Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scripture Readings: Is 66:10-14; Gal 6:14-18; Lk 10:1-12, 17-20
A few days after I was born, I opened my eyes, and taking a look around caught a first glimpse at the world, not realizing at the time that the “world” I was looking at was actually the inside of a house; the first house my parents as a young couple were able to afford, a dinky, little Cracker-Jack box of a house, which was, as one new born, my world. Growing up as a child, my humanity, the very person I am, was formed and took a distinctive shape within the walls of that plain little house, which, I was reminded again and again was not my house, but my mother’s house; something like an extension of the womb, in which I was conceived. We are each of us born and formed in a house that is not our house, and reminded of this again and again by all those familiar things a mommy says: “Before you leave this house”, etc., or “I will not have that in my house”, and “So long as you live in this house, little boy . . .” Like many mature men, I am amazed, when visiting my mother, how quickly we both revert to a mother / child relationship, and how strange it feels at age 60 to be back in my mother’s house. Why is that? I think it is because the “house” each of us lives in is actually our human nature, but our human nature is given its present distinctive shape by the house our mother brought us into.
All of which casts a curious light on Jesus’ sayings in this morning’s gospel. Jesus distinguishes between two kinds of houses: a house in which I am welcome as a messenger of God, and enjoy a meal, and a house where neither God nor I are welcome, and from which I am to depart and to curse, saying: “Even the dust of this house I wipe from my feet as a testimony against you.” But then, one might ask: What is the address of the house of the enemy of God? If I am to curse the house of him who spurns God and the gospel, I want make sure I’ve got the right house. But, if I acknowledge that my “house” is actually my humanity given a distinctive shape by the house I grew up in, then I must acknowledge that my humanity is a house I share with every other human being, including those who spurn God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The enemy of God and I live in the same house. So, how do I “wipe from my feet” the dust of “his” house? What did Jesus do? We know that, in spite of his words in this morning’s gospel, Jesus did not ultimately abandon the house of those who spurned God and the gospel, but returned to that house, and we know that, returning, he was tortured, crucified, and died in that house, in order to accomplish the will of God who is Love. Was it because Jesus loved and assumed the humanity we all share, that he consented to die in the house of the enemy of God?
It was well known by all who knew Padre Jorge Bergoglio that he hated going to Rome; that he had “wiped from his feet” the dust of that awful place so that even as a cardinal archbishop, he would do anything to avoid a trip to Rome, a place he despised as representing everything he objected to in the “self-referential church”; the Catholic Church turned in upon and pre-occupied with itself: its doctrinal disputes, it’s grandiose liturgies and hierarchical intrigues. It is illuminating to watch a recent video of Francis presiding at St. Peter’s over the ordination of two new bishops; watching him enter the basilica accompanied by a phalanx of acolytes, and men in black suits, Francis carrying a huge cross, a mitre on his head the size of a car, with the eternal M.C. Archbishop Marini at his side in an intricately laced surplice, the expression on Pope Francis’ face like that of a man walking to the gallows. And that is exactly what you are watching: Inside that very house whose dust we were sure he had wiped from his feet, we see Padre Bergoglio now ensconced as a permanent resident. Never mind reports that he has eschewed the papal apartments and does not live where the pope lives. We all know where he lives. And don’t tell yourself, “Oh yes, but he is the ‘Great Reformer’ who has come to turn that house upside down; to introduce thorough-going reforms, so that the papacy, after Francis, will never be the same.” No doubt, a singular blessing for the church would be such a thorough-going reform, and there are signs this might actually be happening, but, brothers and sisters, there is one and only one way you reform the papacy: you get elected pope, you say “yes”, you put on a ten gallon mitre, you take upon yourself, the weight of the world, and, realizing the papacy is killing you, you unite yourself with Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice; you say “yes” to this impossible burden; to this death, and you die with Christ on the cross.
Francis, for love of God and humanity, has taken up permanent residence in the house of those who by “spiritual worldliness” were reputed to have spurned God. But Francis was always a resident of this house. It is his mother’s house. And it is in this house that he is substituting himself for that august, decorated prelate he fought against all his life. Here, in the enemy’s house, he is replaying the mystery of substitutionary sacrifice by which Jesus Christ himself accomplished our redemption. And when at last Francis collapses under the weight of that mitre, and dies, an elderly and exhausted man, he will be carried down into the basement of that house, and buried there. Welcome home Padre. Pope Francis is showing us the Christian vocation to which each of us is called: total, personal identification with Jesus who substituted himself for us; suffering and dying out of love for us. Brothers and sisters it is good for you to know where the house of the enemy of God is located; to know well the exact location of that house whose address is your Christian destiny.