Friday, January 28, 2011

HOMILY – 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A

By Deacon Jerry Franzen – Cathedral 1/30/11
Zeph. 2:3,3:12–13 I Corinth. 1:26–31 Matthew 5:1-12a

*Emily Dickinson began one of her poems with the following lines:
“I’m nobody.
Who are you?
Are you nobody too?
Good there are two of us.”

In the second reading,
St. Paul is telling the Corinthians of their calling.
Most of them were common ordinary people,
not the wisest, by human standards
not many were very powerful,
not many were noble by birth.
Many were foolish, and they were being called
to put the wise to shame.
Many were weak, and they were to put the powerful to shame.
Many were lowly and despised, those who count for nothing,
the “nobodies” of Corinth.
Their call was to reduce the “somebodies” to “nobodies”,
So that no one could boast that they were better before God.

Paul went on the tell the Corinthians,
that it is through Jesus, the common criminal,
another who was seemingly good for nothing,
that they were now together as the Body of Christ,
sharing in the wisdom, the righteousness,
the sanctification and the redemption of God.
The call of those deemed to be worth nothing - the “nobodies.”


**Ben Hoper was born in the foot hills of East Tennessee
to an unwed mother
as were some other little boys and girls in that area.
Such children were often ostracized and treated badly.
By the time Ben was three years old,
the parents of other children would not allow their children
to play with Ben.
“We don’t want a boy like that playing with our children.”
On Saturday,
when Ben’s mother would take him to the grocery store,
other parents in the store would ask her
if she ever found out who Ben’s father was.
Ben had a tough childhood;
he and his mother certainly were “nobodies.”
There were the “somebodies,” the other parents,
who were sure that they were better.
In school no one associated with Ben;
At recess time, weak little Ben stayed at his desk
when the other “powerful somebodies” in his class
went out to play but not with him.
At lunch time Ben also remained at his desk
to eat his sack lunch by himself.
He was despised by the other students.

When Ben was twelve years old,
a new young preacher came to pastor
the little church in town.
Ben heard exciting things about this new pastor.
He was friendly, accepting of people where they were.
He had chrisma.
He caused peoples smiles to broaden, laughter to increase
and spirits to soar.
This new preacher had been sent by God.
Remind you of anyone? Initials J.C.?

Ben had never been to church,
but he decided to go on Sunday to hear the new preacher.
He came late and left early so as to not be exposed
to the crowd gathering at the beginning
and the crowd leaving at the end.
He liked what he heard in the sermon; it gave him hope –
hope that he would find peace in his dealings with others,
hope that he was not a “noboby”, worth nothing.

He went back on several consecutive Sundays
and his hope was strengthened.
On one Sunday people sat in his pew on either side of him
and he became so enthralled with the message of the sermon,
that he forgot to get up to leave early.
He was trapped in the crowd in the church at the end of the service.

As he was making his way through the crowd,
A hand grabbed his shoulder and he heard a voice say,
“Who’s boy are you?”
He thought, “Here we go again;
I’m about to be reminded that I am a ‘nobody’.”

It was the preacher who had asked the question.
The church crowd, all those wise and powerful people
grew very quiet, waiting for the answer they expexted.

A wide grin grew on the face of the young preacher and he said,
“Oh! I know whose boy you are.
Why the family resemblance is unmistakable!
You are a child of God.
That’s quite a heritage you’ve got there.
Now, go and see to it that you live up to it.”


“I’m nobody.
Who are you?
Are you nobody too?
Good there are two of us.”
The question is “Do we want to be the weak, foolish, lowly
and despised “nobody”
or the wise, powerful and noble “somebody.”
It was clear that the Christians in Corinth
were being called to be the “nobodies.”

And so are we,
although it seems to be the American way to strive
to be “somebody,” to be self-sufficient and independent,
to be wise and powerful.
We want the biographies of our lives to be success stories.
We are at our proudest and our best
when we have overcome the challenges on our own
with no help.
“I did it for myself, I did it my way!” Hey! I’m somebody!


While that may be the way things work
in the realm of human affairs,
it is not the way things work in the realm of God’s affairs.
In God’s realm, we are all called to give up the earthly wisdom,
that may lead to fame,
the earthly power that may lead to our accomplishments,
the earthly nobility that may lead to fortune,
and to learn the foolishness of God’s love for us,
the weakness we must have to accept God’s love
and the poverty that requires us to lean on God.
We are a sinful people,
and our sinfulness comes from a tendency
toward selfishness and pride.
Try as we might, alone we cannot overcome this tendency.

We must recognize that we are the "nobodies"
who can overcome sin only with God’s help.
The fact of the matter is
the type of the wisdom, nobility and power,
that we should be seeking,
reside with God.
We grasp for wisdom, power and nobility,
because we want to be a “somebody” in the worldly realm.
We want to be important.

For us, it doesn't make much sense that God is interested in us.
Yes, God reaching out to us, the weak and foolish sinners,
just doesn’t make sense, unless we truly know God.
Our loving God does reach out to us;
and all he asks in return is that we shrug off our desires
to be somebody in the world,
and that we embrace the love and self-sacrifice
of the dead criminal, Jesus, who died for our sins.
And all of this is true,
because each of us is truly “somebody” in God’s eyes.

“I’m nobody.
Who are you?
Are you nobody too?
Good there are two of us.”
“Oh! I know who you belong to.
Why the family resemblance is unmistakable!
You are a child of God.
That’s quite a heritage you’ve got there.
Now, go and see to it that you live up to it.”

*Emily Dickinson poem #288 as found in "Lift Up Your Hearts", J. Wallace, R. Waznak, G. DeBona, Paulist Press, New York 2004 p 155
** Story by Zig Ziglar in “Stories for the Heart” compiled by Alice Gray, Questar Publishers, Sisters, OR 1971 pp 230-232
*** Some material in sections II and III based on “Live Letters” by Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, St Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, OH, 2002 pp 209-211.

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