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Second Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C (2)
A member of the British Parliament appeared one day at the Gates of Heaven and demanded entry. “Sorry, sir,” said the Admitting Angel, “but sexism is a sin, and our records show you to be a Male Chauvinist Pig. There is no room for you here.”
“Humph,” said the MP, “I suppose you got that nonsense from Maggie Thatcher! I see her over there, gloating at me.”
“More bad news, I’m afraid,” said the Angel. “That’s not Mrs. Thatcher. That’s God.” (1)
Susan B. Anthony called on editor Horace Greeley one day in 1860 to ask for his newspaper’s support for women’s suffrage. Greeley was not sympathetic. He was an opponent of women’s rights, mainly because he considered women to be of no military value. “What would you do,” he asked, “in the event of a civil war?”
“I would do just what you would do,” Susan Anthony replied. “I would sit in my office and write articles urging other people to go and fight.” (2)
Men prejudiced against women; women prejudiced against men. Christians prejudiced against Jews. Jews prejudiced against Christians. White folks prejudiced against black. Black folks prejudiced against white. One of the great challenges facing our society today is that of diversity. Why in the world did God create so many weird people?
Let’s begin with men and women. God surely saw right from the very beginning all the problems by creating us male and female. According to the title of one book, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.
In her best-selling book, You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation, author Deborah Tannen tells about a study of male and female students at a Baptist seminary. The study found that women are likely to suggest, whereas men command. When the women gave devotions, they gently invited their listeners by saying, “Let’s go back to verses 15 and 16.” The men, on the other hand, gave orders: “Listen carefully as I read Luke chapter 17.” Women use let’s much more frequently than men. (Female nurses will even say to patients, “Let’s take our medicine.”)
You’ll always find exceptions to the rule, but research and experience consistently point to basic differences between the way men and women act, think, and feel. For example, men generally base their self-esteem on achievement. They are more competitive and aggressive than women. Women generally base their self-esteem on relationships. They relate to other people on a more personal level. A University of Pennsylvania study conducted by brain researcher Ruben Gur demonstrated that women were better able to read emotion in facial expressions than men. And a survey conducted by GLAMOUR magazine showed that 60 percent of conversations between women are on emotional or personal topics, compared with 27 percent of similar conversations between men. (3) Men and women see the world through different eyes. No wonder men and women don’t understand each other.
But that’s just one kind of diversity. We are different in many ways. They say even the order of our birth can help determine our brand of weirdness.
Studies show that the oldest child is usually more conservative than his younger siblings, reflecting the mores and attitudes of his parents. He is often jealous or anxious as a result of being superseded in the family nest, and often dissatisfied with himself because so much was expected of him as a child. Various researchers have found a tendency for first-borns to choose studies such as mathematics, engineering, physics, architecture, and chemistry.
Later-born men and women make up the majority of those practicing the creative arts. One study found, for example, that writers tend to come from the ranks of later-borns. Among writers polled in a statistical study, only 23 percent were oldest children. Nine percent were only children.
Does the order of your birth really make that much of a difference? Listen to these statistics: Of the original 23 astronauts in the U.S. space program, 21 were first-born children. All of the original Mercury astronauts were first-borns. More than 50 percent of all U.S. presidents have been first-born children. More than 60 percent of people listed in Who’s Who in America are first-born children.
How do you explain that? Don’t brothers and sisters grow up with the same parents? in the same environment? Not according to Hans Eysenck of the Institute of Psychiatry in London. Eysenck maintains that within the same household siblings grow up in essentially different environments. For one thing, they don’t have to deal with themselves. For another, each member of the family treats every other in a distinct way. So it’s as if each child has a distinct set of parents and siblings. So, psychologists tell us not only does our gender determine a lot about our personality, but also the order of our birth.
We are a wonderfully diverse people. Men, women, oldest child, only child, baby of the family, short people, tall people, skinny people, large people, black people, yellow people, brown people, white people. People who take pride in their descent from a particular ethnic group ” Italian, Greek, Hispanic ” and people who take pride in their particular area of the country ” Boston, L.A., Charleston, Dallas. What a diversity of people.
EVEN IN THE CHURCH WE ARE DIVERSE.
St. Paul talks about spiritual gifts. To one is given the utterance of wisdom, says Paul, to another the utterance of knowledge. To another is given the Spirit of faith, to another gifts of healing. To another is given the working of miracles, to another prophecy, etc. Paul seems to be saying that the same diversity we confront in the world is also found in the church.
Did you know that not all of us in this church have the same tastes? Some people are comforted by the old hymns. Inwardly they groan when we ask them to learn something new. Others are tired of the old hymns; they want to learn something new. For some, singing is the high point of the service; others wouldn’t mind if we dispensed with the music altogether. We all have different tastes. We come from a wide variety of backgrounds and that affects our relationship to the church.
Did you know that men and women may hear the Gospel through two different sets of ears? Here we can be guilty of over-generalizing, but think with me for a moment. If the experts are right and men think competitively, whereas women think more in terms of relationships, what does that say about the life of the church? Might it be that men respond more positively to a word of challenge, to the setting of goals, to building a bigger and better church, while women might be more concerned with improving the life of the church we already have? Women might be more concerned about creating community than setting goals or accepting challenges. Each of us listens to the Gospel through an unique set of ears.
Did you know that left-brained people hear the Gospel differently from right-brained people? Do you know about left-brained and right-brained? The way we think may be determined by which side of our brain is dominant, scientists tell us. Left brain dominant people are more literal, more fact-oriented, more opinionated, more verbal, whereas right-brained people are more creative, more emotional, more visual. The left-brain person wants the sermon to be doctrinally sound. He or she wants the pastor to get all the facts right.
Those things may not be that important to the right-brained person. The right-brained person wants the pastor to tell some good stories, insert some humor, be warm and accepting. Did you know we have both kinds of persons in this church?
People brought up in a rural environment look for different things in a church than do people brought up in an urban environment. People who were brought up very strictly look for different things than people who were raised permissively. Younger folks have a different agenda than do those late in years. We are an amazingly diverse group! But here is what we need to see.
SINCE GOD MADE US ALL THIS WAY, A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF DIVERSITY HAS TO BE GOOD.
What a dreary and dull world this would be if we all looked the same, talked the same, had the same perspective on life. If God had not wanted us to be diverse, God would have stopped with Adam. Adam could have been God’s friend and God could have made Adam eternal. But it’s evident that God wanted richness in His world. God wanted a multitude of persons and God wanted every person who came into the world to have his or her own unique place. Think of it, if that was God’s purpose, then there would have to be an enormous amount of diversity so that each of us could be an unique and precious individual.
What St. Paul is urging these diverse members of the church at Corinth to do is to respect one another’s differences and to understand that each of us has a place in God’s family. And I believe that is God’s message to us. I am not exactly like you, but I am an unique and precious person in the eyes of God. And so are you ” and so is everyone in this room ” and so is everyone in this world.
Tomorrow our nation celebrates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This holiday won’t be celebrated by every person in every place. Some people did not like Dr. King’s politics, others had questions about his lifestyle. We respect that. Still, this is a good time for us to affirm that God created us as a diverse people. This was God’s plan, not ours. God chose to make us male and female, right-brained and left, short and tall, oldest child and youngest, rural and urban, brown and white and black and yellow, speaking different languages and coming from different backgrounds. This was God’s plan for reasons only God can know. And, if it is God’s plan, it must be good. It must be beautiful. It must be an occasion for celebration.
James Moore tells about a man named George. George was a peacemaker with a big heart and wonderful sense of humor. George claims he was, “so tenderhearted that he cried at supermarket openings!” Everyone loved George at church and he was respected at the hospital where he worked. The reason why so many people loved George was because he was always kind and respectful to everyone he met.
His children vividly remember the days George spent in the hospital before his death. The president of the hospital paid him a visit; they spoke as though they were old friends. A few minutes later one of the janitors came to visit George. They too had a nice visit. When the janitor left, one of George’s children said to him, “Dad, did you realize that you treated the president of the hospital and the janitor just alike?”
George smiled and chuckled at the remark. “Let me ask you something,” he said, “if the president left for two weeks and the janitor left for two weeks, which one do you think would be missed the most?”
Then George called his children around his bed. “Let me show you something I carry in my pocket all the time,” he told them, “even when I mow the lawn.” George pulled out a pocket-sized cross and a marble with the golden rule on it.
George said, “On the cross are written these words, `God Loves You,’ and on the marble are these words, `Do unto Others as You Would Have Them Do unto You.’ The cross reminds me of how deeply God loves me,” he said, “and the marble reminds me of how deeply God wants me to love others. ” (4)
That is what God wants from each of us. To love God as God loves us and to love one another. We are a diverse people. That is the way God created us. Let’s celebrate that diversity and pledge to respect one another as members of the family of God.
1. THE JOKESMITH, Vol. VIII, No. 3, 1992, p. 12.
2. Joe Claro, THE RANDOM HOUSE BOOK OF JOKES AND ANECDOTES, (New York: Random House, Inc., 1990).
3. Dee Brestin, MOODY, July/August 1992.
4. James W. Moore, WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS…, (Nashville: Dimensions for Living, 1993), p. 78.
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C (1)
During a wedding rehearsal, the groom approached the priest with an unusual offer. “Look, I’ll give you $100 if you’ll change the wedding vows. When you get to the part where I’m to promise to ‘love, honor, and obey’ and ‘forsaking all others, be faithful to her forever,’ I’d appreciate it if you’d just leave that part out.” He slipped the priest the cash and walked away.
The wedding day arrived. When it came time for the groom’s vows, the priest looked the young man in the eye and said, “Will you promise to prostrate yourself before her, obey her every command and wish, serve her breakfast in bed every morning of your life and swear eternally before God and your lovely wife that you will not ever even look at another woman, as long as you both shall live?”
The groom gulped and looked around and then said in a tiny voice, “I do.”
After the ceremony, the groom pulled the priest aside and hissed, “I thought we had a deal.”
The priest gave him back his $100 and said, “We did, but the bride’s father made me a much better deal.”
A wedding was under way in Cana in Galilee when the hosts ran out of wine. This was an embarrassing predicament. Jesus’ mother Mary was there as well as Jesus and his disciples. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” This reply sounds much harsher than it really was. The word which in English is translated “woman” is, in the Greek, a term of endearment. It is not a term of scolding or contempt, but of great affection. It does, however, speak to Christ’s lack of eagerness about revealing his messianic mission. The time was not quite here for that. Nevertheless, Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Those are important words: “Do whatever he tells you.”
Nearby stood six large stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing. Each of these jars held from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
You know what happens next. When the master of the banquet tasted the water it had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then the master of the banquet called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first & then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
John then adds these words, “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”
Have you ever noticed that God always does things in abundance? When Jesus turns six huge jars of water into wine, we have almost 150 gallons. I’m sure that could have kept Cana going for over a week! Yet it’s the excess of this, the first of Jesus’ signs, that is the point: God comes into our lives with an excess, an abundance, that overwhelms us, once we learn to see it. As the guests had to discover water turned to wine by tasting it, so we have to discover an abundance in our lives that we often overlook. The abundance we think we need of money tries to substitute for the abundance of divine love and life, all around us, if we only could see it.
Jesus comes as the bridegroom of God, as God’s love incarnate. The wine he supplies is the joy that he brings from our encounter with God. That joy comes from the Holy Spirit—the Spirit Paul talks about—a spirit of divine life bringing forth in our lives an abundance of gifts and graces. Just as we often ignore the beauty of nature around us, so we often ignore the signs of the Spirit’s presence in our lives. Praying, caring, reflecting, consoling, contemplating, singing, greeting, being faithful—the gifts are all around.
Jesus says that his hour has not yet come. But Mary seems to provoke the moment. The signs that Jesus does will inevitably lead to his “hour”—when all his signs will climax into the final sign of God’s salvation: Jesus’ death and resurrection. From that self-gift will pour forth the Holy Spirit, a spirit that makes us like Christ, and empowers us to continue, in our own way, Jesus’ signs of mercy, grace, and joy.
So often we think of our lives only as water, plain, colorless, almost tasteless. That’s because we have not recognized our “hour”—when we discover how God sends us forth to accomplish God’s mission. So our lives seem ones of obligation, of routine, of just moving onto the next thing. But when we realize that God has called every one of us to be an ambassador of divine love, when we realize that every one of us has an “hour” to accomplish, then the wine of our lives becomes clear. Nothing we do will ever be ordinary. Rather, God’s grace is transforming it all.
At Mass, it’s not water that changes into wine, but wine into the blood of Christ. The Jews believed that life was in the blood; blood made us live. So in the sign of his chalice, his cup of blood, revealed in the consecrated wine, we see that Christ’s hour continues, and the hours of our lives become part of the abundance he brings to the world.
Have you ever noticed that Jesus always seemed to work in unexpected ways? Imagine, for example, you have a problem with your eye and go to a doctor. He says, “Come let me spit on the ground and make mud and put it in your eye.” Which one of you would do as he says? We would probably run in the opposite direction.
Or imagine that one of you had skin cancer and came to me and asked me to pray for you and I were to tell you to go show yourself to another pastor down the road? That’s sort of what Jesus did. Would that makes sense to you?
Or imagine there is a crowd with more than ten thousand people to feed; five thousand of that number were men alone (and we know about men and their appetites), and he says to you, “Go feed them with these five barley loaves and two fish.”
You would most certainly be incredulous in all of those circumstances. Those instructions do not make sense to the natural mind but, as Paul writes in Corinthians 1:25, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
Jesus’ response to Mary’s request that he do something to solve this embarrassing situation at this wedding celebration is one of those incidents that don’t make sense.
Telling the servants to take the jars to their boss would require great respect and trust in him. They could lose their job or worse their freedom if their master found out that they had given him wine to drink taken from these purification jars. It just did not make any sense, but they did it nonetheless. Mary said, “Do whatever he tells you,” and they servants did exactly that.
We know the importance of obedience in the Christian life. It’s not always possible to know what God wants us to do with our lives, but it is important, that as best we are able to discern God’s will, we are to do it. It certainly would be easier to do “whatever he tells you” if we were certain of what he was telling us to do, but that’s not always easy. But that’s true in human relationships as well.
A woman tells about one time when her mother visited her. For breakfast the first morning she made tea for her mother’s breakfast and coffee for her own.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” her mother said. “I much prefer having coffee.”
“But, mother,” the daughter protested, “you always drank tea at breakfast at home.” “True,” her mother agreed. “You see, before I got married, I used to have coffee at breakfast. But I found that your father liked tea, and I thought it was silly to make both.” The daughter suggested that if, after 37 years of marriage, she preferred coffee, then that’s what she should have.
Back in her own home, her mother started making coffee for herself but the usual tea for her husband.
After a week or so, her husband looked up from his breakfast. “How is it,” he asked plaintively, “that you can have coffee in the morning, and I have to have tea?” I have no idea how many years this couple had gone assuming that they knew what the other wanted. You don’t have to be married for long, though, to have such misunderstandings.
Somebody saw an ad in a newspaper. “Bike For Sale: Suzuki 1000. This bike is perfect! It has 1000 miles and has had its 500 mile dealer service. (Expensive.) It’s been adult ridden and all wheels have always been on the ground. I used it as a cruiser/commuter. I’m selling it because it was purchased without proper consent of my loving wife. Apparently, ‘Do whatever you want!’ doesn’t mean what I thought. Ask for Steve.”
Ah, the joys of married life. No wonder we have difficulty discerning God’s will for our lives, if we can’t even communicate our desires to one another. It’s difficult for us to know sometimes what God desires out of us. But I can suggest an area in which God’s will is pretty clear.
It’s also God’s will for us to take care of our responsibilities. I know it is tiring to hear, but one of the keys to a satisfying life is to make sure we take care of our responsibilities, whether they be at work or in our neighborhood, or at home; whether they be to our civic club or to our church. I can promise you that failing to meet your responsibilities only leads to guilt and shame.
I know, that’s a word that some of us do not want to hear.
Pastor Richard J. Fairchild tells a fictional story by Laura Richards which appears in a book called The Moral Compass. It concerns a meeting between an angel called “The Angel Who Tends to Things” and a man at work.
“I have come to speak to you about your work,” said the Angel-Who-Attends-to-Things. “It appears to be unsatisfactory.”
“Indeed!” said the man, “I hardly see how that can be. Perhaps you will explain.”
“I will,” said the Angel. “To begin with the work is slovenly.”
“I was born heedless,” said the man. “It is a family failing which I have always regretted.”
“It is ill put together, too,” said the Angel. “The parts do not fit.”
“I never had any eye for proportion,” said the man. “I admit it is unfortunate.”
“The whole thing is a botch,” said the Angel. “You have put neither brains nor heart into it, and the result is a ridiculous failure. What do you propose to do about it?”
“I credited you with more comprehension,” said the man. “My faults, such as they are, were born with me. I am sorry that you do not approve of me, but that is the way I was made. Do you see?”
“I see!” said the Angel. He put out a strong hand, and taking the man by the collar, threw him head-over-heels into the ditch near where they were standing.
“What is the meaning of this?” cried the man as he scrambled out breathless and dripping. “I never saw such behavior. Do you not see what you have done? You have ruined my clothes, and nearly drowned me besides.”
“Oh yes!” said the Angel. “This is the way I was made.” (3)
Ah, yes. We have our rationalizations for being the way we are. But sooner or later we have to face up to our responsibilities. Sooner or later this is a lesson we all have to learn. If you doubt that is so, see what happens to celebrities when they live only for their own gratification. Either they grow up, or eventually they die at a young age, or they become bitter, dissolute individuals. The secret of a successful life is really quite simple. In the words of Mary to the servants, “Do whatever Christ tells you.”
And look what happens when we do whatever he tells us. I love the way the story of the wedding at Cana ends. As the master of the banquet tasted the wine taken from the water jars, he says, “You have saved the best till now.”
That is one of the great messages of the New Testament. For those who seek to live as God wants us to live, He always saves the best till last. Things work out better when we do what Christ says.
There are some people today who will testify that their latter years have been their best years. Even though they may not be able to do what they once were able to do, a lifetime of seeking to do God’s will in their lives has made for fulfilling lives. Take care of your relationships. Take care of your responsibilities. And, more than likely, your last years will be your best years. The great secret of life, “Do whatever the Master tells you.”
2. (Reader’s Digest USA).