Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Focus (Sunday homily)

As I reflected on these readings from Scripture, one word came to mind: focus.

In the first reading, we have Saint Elijah seeking out the man 
God had chosen as his successor, Elisha. Elisha is focused: 
by slaughtering his oxen and giving away the food, 
he shut the door on ever going back 
on his resolve to be the Lord’s prophet.

Then in the Gospel, we see Jesus totally focused on Jerusalem. 
He knows what will happen there: 
he will give his life as a ransom for many. 
James and John’s focus is somewhere else. 

They remind me of a saying a friend of mine has: 
“Keep your eye on the main chance; 
don’t stop to kick every barking dog.” 
James and John are stopping to kick the Samaritans; 
Jesus is keeping his eye on Jerusalem, 
and the Cross, and the salvation of the world.

And what Paul says in the second reading is likewise about focus. 
His advice could be restated as following: 
the reason you don’t want to give into temptations 
and be drawn aside by pleasure, and desires of the flesh, 
is because they will keep you from gaining eternal life.
Keep moving! Keep focused! 
Keep your eye on the main chance, which is heaven!

So when we see Jesus’ conversations with people in the Gospel, 
we might be a little put off by what he says. 
“Let the dead bury the dead,” he says to one man. 

Was Jesus saying that the man shouldn’t care for his dying father? 
Or, if the father was already dead, he shouldn’t give him a funeral? 
That is, after all, one of the corporal works of mercy.

No, I think what’s going on is that Jesus sees these folks’ hearts. 
He knows the man’s heart is divided. 
He kind of wants to follow Jesus; but he holds back. 
Remember, Jesus had a conversation like this with another man – 
a rich young man, who wanted to follow the Lord. 
And Jesus told him: go, sell all you have, and give it to the poor – 
then, come and follow me. And you will have treasure in heaven.
And do you recall what happened? 
The man did not go away and sell his things; 
instead, it says, he went away sad – because he had many possessions.

It’s all about focus. Jesus tells us: 
if you set your hand to the plow and turn back, 
you aren’t fit for the Kingdom. 
I shouldn’t talk about these things, 
because the closest I have come to putting my hand to a plow 
was driving Dave York’s combine – 
but I was driving over stubble, where I couldn’t do any real harm! 
But I noticed when Dave drove that combine, 
even as he was explaining about his farm, 
he kept a steady eye forward; 
he was making sure he didn’t fail to gather any of the corn. 
And I would imagine, when plowing, you want to look ahead, 
to focus on the task, 
rather than looking back to admire your handiwork. 
And in the process, make a mess of things.

What is the task Jesus has for us to focus on? It is the Kingdom. 
You and I are united with Jesus in this life, heading for eternity. 
Don’t let anything slow you down! 
Don’t let sin and bad habits and distractions 
come between us and Jesus.

Our mission is to get to heaven,
and bring as many others with us as we can. 
To the extent that we can, 
we bring the law of the Kingdom into this world – 
because Jesus isn’t just king of heaven, 
he is the rightful king of this world as well.

But we keep our focus. 

So, for example, a lot of us are paying attention 
to national and world events; 
there are elections later this year that are important, 
and we have a voice and a vote. 
God calls us to live in this world according to the truth of Christ, 
but you and I are in this world as wayfarers, as pilgrims. 
We aren’t going to make a paradise on this earth. 

So, while we pay attention, we don’t get bogged down. 
Don’t get angry; don’t get worked up. 
If you find that happening, turn off the TV, and instead, get prayed up! 
Keep our focus on Jesus! 
He is the only one who will save us, no one else.

Last Friday, I was so happy to see 
over a hundred men and boys of all ages come out 
for our first Men’s Prayer Walk. 
It was a good time of friendship; and the cookout was great, 
with good food and games. 
But what was the focus? 
Prayer; and lifting up Jesus Christ before our community, 
and praying for him to bless the people of our parish. 

I walked right behind the older boys 
who were taking turns lifting up the Cross. That was the focus. 
And it seemed like all those taking part understood that.

This coming Friday, we have a group of folks 
who are going to be keeping vigil in the church, 
after the First Friday Mass. 
They will be praying for conversion, seeking to consecrate themselves, 
and our world, more deeply to the Two Hearts: 
the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. 
You are welcome to come and join in. 
Our focus is Jesus – bringing him, as much as we can, to our world; 
and bringing as many people in our families, 
and our community, to Jesus. 

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