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Select Homily
August, 20 2017

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Rev. Jim Schmitmeyer

Steve Jones was a tall, angular, lanky lumberjack
with deep-set, angry eyes.
His unkempt, wild raven hair spilled down over his forehead
and the veins in his neck stood out like rope.
A scar, jagged and ugly, that seemed to glow yellow light of the lantern,
ran up the side of his face.
A frightening specter, indeed.

You got the picture?
You got eyes open for this guy?
You got your blood flowing?

That description comes from a book entitled,
How to Write a Damn Good Novel.
It comes from a chapter called, "Conflict,"
The author of that book says that without conflict,
you're not going to have much of a story.
And you know what?
He's right.

Action. Conflict. Energy. Drive. Stamina.

That's why a lot of people
find the Hebrew Scriptures
a lot more interesting 
than the New Testament.

Cain and Abel.
Samson and Delilah.
David and Goliath.

Lots of conflict. Lots of action.

And every knows that there's just as much conflict 
in the New Testament:

the slaughter of the innocents of Bethlehem
the beheading of John the Baptist
the torture and crucifixion of Christ
the stoning of Stephen
the wars of the Apocalypse.

But most of us
are more apt to picture the characters 
as looking a lot more like those found in stained glass windows
as oppose to that lumberjack, Steve Jones,
with veins bulging from his neck like ropes.

Why is that?

Do we blame pietistic artists?
Do we blame ourselves for being uncomfortable with the conflicts and controversies
and what it mean if we got involved with the implications?
Do we automatically shut out the intense struggles and demands 
contained within the Word of God
because we simply prefer 
the stories of angels and miracles and the breaking of bread in a community of love?

Listen to this quote by the British novelist Dorothy Sayers:

Not Harod, not Caiaphas, not Pilate, not Judas
ever contrived to fasten upon Jesus Christ the reproach of insipidity.
That final indignity was left for pious hands to inflict.
To make of history something that could neither startle, nor shock,
nor terrify, nor excite, nor inspire a living soul 
is to crucify the Son of God afresh….

If indeed we tend to avoid the conflict
and tuned down the intense shrill 
of certain rough-edged passages in our holy book,
then that would explain 
why we do not gravitate or appreciate
passages like the one found in today's gospel reading.

For crying out loud, 
did you listen to it?
The disciples saying,
"This broad is buggin' us, tell her to get lost."
Jesus turning a deaf ear to that woman…the mother of a sick child!
Going so far as to tell her 
to eat the crumbs off the floor like some dog!

Where is the voice of the Good Shepherd?
Where is the man who consoled the woman of Samaria?
Where is the Savior who died to set all people free?

Well, he's here, right here in this story.
He's the teacher goading the student.
He's coach pushing the player to put forth all she's got inside.
He's the debater looking for the clash so the argument can begin
and the truth be brought forth.

He's that logger up in Oregon
putting money on the table
daring you to down that whiskey
and betting that you won't put up the hundred bucks
to arm wrestle him at the bar!

And in this story
that country woman from the next county over
takes the bet
and doesn't back down

"You got strong faith, woman," he says.
"You got mighty strong faith!"

Won't it be something
when he says the same thing to you?
"I knew you had it in you! 
Now, so do you!"

Notes: The first quotation is a paraphrase from How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1987, p. 27. The quote by Dorothy Sayers is taken from Quest for Better Preaching by Edward F. Markquart, Augsburg Press, Minneapolis, 1985, p. 20.

©Fr. Jim Schmitmeyer

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