The Catholic Liturgy for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Feb. 24, 2019. Gospel – Luke 6:27-38. Topic: Do I Smell Like a Rose?
During his college studies in England, the famous Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi, began reading the New Testament to keep a promise he had made to a friend. It made a positive impression on him and he said that Jesus’ words went straight to his heart. He was fascinated by the Gospel passage we heard proclaimed today: “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” He was convinced that if Christians lived these words of their Master, they would become a significant force for peace and justice in the world.
After reading the Gospels, Gandhi was eager to explore becoming a Christian. So, he decided to attend a Sunday service. When he reached the doors of a local Episcopalian church, he was stopped by a clergyman who said to him, “Where do you think you are going, you (derogatory British slang word for a person of color). There is no room for your kind in this church. Get out of here or I’ll have my ushers throw you down the steps”. Imagine experiencing this abuse after having just been filled with hope and enthusiasm by the words of Christ, who preached love, mercy, forgiveness and unity! After this sad episode, even though Jesus continued to occupy a significant place in Gandhi’s mind, he sadly – but understandably - he rejected Christianity. His path to Christianity has been road-blocked and detoured by the scandalous behavior of those who claimed the name of Christian, but lived lives that were so very far from the teachings of the Gospel
In preparing for today’s liturgy, another one of Gandhi’s comments on Christianity popped into my head. He was once asked what would be the best way to spread the transforming message of Christ in the modern world? Newspapers? Radio? Television? He shook head at those suggestions and replied: “A rose does not need to preach. It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon.” And so that made me ask myself a question that I think we would do well to each ask ourselves: Does my Christianity smell like a rose, attracting others by its fragrance to investigate the person and message of Jesus? Or does it smell more like a drive down HWY 5 by the cattle fields of Harris Ranch, repelling people from Christ?
You see, the problem is not that we do not know what Jesus is teaching us in today’s Gospel. The problem is that we do not live what we know. We all know what it means to love, to treat others with kindness no matter who they are, and to forgive those who offend us. We know what it means to not judge the reasons for a person’s particular actions because we cannot see into their minds, into their hearts. We know that only God can look into those secret chambers of the human person, and thus, only God can truly and honestly judge each one of us.
We fail rather consistently to put into practice what we preach and I am the first in that line of guilty Christians! We would like to live like Jesus but we find ourselves falling short of the mark, even if we start off the day with the best of intentions. And the reason for this moral weakness is the wound of original sin which is found within every human being.
But it was precisely to heal this wound that Jesus came to us as Brother, Savior and Lord. He does not a cruel Master who teaches us a lifestyle that is impossible to live. Rather, He promises to be with each one of us always, to live within each one of us, making it possible for us – by His divine presence and power within us - to say “yes” to love and mercy, to say “yes” to forgiveness and unity. And not to just say “yes” with our lips, but with the concrete actions of our behavior.
It is primarily through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the Real Living Presence of the Risen Lord Jesus in Holy Communion, that this divine power and in-dwelling comes to us. Holy Communion - received with faith and mindfulness and not simply out of routine or habit – enables us to love and to live as true Christians, to put into practice the Gospel teachings that we heard today. We come to Mass every Sunday – and some of us more often that that – because we know how far we are from living and loving as Jesus taught. We know how much we need Jesus to live within us so that we do not become a road-block or a detour in someone’s path to Christ. We know how badly we need Jesus dwelling within us always, enabling us to become like roses, whose sweet fragrance of Christianity captures the attention of those around us, drawing them to the person and message of Jesus.