Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kgs 3:5-12; Rom 8:28-30; Mt 13:44-52

There appeared on a Bulletin Board in the Sisters’ monastery a very fascinating internet article about "Things that will disappear in our lifetime." Just listen to some of these and consider how much and for how long they have been fixtures in our daily lives. The Post Office. The check. The newspaper. The land line telephone. The book. Television. They are all losing money rapidly and have little chance of sustaining themselves in the long run. They are all being "done in" by the microchip revolution and the computer. There are many other things that will go along with these disappearances. As my sister, Nancy, who teaches sociology reminded me: with each one of them there will also disappear thousands of jobs. And as my mother, age 97 reminded me: the poor will get poorer. She said: people like me who can’t use a computer are just out of luck.

All of this reminds us—more than we would like to admit—how deep and broad are the cultural changes we are currently living through. Many of these changes can make us extremely uncomfortable. Because they mean the end of ways and habits that we had become familiar with and grown to like very much. I really like getting the newspaper each morning and reading it with my cup of coffee. Having my coffee with a hand-hold computer just isn’t the same thing. As I was reading this list to my sister over the phone, she was agreeing with them one by one and was showing where they were already beginning to happen. But when I got to the book and the television, she cried out: "Oh no! Not my book and my TV too." Such a time of deep cultural change can be a very hard time for some people.

Most modern Christians are probably not aware of it, but a very similar religious cultural transition was going on among the first two generations of Christians. All the early followers of Jesus were Jews and very deeply rooted in their Jewish religious culture. But in believing in the teachings of Jesus and especially in his death and resurrection, they had to confront a whole new set of convictions and practices. Some of these fit easily into their Jewish background and others did not. There were some very contentious debates among Christians in those first generations. There were certain Jewish practices that disappeared forever and others were significantly changed. In the year 100AD a Christian could easily have written an article entitled, "Things that will disappear in our lifetime."

The gospel passage we just heard speaks to that situation of cultural change, particularly the last line: "Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the old and the new." Jesus is telling his disciples that they are going to keep some things from their Jewish background and others are going to be replaced by new beliefs and practices. The wisdom, of course, is knowing exactly which to keep and which to replace. There are no exact guidelines for that. We need to pray for the help of God’s Spirit. And pray hard!

The story of Solomon in the first reading provides us a valuable insight about dealing with changing times. Solomon doesn’t look to himself, but to how he can help others. The danger, when we deal with times of transition, is to look too much to ourselves, to what we have to change and don’t want to. The more we look to helping others, the more we will be helping ourselves to cope with change. It’s a lesson we are all going to have to learn.

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