Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Theme: “Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Homily for Sunday August 30 2020
Consider an Associated Press posting from a number of years back that began thusly: “One could say that St. Mark United Church of Christ is bee-deviled. The church has been infested with bees in its walls for about seven years. The church tried an exterminator and that didn’t work. Now the problem has gotten so bad that honey oozes through its walls.”
I wonder if a parishioner was ever stung by one of those honey bees. Likewise, I wonder if any curious kid every tried to taste the luscious work of those bees. I can just picture a fictional scene: little Sarah, bored by a long sermon, squirming away from Mom and Dad to investigate that thick gold stuff oozing through the wall, and just before her tiny finger touches the gold, a bee lands on Sarah’s hand, its stinger defending what caught Sarah’s eye. And though she heard not a word of the pastor’s sermon that Sunday morning, Sarah learned one of the most important lessons of her life: you’ll feel the sting before you’ll taste the honey.
In the gospel passage we hear today, we encounter Jesus preparing his followers for what lay ahead: his passion, death and resurrection. Quick to emphasize that this arduous road to eternal glory is not one that he alone will walk but one that each of his committed disciples must travel, Jesus tells them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Indeed, Jesus tells his troubled listeners, an eternal heaven of happiness awaits you, but earthly trials will precede this. You’ll feel the sting before you’ll taste the honey.
Some years back, Natalie, a long-time friend and United Church of Christ pastor, wrote to relate an experience where the lesson little Sarah learned from the honey bees was illustrated once again. Natalie wrote:
“I took my church youth group to New York City for five days the last week of June to work in soup kitchens and homeless shelters. We were on the go from 6 AM to 11 PM every day. One experience that happened was eye opening. Every day we went to a different site. The second day we were at a small soup kitchen in the Bronx run by the Jesuit Community. They feed 400 people a day but have only six small tables with four seated at each, so the feeding is constant from 12 Noon to 7 PM; lunch simply slides into dinner. Yet the whole approach is so caring and hospitable. Each volunteer has a particular job, bringing drinks, bringing dessert, bringing rolls, bringing the main dish, wiping up and setting a place for the next person.
“About three hours in, I just couldn’t keep up, while my kids were still going strong. It was hot and muggy, and all I could think about was a chance to sit down and rest my legs, have a cool drink, and close my eyes. I became focused on myself and forgot about the serving. Pretty soon I was just leaning over the guests to slop the plates down across the tables. One of the guests motioned to me. He stood up and said, ‘That’s not the way you do it. You don’t just slop down the plates. Here, I’ll show you.’ And he took the plate I was carrying and brought it to the next guest and carefully placed it down with a smile. ‘Move your body in and come close to set the plate down. Don’t lean across other people.’ He spoke respectfully, and I thanked him.
“My eyes were opened. It was as if I woke up. I moved my body in what became a rhythm, setting down the plates, looking at each guest. I lost track of the time and had renewed energy. God was speaking to me, and I could now see the larger picture of caring and respecting ‘the least of these.’ Each of us on the youth group trip had similar experiences which the young people related in church the Sunday after we returned. It was amazing.”
“Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24) What Natalie and the members of her church youth group discovered in steamy New York City soup kitchens and homeless shelters is that, though the cross of personal sacrifice be heavy, honey drips in abundance from the servers and the served when they realize that it is truly Christ doing the serving and Christ who is being served.