Reflection on the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
What I’ll be saying this morning can’t really be called a homily. I won’t be teaching anything; it’s just my own reflection on a Gospel passage that troubles me, and I truly don’t know how to talk about it. These lines appear, I think, only in Matthew, and the context is Jesus’ preparing and readying to send the apostles out on their missions. And he makes it hard! — They have to be ready to love Jesus more than everyone and everything; they have to be ready to give their lives “for his sake.” He’s counting on them now to be able to carry the Word, to be his representative. Their presence then becomes equal to the presence of Jesus himself. That’s quite an order!
But the passage as a whole bothers me, and I invite you this morning to share my questions. Why? At least part of it is hearing Jesus speak of the need to be worthy of him, and all the ways you might be unworthy of him. It’s that word worthy. I’m aware, ever since I was 7 and made my First Communion — I’ve been aware (though I no longer sing it) of singing “O Lord I am not worthy that thou should’st come to me … but speak the word of comfort, my spirit healed shall be.” And we’d go to Confession – ( I did, anyway) and make up some sins and the priest would “speak the word of comfort” and we’d be clean and ready to go to Communion. Remember that?
In this Gospel Jesus says that if you love anyone more than himself — you can’t be worthy of him. Somehow, that feels strange to me — sort of like an egotistical man — and Jesus is human, after all) — glorifying himself. To me, it doesn’t sound like Jesus. I’m thinking I wish he hadn’t said that (and maybe he didn’t.). Because when we love anyone, isn’t Jesus part of that love?
I think the part that bothers me most is the emphasis on the word worthy: he’s telling his closest followers (the apostles, and us) what we need to do to be worthy of him. We can’t love our parents too much, and there’s a sort of tit for tat relationship in how we relate to other humans. What you give is the measure of what you get.
I’m not sure what all that really means in real life.
And worst of all, it worries me that Jesus speaks of being unworthy of him. To be honest, in my adult life (after I stopped singing “O Lord I am not worthy”), I have not thought of trying to be worthy of God. And I ask myself, could I ever, be worthy of the Divine? — or maybe — more scary — does God require that I somehow make myself worthy of the Divine? The word worthy implies to me owing, earning, deserving, meriting, … that kind of relationship. And yet, all of it — all of it — is God’s gift in the first place. If I am able to love at all, it is because God has placed in me — and you — a heart that can love, deeply, faithfully, freely. And we can make mistakes. It is through God’s gift that that we are here at all; it is the creative, creating energy of God, holding us in being every moment — loving us into being at every minute. What God wants of us is just to empty ourselves of our prideful egos, to offer ourselves however we are, with all our mistakes, our faults, our misses … offer that self as I am for God to use it for whatever the Divine intends, however Divinity has gifted us. There is no question of worthy or not. We are lovingly held in being in and through it all.
I guess that’s why I don’t like this Gospel. I hope God loves me anyway.