Homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. Gospel of St. Matthew 16:21-27. Theme: What If?
In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds us that the Cross is the center of our Christian faith. It’s kind of unfortunate that in many ways the Cross has become something so familiar to us that it’s symbolism and message has lost much of its full punch-and-power. We enshrine it in our churches, hang it on the walls of our homes, and wear it as jewelry around our necks. But to Matthew and to the first Christians who were the original recipients of his Gospel, the Cross wasn’t any of these things.
To them, the Cross was an instrument of bitter agony, an emblem of public humiliation. The Cross showed them - and can still show us - that the consequences of sin are real. The destruction it did to Jesus’ body on the Cross is what it still does spiritually to every human being it touches. The Cross revealed to them - and it can still reveal to us - what sin did to those who crucified Jesus, corrupting their humanity and replacing it with devilish brutality. The Cross showed them - and it can still show us - what sin does to us, how it distorts our minds, blurs our choices and feeds selfishness within us.
The Cross is a sober sign of what it takes to be an authentic disciple, a committed follower of Jesus. Professing Christianity with our lives - and not just with our lips - and living according to the Gospel is a challenge and not something for the unconvinced or half-hearted. While we often joke about sin and even applaud its humor in our entertainment, the Cross is here to call us back to its stark reality and its potentially deadly eternal consequences. Jesus himself reminds us of that at the end of today’s Gospel when he says, “What profit would there be for a person to gain the whole world and forfeit his life in the process?”
Well, all this got me to thinking: what if we treated sin with the same seriousness and precautions that we treat the coronavirus? What if we were as aware of and as fearful of sin as we are of Covid-19? What would it look like to live in a world where we avoided sin with all the mindfulness and gusto that we put into avoiding infection? How would our lives, our relationships and indeed our very world be different?
It makes perfect sense that we should have this precaution against sin if we wish to preserve the life of our immortal souls and not just focus on our mortal bodies. After all, the coronavirus can only harm us for a temporary time, while the virus of sin can harm us - even kill us spiritually - for all eternity.
This train of thought, of our doing all that we can to rid the world of Covid-19, led me to ponder a few “what if’s” about doing all that we can to minimize the infinitely worse virus of sin in the world. This is, after all, one of the missions of Christianity symbolized by the Cross.
What if…we practiced intentional social distancing from those whose influence on us tends to lead us into temptation and weakens our relationship with Jesus?
What if…we carefully masked our mouths from telling lies, from hurting people’s feelings and from spreading gossip?
What if…we habitually washed our hands clean from the germs of criticism and the grime of grudges that harm and can even kill relationships in our lives?
What if…we faithfully took the preventative spiritual medicine of the Cross daily so that we could crucify our selfishness and follow Jesus with generous hearts?
What if…we embraced an overall spiritually healthy lifestyle which is the best defense against becoming infected by the virus of sin? A lifestyle that includes daily prayer from the heart, the reading of Scripture, regular Confession, frequent participation in the Eucharist, and concrete acts of mercy?