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The 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 18, 2023

Watch this homily! (Begins at 35:55)

      There’s a little rhyming couplet – you could hardly call it poetry – that most people thought amusing until it got branded as anti-Semitic. It isn’t, of course, and was never meant to be. Here’s how it goes:

How odd
Of God
To choose
The Jews!

      It’s no more than a playful commentary on God’s mysterious election of the Chosen People, but it could also serve as a commentary on a lot of God’s other choices that are no less “odd” – as today’s scripture readings attest.

      In the reading from Exodus, we find the chosen people, the Israelites, camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai after having been delivered by God from the hands of their Egyptian captors at the waters of the Red Sea. Moses climbs the mountain while the people remain below, and God gives Moses a most remarkable message to take back to the people.  “Tell them…you have seen how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself. Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my Covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine.”

     I called that ‘a most remarkable message’ for God to give to the people through Moses. It was. The Jews were, as Deuteronomy tells us, the most unlikely of peoples to be God’s “special possession.” They were “the smallest of nations” - nobodies, really, without power or influence. But the Lord set his heart on them, chose them, made an everlasting Covenant with them. And even though they would sometimes fail to keep their part of the bargain – rebelling against God and Moses when the going got rough, and the rigors of the desert began to take their toll, and they would find themselves longing for the flesh pots of Egypt – even then, God remained faithful. And we have to ask: what was it that God saw in these people? How odd that God should look upon them as his “special possession, dearer…than all other people.” But God did and God does. “How odd of God to choose the Jews!” Any way you view it, there is mystery here. Theologians call it the mystery of divine election.

     The story of the calling of The Twelve in the reading from Matthew’s gospel is no less a mystery. How odd of Jesus to choose those twelve! Couldn’t he have done better? Better than Simon Peter whose name means “rock” but whose response when push came to shove was more like sand or pebbles? Better than Philip who was so dull and slow to understand, or Thomas who was so slow to believe? Better than Matthew, a despised tax collector? Better than Judas who betrayed him? And the others among The Twelve weren’t exactly Fortune 500 candidates, either! How odd of Jesus to choose those twelve!

     The reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans points to yet one more example of how truly mysterious – or odd - God’s choices are. That would be God’s choice of us! “While we were still helpless…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” St. Paul says. And that has to be the greatest mystery of all for, to continue St. Paul’s thought, “Only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

     My friends, we may have become so familiar with these mysteries that they no longer seem all that mysterious to us, but mysterious they most surely are. By any human reckoning, they simply do not make sense. Only within the economy – the strange plan – of a God who “chooses the foolish of this world to shame the wise…and the weak of this world to shame the strong” – only within the parameters of a faith that finds in the crucified Christ not a stumbling block or sheer foolishness but “the very power and wisdom of God,” can we even begin to make sense of God’s surprising choices because this much is clear: most if not all of God’s choices fly in the face of common sense. Think of a whole long litany of saints who were the most improbable of choices but who have profoundly shaped and formed the Church over the centuries: Paul, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Joan of Arc, Therese of Lisieux, to name but a few.

     Dear friends, this faith of ours is mystery upon mystery, and if we find ourselves massaging or manipulating it to make it more closely resemble common sense, we will have lost everything. Our only response to any of it – including God’s utterly inexplicable choice of ourselves – should be quiet and humble gratitude - along with an eagerness to give back, to give generously because of all we have been given. Jesus’ words to the Twelve from today’s gospel says it all: “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give!”

      And it all starts here at the table of the Eucharist where the greatest of all gifts is ours for the taking. But only so that we can turn around and give as we have been given!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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