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JESUS GETS US, BUT DO WE GET HIM?
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A
Presented at Our Lady of Grace Parish, Ballston Lake, NY
Millions will watch the Super Bowl tonight and millions will not. Still, surveys tell us Americans are obsessed with football. It seems that the sport is a metaphor for American rugged individualism and the fighting spirit that gave us revolutionary independence. Some suggest, even for those who do not like football, that it is the most popular cultural and social event of the year. Others think we are only interested in the pageantry, the halftime show and the clever commercials.
One commercial tonight deserves our attention. Maybe you’ve seen the ads on social media, TV, the Internet and billboards. “He Gets Us” is a movement created to reintroduce America to Jesus of Nazareth and his radical way of living by loving and forgiving. Tonight’s two Super Bowl commercials will cost about 20 million dollars.
Theologians, pastors and others are suspicious of the movement. Some say it portrays an incomplete and simplistic view about who Jesus was and what he did, that it focuses on his human but not his divine mission. Others are critical of it as a subtle effort to promote Christian nationalism in this country disdaining other faith groups and minority races that have emerged in the course of American history.
In the meantime, last week Pope Francis, with a bad knee and a broken heart, challenged corrupt civic leaders and corporations to stop pillaging the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pope Francis called upon them to stop child abuse in the cobalt mining industries, to treat women as equals in cultures that breed exaggerated masculinity, patriarchy, and dictatorship.
The pope’s African journey to South Sudan had many agendas. His speeches were powerful reflections that Jesus himself may have delivered if he were alive today. The pope reminded all of us, who often live far away from the injustices in other countries or our own, that the cultural caste systems in the world that divide people in haves and have-nots are driven by prejudice, ignorance, power and greed.
The first reading this morning is from Sirach, a book of wisdom. Originally, it was used as instructions for Jews whose cultural system and values were threatened by dominant foreign leaders and internal conflicts. This passage urged the Israelites to remain faithful to the guidance, the commandments, given to them by God.
Today, many sociologists and historians claim that cultural systems that promote the common good and a decent way of living for all people are slowly being thwarted by powerful and privileged members of society whether in Ukraine or here in the United States.
Is religion helping to heal the wounds? The polarization that exists within our church and other faith groups is also discouraging and troubling for many. Different generations, especially younger ones, are feeling disenfranchised. They are moving away from religious institutions in search of spiritual direction.
The gospel this morning is a section from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. It offers ethical guides that are relevant today. They summon us to practice loving kindness toward one another rather than hate and anger. Biblical scholar Melanie Howard, wrote that these are teachings that Jesus endorsed and “can be understood under a larger paradigm of upholding trust and compassion within [the] human community.”
Taking action to end divisions, social inequities, and other injustices that tear us apart can lead to experiences of peace and harmony. This is true not only in our own lives but also in our relationships with others.
The psalmist proclaimed that we will be blessed for doing so. Much later in the Bible, after Jesus died, Paul urged the Corinthians to live by the wisdom of God and not the dictates or empty promises of rulers who come and go. Such good advice for us these days.
These biblical texts are challenging. Whether or not the religious movement “He Gets Us” is the right path toward spiritual harmony, peace and justice in this country remains to be seen. Right now it is an eye-catching commercial designed to invite Christians to refashion their lives after the life of Christ. Maybe Jesus “gets us” but do we get the message that Jesus left us?