Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
Every so often, we hear of someone being catapulted from obscurity into prominence and notoriety. The high school kid from down the street becomes a famous athlete. The girl next door is a sudden TV star or wins a huge lottery. Sudden fame. But such prominence can be hard to handle. There is not the same respect and adulation from all audiences. We are all too familiar with athletes and stars being accused of domestic battery. Affirmation and applause are directed to performance, and not to the person giving the performance. Someone who remembers where they came from will have roots in a human world which is more supportive and sustaining than the world of impressions, attractions and publicity. Knowing where you come from includes all that very mixed personal history of struggle, suffering, pain and joy. It is self-knowledge which continues to grow, self-acceptance which shows no partiality or discrimination in what it acknowledges, and self-gift which has a self to give.
There can be real problems when the person has not done the inner work, does not have the inner strength and maturity to cope with being ignored or even rejected. As a child can be spoiled by being given too much without have to struggle for it or earn it, an adult can expect too much to come too easily. Disappointment can put the brakes on any further effort. We thought we were entitled to it.
Life has a way of confronting us with challenges to our areas of competence and security. We find ourselves in jobs, positions, relations which begin demanding more than we had bargained for and more than we think we are capable of meeting. It is like being promoted to our level of incompetence (Peter’s Principle). The tasks, obligations, and even vocations we follow seem to reveal an inability to meet the expectations latent within them. We are being tested to learn what depths lie within us, to learn where we come from. The temptation of Christ to be given all the powers and kingdoms at the price of falling down before Satan is the temptation to receive the goal without having to work for it, without its having worked a transformation in you. You received the word of God which is now at work in you who believe. Faith, Christian life, is a work. And it is on-the-job training. We are constantly being taught and learning. We are constantly uncovering the shams and scams that we thought were necessary to present a good face, to keep systems and hierarchies holding everything in place through doles and patronage. The very sufferings which we thought disqualified us and consigned us to lower places at the table of humanity are now recognized as wounds through which the energy of love and healing can reenter the closed world of disembodied truth, of ideologies and self-righteousness. We remember where we come from. All of it. No partiality. It is a common humanity that embraces everyone as equals. You are all brothers and sisters with one God and Father in heaven. This is where we come from. We were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well.
Pope Francis has identified the temptation to short-cut our immersion into the demands of God’s covenant as spiritual worldliness (Joy of the Gospel): It is based on carefully cultivated appearances. It is a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten.. a trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others. Without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. The temptation to cut the Gospel to our own size and resist the alterations the Gospel wants to make on us. We have been promoted to a level of our incompetence where grace can begin to work.