Fourteenth Sunday 2006
Two weeks ago I was in Fortaleza Brazil for a liturgy conference with Jesuits from around the world. One of the reasons for the venue in the north of Brazil was the work of the Jesuits with the local people in parishes and “base Communities”. Base communities are clusters of committed Christians who pray and share faith with each other in order to have an intimate and personal experience of Christian community. At times these various small communities of faith would join together to celebrate the Eucharist together. One of the most powerful experiences we had in Brazil was participating in on e of the weeknight Eucharist celebrated by these base communities.
I wish you could have been there to experience the energy, enthusiasm, spirit filled nature of this Eucharist. Hundreds of people of all ages crowded into this simple church to celebrate their faith in God and Jesus Christ. This was no correctly executed and lifeless ritual performed by the priest and a few ministers. No the whole community was singing, moving, praying, animated by the Holy Spirit. This spirit was contagious and even though the songs and prayers were in Portuguese, you couldn’t help but join in singing and moving to the rhythms of the music. You just couldn’t help yourself! That’s how contagious the spirit was.
And I forgot to mention, these people were materially poor. Their lives, homes, meals, all of the material things of life would not add up to much by our standards. I can’t imagine anyone there having a credit card or a bank account but the spiritual wealth in that church was abundant. These people know that they possess something more than all the money in the world could buy. They share in a powerful and immediate way in the salvation that Christ brings. Like St. Paul their lives echo the strength and power that comes from Christ himself. “My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection.. And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” These folks were not afraid or embarrassed to express their faith in the Good News of Jesus Christ. They were truly “Evangelical”, meaning that they are alive in Christ Jesus and his good news of the Reign of God.
In today’s gospel the family, friends, neighbors of Jesus, the Nazareth folk are “embarrassed” by Jesus. In other stories in Mark’s Gospel his family think that he is out of his mind and want to bring him to his senses so that he won’t be am embarrassment to them. Jesus’ proclamation of what God’s kingdom is really like and Jesus’ own actions of healing and forgiving as signs of that Kingdom are just too much for the people. They feel that he is making a public spectacle of himself and they are embarrassed by him.
This gospel and the “evangelical” celebration of the Eucharist in Brazil with the poor prompt me to ask if we are ever “embarrassed” by Jesus and our faith in him. We come from a Catholic culture where our faith tends to be “private’, something between God and me or Jesus and me. It also tends to be something that is relegated to an hour on Sunday that feels like a good thing to do so that we get some reflection time in our very busy week but how comfortable are we with professing our faith outside of this context. How comfortable are we speaking of Jesus as the center of our lives, as the one who knows and loves us and redeems us with power and grace. How evangelical are we willing to be so that others might know we are disciples of Jesus. Of course, professing faith in words is empty without the actions that reveal Christ’s charity and compassion.
I’m sure you know of people who have left the Catholic community because they find in Evangelical expressions of faith a more personal, intimate and authentic expression of the spirit. This “gospel faith” is not afraid or embarrassed to speak of Christ as Lord and Savior. This gospel faith is wants the word of God and the power of God in Jesus Christ to be “seen” and not hidden, wants to go public and not remain private.
My question tonight is, Are we embarrassed by this “show of faith” or in fact isn’t that what we are called to? Not in a way that alienates others but that finds appropriate ways to live the faith more fully. Aren’t we called as disciples of Jesus to make known his power and his presence in our lives?
Think about it. Are there ways in which each of us can be more open and transparent about the work that the Spirit is doing in each one of us? Find the ways for you. It could make an amazing difference in the way you live your life.