Stealing People’s Loyalty for Their King

In 2nd Samuel chapter 15,   we hear of the actions of Absalom toward his father, David. David and Absalom had always had a tumultuous relationship but in this particular story we hear of a unique treachery that son Absalom visited on his father, David.

Absalom would arise early in the morning and station himself along the road leading to Jerusalem’s gate. When travelers came on their way to the city, Absalom would endear himself to them by extending his hand, holding them, and kissing them while he told them that he would render justice on their behalf.

Verse 6 tells us that, “By behaving in this way toward all the Israelites who were on their way to visit the King for a favorable judgement on their behalf, Absalom was stealing away the loyalties of the men of Israel.”

As we read this story we see that Absalom was very cunning in his actions. Who would ever think to do something like that, we ask.

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is, “We would.” Granted, we may not formulate our actions exactly like Absalom did, but we come very close at times. Close enough that the results are essentially the same. Substitute the phrase “Authority Figure” for the word “King” and we see that by our actions we steal the loyalty of others for our authority figure, aka, our boss or our supervisor.

Let’s look at ways that action can play out. When others mention how they think highly of our boss we might agree at first but quickly point out some of the boss’s short comings. We might second guess some of his decisions. Perhaps, we point out how one of his decisions was not well thought out and how we would have better handled the situation. We could slowly but surely shift their high opinion of him to ourselves.

Our actions are little more than a violation of the ninth commandment where we are told not to bear false witness against another. That false witness need not be only in a court of law; it can happen in the normal day-to-day relationships we have with others.

Let us not forget and be on guard, there is a little Absalom in the best of us!

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Jesus Brings Division, Homily

Homily, Aug 13-14, 2016: Cycle C, 20th Sunday of Ord Time (Jesus Brings Division)

Our Gospel today can be a bit unsettling and confusing.

With all the examples of division He uses between fathers against sons, mothers against daughters, in-laws against in-laws, Jesus sounds like He is describing a Jewish family reunion.

He says, “Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth?” It makes me want to answer, “Well, yeah, I did as a matter of fact.” So, what is He talking about?

Certainly, He is a man of peace. He’s the prince of peace. Isaiah prophesied about Him hundreds of years before that He’d be “Mighty God and Prince of Peace”

After His birth in Bethlehem, the Heavenly Host said to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

After His Resurrection He often greeted His Apostles with “Peace be with you”, starting in the upper room.

He instructed His disciples, to bring peace from house to house. He said “If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it.”

All of these references reinforce our belief that He promotes peace.

Yet, in our Gospel today, He seems to be saying just the opposite.

Is He really calling dads to be at odds with their sons and mothers to be at odds with their daughters and mother-in-law’s with their daughter-in-law’s?

What does He mean when He says, I have come to bring division in families?

Obviously, He’s speaking with hyperbole to make a point. The point seems to be that the truth that He brings to the world can cause division and He wants us to be aware.

Let’s look at some examples.

A man discovers the truth about the Catholic Church by spending time around Catholics at work. He realizes that most of his life he has been exposed to negative exaggerations about it. Finally, he steps out on his own to discover the truth about our faith by going to RCIA. He is enthralled with it and enters the Catholic Church. Case closed? Good story? Humm, not so fast.

You see, the rest of his family might not see the truth as he sees it and it feels to them like he is rejecting them and rejecting the truth they follow and the family can be divided about it. We hear of this happening to people going through our own RCIA classes.

Truth can cause division!

A daughter wants to have an abortion, but her mother knows the truth, that there is a real person in her no matter how small or what trimester. The mother tries her best to pass on that truth but the daughter argues against her.

In the process, the two are divided which can causes the entire family to be divided as well. It can end up three against two and two against three as Jesus pointed out in today’s Gospel.

Again, Truth can cause division!

A father pleads with his 20-year-old son to go to Mass on Sunday because he knows the truth that from the Mass one’s soul is nourished with good, solid spiritual food, not spiritual junk food that the world offers.

The son does not see that truth about Mass as his father sees it, and they are divided, father against son.

Truth can cause division! It doesn’t have to; of course, God’s love is sufficient to overcome, if we’re open to it.

That is what Jesus meant – that He came to bring truth and the division that can follow will not be peaceful.

He brings eternal truth, objective truth. Jesus reveals Himself as the Way, the TRUTH, and the life.

St. Augustine said, “People hate truth for the sake of whatever they love more than truth. They love truth when it shines warmly on them, and hate it when it rebukes them.”

St. John Chrysostom said, “Those who wage war against truth are powerless to win in the long run, rather, they wound themselves”, but they do it anyway.

So, yes, truth can cause divisions! Yes, Jesus has come to bring divisions, in that sense! He wants His truth about His Father’s love for all of us to be received and fully lived like a blazing fire that spreads and covers the entire world as He says in today’s Gospel.

Our role as His followers, is to receive that truth, live that truth to the fullest, and spread it by our lives.

Now, having said that, in fact, most of our divisions don’t involve large issues of faith and morals. In our lifetimes, we may be faced with very few, that serious.

Most of our divisions come about because of ego or differences of opinion about how to handle much less serious matters.

In the middle of those differences our responses to these small matters tend to be way overblown compared to serious larger matters. Why is that? We live in a world of superlatives. Everything is the Best or the Worst.

My friends, there is a huge area between these two extremes, and that’s where most of us live, most of the time. Beware of forces trying to eliminate that large area between the two extremes, and drawing the two so close together that it’s just a step away from one into the other. That’s just not realistic.

So, as we go forward with this somewhat unusual Gospel in our hearts, let us be mindful of our need to show perspective in dealing with every day give-and-take in our relationships with others.

Jesus’ truth can cause divisions, but He wants us to be peaceful as we work our way through them.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. This Gospel does not change that. He wants us to resolve our difference, large and small, with Peace in our hearts. To do that we must keep our eyes on Him no matter what is going on around us.