Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A
June 15, 2008

It almost sounds like conditions are being set. If the Jews behave well, they stand to get handsome rewards. If only they would shape up, God would reciprocate accordingly. “Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites." Fair enough, isn’t it? A case of “You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours.”

Could God be making a deal with His people here? Doesn’t all this appear like following God is a case of tit for tat? Is this for real? Could God really be saying, “You will be my people…but only if you listen to me and toe the line…” Or so it seems to the unwary reader.

Of course, we know better than to take isolated passages of Scripture, and make dogma out of each and every line, taken apart from the totality of the truth and meaning of Scripture as a whole. Today’s readings are a clear case in point.

No, God does not make promises on condition that we do our part. God’s love is never conditional. Let’s see what the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans says: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
This does not sound like a language of conditionality to me. He died for us, not because we decided at some point to be righteous, but precisely because we were deep in sinfulness. Helpless we were in our sinfulness. Does this not re-echo what we were told last Sunday? "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.” Let us look at what we are told in today’s Gospel passage. “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.”

I say it again. God’s love never is conditional. It is not dependent on what we do, who we are, where we come from, and what our credentials are. St. John puts it so clearly: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) In the Gospel, the Lord commissions the twelve to do their work without any precondition, not even that of potential remuneration. “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

We live in a very commercialized world. Everything comes with a price tag. Everything is quantified. Spiritual writers and social ethicists speak of the phenomenon called the “commodification” of society. Culture itself is commodified. In such a situation, everything is seen as a commodity. Everything is reduced to quantifiable commodity. In such a state of affairs, human relationships become more like business transactions. A mentality of exchange takes the place of wholehearted, unconditional giving. No wonder that, for the unwary reader, the first reading is so easily taken as a normal situation of give-and-take. If you hearken to my voice, you will be my people… In a commodified cultural mind-set, that mentality seems to be the most natural thing on earth. How often have I heard people say things like, “I better be a good person, so God will bless me abundantly.” “I better not forget going to Sunday Mass. God has been very good to me.” Just this morning, as I was on my way to preside at Sunday Eucharist in a nearby community chapel, one man told me about what he suggests all businessmen should do: make a pilgrimage to some miraculous statue some place up north. The gesture, he claims, would assure the budding businessman a train of blessings from above. This is the language of commerce, not a loving relationship. Our God must be a little too petty to be engrossed in our little games of commerce and material exchange. A few rosaries in exchange for success in a business venture? Ridiculous, you say? But that’s exactly how some of us think. Notice how many statues of the Sto. Nino are found in many a business establishment all over the country? Some of them are even dressed in the most outlandish costumes imaginable.

Ours now is the singular opportunity and task to gradually purify this particular aspect of our faith. Today, our focus is directed towards a less selfish and commodified approach to our relationship with God. What then can we do to gradually attain this? The readings themselves tell us.

We are told how the people in Exodus answered in unison: "Everything the Lord has said, we will do." Everything the Lord has said. Now that’s the easier part. But the harder part is: we will do. And here is where the effort lies. Here is where we can give ourselves the assurance that our relationship with God is not a one-sided, selfish enterprise. There is something for us to do; something for us to contribute. In today’s Gospel, the Lord tells the apostles to ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers to his harvest. But he loses no time in taking them eventually to task themselves. “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.” Isn’t this a case of prayer and action taking place side by side? Beg the Lord of the harvest; but roll up your sleeves and get to work in the meantime. I am reminded of a Russian saying which goes thus: “If you find yourself stranded in the middle of the sea, pray hard; but keep on rowing toward the shore.”

There are two sides to this seemingly simple statement. Everything the Lord has said… Doesn’t this refer to a certain sensivity on our part? Doesn’t this have to do with a needed listening stance to the will of the Lord? Everything that the Lord has said… not everything that we want to hear. Far too many of us tend to listen selectively to what the Lord says. We love the teachings that make us feel good about ourselves. We love to hear His promises of salvation. But we gloss over the hard teachings, or even go downright against them. In our times, what with so many reported scandals from churchmen, there seems to be so much anger from so many people. Rightly, some of them feel betrayed. They feel they deserved better examples from us. And whilst many claim they accept Christ, these same people find it hard to accept priests and bishops, even the Holy Father and his teachings. All who represent Church authority in any way are lumped into one mass. Many are even angry at priests and bishops. And the bigger tragedy is they do not even know they are angry, or what they are exactly angry about. Some even commit spiritual suicide by giving up on their faith and attachment to the Church altogether. In such cases, there seems to be a rethinking and a readjustment to many people’s response to God and His Church. It is now no longer exactly everything, but only some of the things that the Lord has said. A certain holding back; a certain mistrust clouds their view of the Church and her ministers, and the Church’s teachings as whole.

It is none of my business, of course, to blame them. I cannot. I will not. But as a priest and pastor, it behooves me to try to win them back; to do something in order to dispel somewhat this cloud of doubt, distrust and discouragement in their lives of faith and their attachment to the Church Christ has founded – and paid so dearly for by His death and resurrection!

The second aspect has to do with putting on flesh and bones to what we proclaim. Everything that the Lord has said, WE WILL DO… We will do; come what may; happen what might! The Israelites courageously decided right there and then to do as the Lord bid them. I am reminded of the plea from the Lord, when after having delivered his hard teachings about his body and blood, the disciples started going away one by one, till there was only a handful of disciples left. “And you, are you also going away?” Peter, the leader and spokesman of the tiny band of apostles, answered on everyone’s behalf: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.”

The Israelites’ answer sounded pretty much similar: “Everything the Lord has said, we will do.” The Israelites of old can teach us some lessons here. For all their failures despite their promises to the Lord, it is still worth our while to really take to heart what they said and make it really our own: Everything the Lord has said, WE WILL DO! And this time around, it is not so much because God is dangling before our eyes a chain of handsome – if, earthly - rewards. This time, we are motivated not by what He promises to give us in return, but by what He is to us: the pledge, the guarantee Himself of eternal life. Everything that the Lord has said, we will do! How about that for a mid-year resolution?