her lips were cracked and had little scabs on them. I said to her, "Hey darlin', I'm here to bring you Communion if you'd like to receive." She looked right into my eyes and nodded just the littlest bit; she was worn out, too. " you want to try some yogurt? It'll help you to swallow." Another little nod, kept looking right in my eyes. " you go, just a little bit...there. Was that too much? OK...another one...let me know when you've had enough...another one, good..." And it went like that 'til she ate the whole container. Then, "Do you think you can swallow a little bit of Communion?" Yes. "Would you like to sip some water from a straw to help it go down?" Yes. "OK darlin'...the Body of's the that enough? There ya go." We just looked at each other the whole time, and all the tension left the room. I swear she was smiling with her eyes the biggest smile I've ever seen. I could feel God's love flowing out me and into her, and from her into me. We were both seeing Jesus in each other. It was incredible. I said, "I'll see ya next week," and kissed her on the forehead. When I came back the next week she was gone. Yes? How come she got to have communion right after eating? Because the rules are different when you are seriously sick.

This is a good example of what can happen if you try to see Jesus in everyone, especially "the least" of his children. Not only can you be a medium of Jesus's love to a stranger, but surprise, they can channel Jesus's grace right into you as well. It's amazing what great things happen when a sinner like me lets God use him. And if it weren't for this parable and Mother Teresa, I don't know if I would ever have visited a single sick stranger.

That was our last parable; Jesus is going to be arrested soon. But before the soldiers come for him, he and his Apostles eat the Final Dinner. The Last Supper? Oh yeah, that's it. We'll cover that next.