In Response to Hate: Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 28/29, 2012 (Readings)

For the communities of Dignity/NoVA at Emmanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Arlington, VA and Dignity/Washington at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Washington, DC.

No doubt the biggest news items you’ve heard over the past week or so include:

  • Coverage of the horrific violence that happened last weekend in Colorado when a heavily armed man – who is probably mentally ill – shot up a movie theater, killing and injuring so many; or
  • The build up to and the non-stop coverage of the Olympic Games that are getting underway in London; or
  • Local coverage of the 19th International AIDS Conference that was finally able to be held here in the US; and
  • Of course, the coverage of this year’s campaign as President Obama and Governor Romney continue to slug it out for the keys to the White House.

What you might not have heard, however, are these stories about…

  • The man in Oklahoma City who sustained 2nd degree burns after his car was vandalized and fire-bombed; or
  • The 17-year old young woman in Louisville, Kentucky who was attacked by a group of adults as she walked home from a convenience store with two younger boys, who are neighborhood friends; or – and most troubling of all,
  • The 33-year old woman in Lincoln, Nebraska whose home was set on fire after 3 masked men broke in during the night and mutilated her skin, carving slurs that justified the classification of this horrific act as a Hate Crime.

The common thread between these last three is that all three victims are gay.  All three were known to be gay or lesbian and were simply going about living – just like you and I do every day – their daily, fairly mundane lives.  Suddenly, out of the blue and without warning, a violence borne of hate tore their lives apart in ways they will never forget and in ways that will leave lasting scars – both literally and figuratively.

Today’s Gospel reading is the first 15 verses of the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.  Over the next several weeks – in fact for the entire month of August – we will hear practically the entire rest of this chapter and its more than 70 verses.  For the most part, this section of John’s Gospel is referred to as the “Bread of Life Discourse,” and it starts off with this passage we just listened to, the miracle story of the multiplication of five barley loaves and a few fish so very familiar to us all.  As we move through the following weeks and hear Jesus explain in various ways that the Bread of Life, the Bread from Heaven, is indeed his very Body and Blood, the final Gospel reading of August will conclude with these words:

“’The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe’….  As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

To be a follower of Jesus is not easy – it never has been and never will be. If we doubt that, we simply need to hear again that even among those who knew Jesus in the flesh, even among those who saw him with their own eyes and who heard him with their own ears – even among these some came to a place where following him was too difficult, where being his disciple was too demanding, and so they turned around, they went back to a “former way of life” and could not find it in their minds or their hearts to continue accompanying him, allowing their lives to be transformed by the Gospel of Love and of Peace that he preached.

What I’d like to draw our attention, to, however, is not the theological and spiritual significance of these very important Gospel passages.  These Scriptures are indeed quite formative for us as Catholic Christians, and especially for our understanding of sacramentality and our unshakeable belief in what we call the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine of Eucharist.

No, what I’d like to draw our attention to is the second reading from Ephesians – especially in view of those news stories I mentioned.  Scripture scholars tell us this letter was written probably not by Paul himself, but by a disciple of Paul. As a whole, the overall theme of the Letter to the Ephesians speaks to the Unity that should exist among the followers of Jesus. As the letter states, we are called to preserve unity in the Spirit through the bond of Peace.  The author challenges us not simply to believe something, but actually to live our lives marked by virtues that characterize Christian behavior. The three virtues named here are humility, gentleness, and patience.  By embracing these and living these, we will then be united in the Spirit through that bond of Peace.

That’s all well and good for us who believe the same things, who see the world through similar eyes, and who place our faith in the same God Whom we believe is indeed “over all and in all and through all.”  But what about those who may not only believe differently than we do, but who even hate or despise us for whatever reason?  How do we respond to those who speak words of hate to us or to any one else who is “other” simply because of who they are? What do we when face to face with those who who teach their children to hate, and who say that it’s OK to do violence – which is the offspring of hate – towards those who are different? What do we do when words which sew the seeds of hate sometimes come from those in our midst most called to preach the Gospel and its fundamental assertion that we are all the beloved sons and daughters of God? And … when we see what others can do to our LGBT brothers and sisters, how is it possible to be humble, gentle, and patient in the face of that!? And of course, perhaps the most difficult question of all is, where might there be hatred in our own lives and hearts, and how do we respond when the forces of this world tug at us incessantly, trying to pull us back to a “former way of life”?

I ask these questions not because I have any answers, but simply to remind us that the world in which we live and the Peace that God alone gives will shine forth only when we who claim to be Jesus’ disciples live our lives each day with greater humility, gentleness, and patience.  Even for those who would do us harm, is not this our call as disciples? Let us pray that even in the face of the most horrific acts of violence as well as the daily acts of unkindness we may encounter, we may always respond to one another and to all with humility, gentleness and patience.

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