21 August 2015
Eating with your Feet
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Pope Francis and Bishop Boyea have been speaking a fair amount about being welcoming people and parishes as part of the New Evangelization. And it makes sense. Who wants to come to a church where you are new, or just visiting, and as you are sitting in your pew, quietly praying and waiting for Mass to begin, a person comes up to you and says, “You’re in my seat!”? Or who would want to join a parish where your family, which includes young children, gets horrible glares when the kids are being a little noisy, or even where someone says to you, “Can’t you control your own children and keep them quiet?!?”? I wouldn’t want to join that parish!
There are numerous groups that also feel like they’re not welcome in the Catholic Church. We are called to be a welcoming community, and to welcome all people to a deeper relationship with Jesus. More often than not, people are drawn to a relationship with Jesus when they know that others want them to be there, and will support them in living their life according to the Gospel. It is especially helpful to note that none of us can get on our high horse, because we are all sinners of various kinds, all in need of God’s mercy. Yes, some sins are more serious than others, but we should always recognize that all of us are in need of deeper conversion–of conforming our lives to that of Jesus.
But, being welcoming is not the end all, be all. Parents: I’m sure you’ve all had times where your children wanted to have their friends over for dinner and you’ve agreed. You welcome your children’s friends to your house to eat with you. You are glad that they are there. But then, at dinner, as they’re sitting at the dinner table, your children’s friends decide they’re going to eat with their bare feet (kids, don’t try this at home!). What would you do?
You would probably tell them to stop (hopefully in kind, yet firm, words). While your children’s friends are welcome at your house, there are certain rules that exist for the health and well-being of the household, even with honored guests. And sometimes that means holding firm on certain issues. We see that with Jesus in the Gospels that we have been hearing over the past few weeks from John chapter 6. No one would accuse Jesus of not being welcoming. He drew in so many people who felt ostracized from Judaism and general society to follow Him. And yet, when it comes to His teaching on the Eucharist, He seems very stubborn.
Two weeks ago, as I’m sure you all remember, the Jews followed Jesus across the sea. Jesus didn’t say: “It’s so nice to see you!” He said, “‘Amen, amen, I say to you, you are not looking for me because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’” That doesn’t sound very welcoming.
Last week we heard about how the Jews started murmuring as Jesus continue His teaching that He is the bread that came down from heaven. They said, “‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, “I have come down from heaven”?’” Jesus doesn’t respond with, “Oh, you just don’t understand what I’m saying and where I come from.” Jesus says, “Stop murmuring….No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him….Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.’”
This week, Jesus continues to say that He is the living bread come down from heaven, and whoever eats this bread, His flesh, will live forever. That really sends the Jews into a tizzy: “‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” But Jesus doesn’t say, “You misunderstand me; I’m talking about my Flesh under sacramental signs in the Eucharist, not as in cannibalism.” Instead, he solemnly doubles down on his previous statements: “‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.’” Is Jesus not being welcoming? Why would we follow a God who is not welcoming?
Jesus, of course, is always welcoming, especially to sinners. But His welcome of them is to His way, His life, His truth. Jesus was not concerned about winning the largest congregation award. He was not concerned about converting everybody there, no matter what it takes, though He does desire all to be saved. Jesus’ welcome is always paired with the truth.
If we are to be a parish formed after the heart of Jesus, then we, too have to hold those two things in tension: welcome and truth. We have to be kind, understanding, and loving to those we meet, and encourage them to follow Jesus and strive to be like Him, as we try to do. But that only happens when we also hold firm on what Jesus hold firms to: the truth. Welcoming others does not mean watering down our faith. It means lovingly welcoming others to conform their lives to Jesus, as we attempt to do the same thing. Being welcoming does not mean anything goes. It does not mean you can eat with your feet. Being welcoming means embracing anyone with our words and deeds, and walking with them to become more like Jesus.