Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

It’s Super Bowl Sunday again! Who's cheering for the Rams? How about the Patriots? I  especially enjoy the $5 million plus ads.

I've been reading about all kinds of negotiations:  Brexit, trade with China,  a US-North Korea nuclear treaty and a wall on our southern border, to name but a few.

These tough negotiations call to mind a story about a ship captain. At sea in a fog, he saw what looked like the lights of another ship. He had his signalman blink: “Change your course 10 degrees south.”
A reply came: “Change your course 10 degrees north.”
The captain answered: “I’m a captain. Change your course south.”
The reply was: “I am a seaman. Change your course north.”
The infuriated captain signaled: “Change your course south. I’m on a battleship!”
The reply came: “Change your course north. I’m in a lighthouse.”

As we journey sometimes in darkness, wondering if we’re going the right way, let Jesus be our lighthouse, so to speak.

The word of God takes us back in our imaginations over six centuries before Jesus, traumatic times for ancient Israel. In this passage, God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, to speak on God’s behalf. Jeremiah describes how the Hebrews were unfaithful to their promises in the covenant; and then he proclaims a new covenant and urges the Hebrews not to fight against the ancient Babylonians.

How unpatriotic and outrageous of Jeremiah to say this, many Hebrews said. Yet, because Jeremiah believed God was with him, he continued to speak God’s message courageously. The author may asking whether we stand up for what’s right, or do we simply go along to get along.

Paul, in his letter to the Christian community in Corinth, poetically describes the many facets of love. Love, Paul wrote, is not showy. It is not envious or rude or irritable. Nor does love insist on its own way. No, love is like a prism that reflects the myriad characteristics of love:  patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, forgiveness, compassion, self-discipline, peace, joy. Above all, love never ceases because God is love.

Paul may be asking whether we reflect these characteristics of love in our everyday attitudes and behaviors.

In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus pursued his mission uncompromisingly. He proclaimed that the kingdom of God was breaking into our midst, and that all people can share in this kingdom by living a life of discipleship, of virtue.

That God would include all people – even non-Jews -- shocked and outraged many in the synagogue. Jesus encountered opposition even from his own townspeople. And yet, because God was with him, Jesus continued his mission in life.

Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus had one passion in life: to speak God's message. That message fired them up.

The question for us is, what energizes us? Where do we find purpose in our lives? Some argue convincingly that we find meaning in a mix of what we do, what we experience, and our attitude toward our own inescapable suffering and death.

Let me give you a true example. A medical doctor found purpose primarily in his work as a physician. But then he discovered he had inoperable spinal cancer, which gradually paralyzed him. Soon he couldn’t work. So, what did he do? He found meaning in his everyday experiences, at the facility where he was cared for. He spoke with other patients, encouraging them. He read good books, listened to music, stayed in touch with faraway family.

But at length, he couldn’t even do these things. This young doctor now had to find meaning primarily in his own inescapable suffering. What did he do? He became a counselor to fellow sufferers and an example by bearing his own suffering sans complaint. Finally, he had to let go of his life, and with faith in God, he made a leap into the mystery of death and into the hands of God, trusting that God would catch him and bear him away within himself.

Life indeed was worth living to the end. This physician found meaning in every stage of his life. In his medical profession. In his experiences. And eventually in his suffering and dying. This raises the question, what are human beings meant for? Or, put another way, what is our life on this planet all about?

Most of our finest thinkers hold that we are meant for something greater than merely existing. Yes, we are meant for something far beyond mere animal instincts, beyond acquiring and spending, beyond the economic feats and engineering marvels of this world.

What is that “something?” The answer points to something transcendent, beyond ourselves: the human spirit. Always open to a relationship with an awesome God and relationships to one another. Yes, our purpose in life, no matter what our profession or age, is to be in relationship with God and one another forever.

Staying on message, here’s another brief true story capturing the courage of Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus. In the 1960s, a nineteen-year-old student at Harvard, Kent Keith, wrote what he called the “Paradoxical Commandments.” He published them without much notice.

But in the age of the Internet, someone transmitted the “Paradoxical Commandments” which began circling the globe, attributed to everyone from psychiatrist Karl Menninger to Mother Teresa (they were seen on the wall of her home for children in Calcutta). It was a paradox when it was discovered they were written by a student no one heard of. Here they are:

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered; Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies; Succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow; Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable; Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds; Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs; Fight for the underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed in one night; Build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them; Help people anyway.
And finally give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth; Give the world the best you have anyway.

Yes, something to think about and to do in light of today's word of God in Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus.

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