Once upon a time, the pastor of this church stays just a little too long. The congregation is eager for a new priest. Well, one year he petitions the bishop for a transfer. He waits until the last Sunday before leaves to announce his transfer. As he walks into the pulpit, the outgoing pastor says, “This same Jesus that called me to be pastor here, now calls me to leave and serve another congregation.” With that announcement, the choir stands and sings, “What a friend we have in Jesus!”
Our friend, Jesus, gets a little tough today.
Growing up on the Catholic south side of Chicago, my parents and grandparents always tell me, “Offer it up.” Remember that? “Mom, my arm hurts.” “You’re alright, offer it up.” “Grandma, I’m hungry.” “It’s not time to eat yet. Offer it up.”
Today Jesus tells us to offer it up, and then, follow him. And, he is not taking excuses.
“Follow me,” Jesus says. And many things get in the way. First there is family. Sometimes it is the familiar ones who keep us from fully following Christ. Then there are the friends. We that if I really follow Jesus Christ, I will lose my friends. Then there is the Cross itself. Sometimes, it is self-imposed by our lack of happiness and our burdens of illness. But the real Cross of Christ is always juxtaposed to our day-to-day lives.
Here is a real life example in the scriptures that means something for us today. One of the shortest letters in the Christian Scriptures is St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon. St. Paul is an old man when he writes this letter. He is in prison for preaching the Gospel. He is writing to his friend Philemon because Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, runs away. Now, the penalty for a runaway slave is death. The penalty for harboring a slave is death. But Paul (who has nothing to lose anyway) asks that Philemon bear the weight of the Gospel and welcome back his slave with open arms as a loving friend. Paul’s request is large. Paul’s letter is important. And it is still quite controversial today because some theologians remain disappointed that Paul does not condemn slavery. In fact, for hundreds of years the church uses this letter to justify slavery. In the end, the lesson is this for Philemon: If he wants to truly follow Christ, he needs to change his attitude. His intentions must change. Onesimus runs away and is returning home. Welcome him home and offer it up.
Our modern example is Pope Francis who offers up many things. He says, “yes,” to his election as Bishop of Rome. He leaves behind all his belongings, his home and his sister in Argentina. He moves into a guesthouse behind the Apostolic Palace. He wears a simple silver cross and ring. And, he confronts the leaders of the world at the G20 summit in Russia. Like Jesus, Pope Francis get tough. He says:
The meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the twenty most powerful economies, with two-thirds of the world’s population and ninety per cent of global GDP (gross domestic product), does not have international security as its principal purpose. Nevertheless, the meeting will surely not forget the situation in the Middle East and particularly in Syria. It is regrettable that, from the very beginning of the conflict in Syria, one-sided interests have prevailed and in fact hindered the search for a solution that would have avoided the senseless massacre now unfolding. The leaders of the G20 cannot remain indifferent to the dramatic situation of the beloved Syrian people which has lasted far too long, and even risks bringing greater suffering to a region bitterly tested by strife and needful of peace. To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution. Rather, let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community.
Today at the celebration of the Eucharist, or, while praying, please join me in prayer as we offer up our own political positions to pray for the people of Syria, and, to pray for peace.
Almighty eternal God, source of all compassion, the promise of your mercy and saving help fills our hearts with hope. Hear the cries of the people of Syria; bring healing to those suffering from the violence, and comfort to those mourning the dead. Empower and encourage Syria’s neighbors in their care and welcome for refugees. Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms, and strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace.
O God of hope and Father of mercy, your Holy Spirit inspires us to look beyond ourselves and our own needs. Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence and to seek reconciliation with enemies. Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria, and fill us with hope for a future of peace built on justice for all. We ask this through Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Light of the World, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.