They Had Him Figured Out

(Homily for 14th Ordinary Sunday, Year B)

Perhaps you heard about the family in the hospital waiting room. The doctor comes in and tells them their relative is in critical condition. The only thing that will save him is a brain transplant. The doctor explains that fortunately their insurance will cover the costs of the operation, but they have to buy the brain themselves.

Surprised, they ask the doctor how much a brain costs. “It depends,” he tells them, “whether it is the brain of a woman or a man. A man’s brain costs five thousand dollars, but a woman’s two hundred.”

The men try to suppress their smiles. Some were even smirking. Finally one of them asks, “Why does a man’s brain cost so much more?”

“Easy,” says the doctor. “They are practically like new, because the men never use them!”

Well, I don’t know if that is true. The women here would have to say. But in today’s Gospel we have some men (and perhaps some women too) who did not want to have their minds disturbed. They thought they already knew Jesus – his job, his family. They had observed him growing up. Also his “brothers and sisters” although perhaps on that score they were confused as some people today. But hearing about miracles and wisdom, they did not want to investigate.

In that regard they are like people today. Many think they know who Jesus is – a good man, a great teacher, like the Buddha. However, they don’t want to consider his claims: “Before Abraham came be, I AM.” “The Father and I are one.” Jesus forgave sins, proclaimed himself Master of the Sabbath and the Bridegroom in whose presence no one fasts. In other words, he claimed divine status. Christian writers used to say, “Aut Deus aut homo malus.” He is either God or an evil man.

For myself I do not believe Jesus is evil. Rather, as Peter professed, he is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

We face a similar paradox regarding the Church. Many think they have the Church figured out. I once ran into a guy who seemed to know every scandal, past and present. According to him, the Church is the most corrupt institution in the history of man. That seemed to me like quite a statement, but I did not debate him. Rather I asked, “If the Church is as corrupt as you say, how has she lasted for two thousand years?”

Communism only lasted seventy years in the Soviet Union. Then the weight of its own corruption caused it to fall. But the difference between Communism and Catholicism is this: one is a human philosophy; the other has a divine origin. Last year was a very bad one for the Church in the United States, but even so we had around hundred seventy thousand adult converts and over a million parents presented their children for baptism. It is not human attractiveness, but God's grace.

We need to see beyond appearances. Since this is the Fourth of July weekend, as an example, I would like to propose a great American – George Washington Carver. He had studied the humble peanut to determine its qualities and uses. In 1921 he was called before the House Ways and Means Committee. He prepared a lengthy presentation, but because he was black, he was put on the bottom of the list and made to wait three days. When he finally appeared before the Committee, the chairman said he had twenty minutes. It was an impossibly short time and to make matters worse one of the congressman had his feet propped on his desk and was wearing a large hat. Given such an insult, Carver could have walked out, but instead he said a short prayer, “Almighty God, let me carry out your will.” He gave as much as he could in twenty minutes, but they asked him to continue over an hour – and they invited him back the next day.

Something similar can happen if we open ourselves to Jesus and his teachings. When I was in high school, I found a book which explained the Catholic teachings. It fascinated me and I learned enough to be able to answer my classmates’ questions (I was the only Catholic boy in my class at Stanwood High). Forty years later, I am still a beginner as far as probing Jesus’ teachings.

Some people have accidentally tuned into Sacred Heart Radio. They listen for a few minutes – and now have their car and house radio set to that station. Others have come to our Blessed Sacrament chapel, perhaps in a time of crisis. But they found such peace they have kept coming back.

I do not deny that Jesus – and his Church – make some astonishing claims. Like the Narazenes you can take offense – or, like Peter, worship. There is no middle ground.


Earlier Version

Versión Castellana

From Archives (Homilies for 14th Sunday, Year B):

2000: Separation of Church & State?
1997: "The Conscience of our State"



Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

No Respect: Anti-Catholicism in the U.S. (Scholarly Book Looks at New Cracks in Old Fault Lines)

Persecution of Christians: A Tally for 2002

Is Lawrence Worse Than Roe?

Are We All Bigots Now? (by Deal Hudson, Crisis Magazine)

Recommended Summer Reading: The Ring of the Dark Elves (a novel by Victoria Randall)

Mandatum Cover-Up

Baptism of Grand-Nieces and Nephew (June 30, 2003, St. Cecilia, Stanwood)