Our Cross is Love
- Written by Shane Neese
Homily for the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
I remember when I was in freshman English Composition class in college. The reading list, the essays, the lectures were all designed not only to teach us composition and grammar, but also to allow us to come to know ourselves in a deeper more authentic way. Through short stories like “I Stand Here Ironing,” and Dr. King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” we were faced with looking at ourselves and defining ourselves, perhaps even re-defining ourselves from how our parents and our preachers taught us and how we now see the world.
In the letter to the Galatians Paul reminds us that we are the Body of Christ, children of God, baptized into the one faith. We are no longer male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free. We are no longer who we were. We are now one in Christ. This is a different way of thinking about ourselves and those around us. It requires us to think, to care for, to take care of those around us. It is no longer me, or even me and you. It is now us and we. And that we have become children of the promise. Children of Abraham and Sarah.
Paul’s words make us search our hearts and see where we are at on this journey of self-realization and acceptance.
The Gospel reading reaches down even deeper into our inmost being and forces us to ask ourselves who do we say that Jesus is, and yes, who am I?
In my mind I can picture Jesus apart from the large crowd that was always around him. He is off alone with the disciples and he’s sitting there in prayer. He looks up at his friends and asks them very simply, “Who do they say I am?” as he points over his shoulder at the crowd. Oh well, some say you are John the Baptist, others Elijah come back, some think you are one of the other prophets.
He then asks, “But who do you say that I am?”
This question is two-fold. They are being asked straight forward, who do you think Jesus really is. And they are being asked deep down who they are as well. They are confronted with their own thoughts, hopes, dreams, and fears. Who is this man? I’ve seen him heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. I know what the prophets taught, I have listened to the rabbi’s. I’ve met his mother and she has cooked for us. But what do I believe, who am I and how do I fit in to all of this.?
Peter, bless his heart, jumps up and says, “You are the Christ of God!”
To paraphrase, Jesus then says that we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily and follow him. And that anyone who loses his life for his sake will save it. We know that cross by many names: suffering, pain, anguish, loneliness, fear. We know that we were never promised any easy road. Just hat he would be with us every step of the way.
But there is more to it than that. We are to deny ourselves, because as we learned from Paul, there is no longer a me or a you. There is only us. Deny ourselves and become the us. And that cross is more than just suffering and pain, or fear.
That cross is also love and forgiveness. Love without counting the cost. Love without fear of not being loved in return. Love because we are all one in Christ. Forgive because we are forgiven. Forgive because we too must always beg forgiveness and how can we be forgiven if we can’t forgive? And sometimes that means forgiving ourselves.
Daily take up that cross of love and carry it wherever you go. We don’t have far to look to see hatred, violence, or intolerance in our world.
But Jesus hung on that cross of love because of love. He hung on that cross that we might love as he loves – unconditionally, freely, with all our being.
That gift of love is present when we gather in thanksgiving around this table and share in his body and blood, soul and divinity.
We then take that cross with us, out there.
Look deeply within yourself and ask “who do I say that Jesus is?” Then take up your cross because someone out there needs to know about this message of love and forgiveness. They will hear it when they see how you love.
Why Is It Easier To Hate?
- Written by Shane Neese
As I was trying to go to sleep last night this question kept coming to the front of my thoughts. Why is it easier to hate another person than to love them?
Why is it easier to harm another person than to do good for them?
I believe it is because of the sin of pride.
We don't often talk about sin, let alone point a finger at something, some act and say, "that is sin!"
Perhaps sometimes we need to. Perhaps sometimes we need to talk about sin so we know what it is.
Pride was the original sin that caused the fall of humankind, that necessitated the need of the Messiah, of Jesus Christ.
It was pride that drove Eve to accept the snakes temptation. She wanted to be like God, to be god. And this carried over to Adam. He wanted what she wanted, he didn't want to be left out. It was this pride that was their undoing and reason humankind have worked for centuries to learn and understand God - something that was in the beginning, already ours.
It is easier to hate someone that is different than ourselves. We tend to think better of ourselves than of others. "I'm not like that, I'm better than that." "Well, I would never!" "I didn't do it."
Anytime we compare ourselves to another person we run the risk of wallowing in the mud of pride. Even when we pride ourselves on being more humble than another.
We are able to hate because it is easier to hate than to accept another person as they are.
It is easier to put down, to bully, to kill, to abuse, than it is to love unconditionally. Why? Because when we love unconditionally we are putting that other person at the same level as we are, and sometimes even a bit above us because we are concerned with their needs and making sure they have what ever is needed.
Unconditional love makes more work for us. It means we have to be emotionally involved, physically involved and the problems of others become our problems.
Hating another person keeps us from being attached to another, keeps us from having to step out of our comfort zone, keeps us from possible harm - after all if I put myself out there and they spurn that love, well, then I've been hurt.
Yes, sometimes when we love unconditionally we get hurt, we get taken advantage of, we spend some emotional energy. However we are told not to count the cost.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Mark when asked which was the greatest commandment,
"The first is this: 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Mark 12:29-31
Loving your neighbor as yourself means exactly that. Doing good for them, making sure they have what they need to survive and serve God, making them your equal in all things - regardless of who they are, regardless of their gender, regardless of their race, regardless of the color of their skin, regardless of whether or not they are LGBTQ, regardless of any condition.
This is why it is easier to hate than to love. It is easy to preach hate.
We must overcome this!
We must teach our children love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, respect.
We must teach ourselves and remind ourselves to love, be compassionate, to forgive without counting the cost, to have tolerance, and to respect all human life.
And when we stumble, we must get back up, dust ourselves off, beg whomever we have hurt for forgiveness, and try again. And again. And again.
The song running through my head right now is this: "They will know we are Christians by our love!"