Homily 31st Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A November 5, 2017

It’s easy to take many things for granted. The sun will come up tomorrow. The moon will rise. The stars will shine in a clear sky. I will never get a hole-in-one in golf. And the Patriots will win another Super Bowl.
Honesty, there is much about our lives we just expect to happen. As a priest, I expect to have my voice to say Mass from one day to the next, even though some people think I work only on Sundays. We expect our vehicles to start every time we turn the key or push the button. We expect, without thinking, the brakes to work when we step on them. And for the most part, they do work.
In our faith, we know already many of the expectations that come with being a disciple of Christ. Such as being a person who is willing to make sacrifices for the benefit of someone else. Sacrifices that find their foundation in the one sacrifice of the Cross. Or, being a person capable of extending where needed the virtue of forgiveness, finding its foundation in the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We know who spoke those words, and the timing of them.
With discipleship in Christ, we know of the expectation of good works that reflect a healthy, active, genuine faith in the one we claim as Savior. As St. James reminds us in his letter, faith without works is dead faith. The good works we perform are grounded in the countless people he healed on the Sabbath, drawing the ire of certain religious leaders, and all other days during the time of his ministry. We know many of the expectations that come with discipleship. To not be a worldly person, but a person that transforms the world. Not a follower of the culture, but a leader for Christ and his Gospel.
In our Gospel today, we have two sets of expectations presented by the Lord. Two ways of living and being. And they couldn’t be more contrasting in their understanding of human life and love.
Our Lord spells out both ways in the clearest terms. The first way, which Jesus is strongly critical of, is the way of widening phylacteries and lengthening tassels. When I read this Gospel earlier this week in preparation, the first thing I wanted to do was shorten my tassel. The old Catholic guilt made itself known in my heart, but didn’t get the best of me.
But our Lord’s criticism about wide phylacteries and long tassels in and of themselves…. There’s nothing un-Christian about looking good. Jesus’ critical comments are spoken by him because of a certain attitude that accompanies the nice clothes. He’s not trying to shut down any clothing stores here. It’s all about the attitude and a certain look that says, “I’m better than you, more powerful than you, more important than you, better looking than you, and you, sir, are a lowlife. You sir, you ma’am, are a nobody.”
“Look at my wide phylacteries that you can’t afford, and check out my long tassels that tell of my self-importance, and of how small you really are.” It’s no wonder why they have no problem testing Jesus in all these recent Gospels we’ve heard; it’s because they think he’s a lowlife. That he’s a nobody. He’s an upstart. It’s easy to understand why Jesus is harshly critical of these funny-looking dudes who wear their precious clothes that come with an attitude.
Let’s remember he’s speaking about them, but he’s speaking to the crowds and his disciples about this group of religious guys standing in front of everyone to see. Therefore, he speaks to us. And his message with this part of the contrast is the message of avoidance. These guys he’s pointing out, they represent much of present-day Hollywood. And what it looked like 2000 years ago. Consumed with fame; and power, and influence; wanting the big screen to say about oneself, “Look how important I am.” There’s no room for that in his Kingdom. We won’t find it there.
Even the 12 fought about who’s the greatest, and who He likes the best; “He doesn’t like you as much as he likes me. He told me last night in the house of Peter’s mother-in-law.”
We know the expectations of being his follower. We hear this message a thousand times over the course of our lives. The contrast to the wide phylacteries and lengthy tassels is humility.
How do we understand and define this virtue, though? Without searching through Mr. Webster’s book of words, what is humility, and why does Jesus command this virtue to be at the heart and soul of our lives? We know a humble person when we see one. And false humility when we see that also.
Humility is to have regard for the good of others. Arrogance will wipe away such regard. Humility is to leave within us a giant space for God’s will and presence. Puffing up oneself will close that space. Humility recognizes the need for prayer, the need to depend upon someone greater than us. Going it alone because no one else is good enough destroys that healthy dependency. Today, we teach independence to the point of not needing even God. That’s a destructive path to place our teenagers on.
Jesus commands humble disciples. The reason being that they will bring others to God, because they are so in love with God themselves, and not with their egos. And if we heed the words of our Lord, we have within us the power and capacity to either lengthen our tassels, to exalt ourselves, or to kneel down in prayer and thanksgiving; to humble ourselves.
We learn as we go in this short life. but humbling ourselves before God and others is realized in the joy of discipleship. Which we know, by far, is the better of the contrast.