Are We Looking Where Jesus is Looking?
In his book, A Pirate Looks at Fifty, the great modern philosopher Jimmy Buffett wrote, “Life is a journey that’s measured not in miles or years but in experiences, and the route your life takes is built not of roads but of songs.” That struck me as I was thinking about our celebration today, as we give thanks for fifty years as a parish here at St. Bernadette. How true this is, right? These fifty years here in Severn are not so much a matter of data and bricks and mortar; rather, they are about experiences and relationships and the faith that has brought us together, even up to now.
It’s a journey, the life of a parish. It’s a journey because it is discipleship; it is following Jesus. And this is why we are here.
Our gospel today presents us with an interesting picture. The translation that we just heard really doesn’t do the original Greek justice, I think. Here is what I believe is a more accurate rendering:
When the time had come for Him to be received up, [Jesus] steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem and sent messengers before His face. … But the [Samaritans] did not receive Him because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem.
This is a matter of translator’s preference, but I want to focus us on that image – that of Jesus’ face – and pose this question: Are we looking where Jesus is looking? Does He determine our destination or do we?
This year, we will be invited to look back – to remember, reflect, and rejoice. Looking back is a good thing. It reminds us of where we have been and who we are. But we are also called to go forward. Jesus also encourages this today in the gospel when He says, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” So, the challenge of our celebration today is seeing where we have been while at the same time looking at where we are going – not on our own terms (like James and John) but on Christ’s.
As Jesus goes along, He is looking to touch hearts – and they may not be on the easiest, most convenient way. They are often on the margins, and we can be proud of a long tradition here of looking to those margins. There, we have found the face of Jesus – in the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the gay, the lost, the hurting, the stranger. These are the marks of true disciples of Jesus – even as we move toward Jerusalem and the salvation won by Jesus, we are called to reach out and bring others along with us. The apostles in the gospel today don’t really get that, do they?
So, the challenge that I as your pastor want to offer today – as we kick of a wonderful year of celebration, memory, and faith – is where are we in this gospel? Are we the Samaritans – resistant and unwelcoming? Are we the Apostles – angry, reactive, and vengeful? Or are we with Jesus – focused, forgiving, centered?
While we celebrate fifty years of grace at St. Bernadette, I rejoice with you – and look forward to fifty more! During this year, though, let’s focus ourselves on total transformation as disciples, and let’s seek that face of Jesus to see where He is pointed. Here are my suggestions:
First, let’s unite ourselves intimately with Jesus Christ. Make Mass and the celebration of the Eucharist a priority. Each weekend, we are blessed to gather here and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s Word and Body. Appreciate that. Maybe come once in a while to adoration on Tuesday evenings at 6pm. Encounter the Lord in His mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Know Jesus in the sacraments and in His Church.
Second, engage in some form of service here, and see Jesus’ face in those whom we serve. There are many opportunities, thanks be to God! And we should be very proud of our rich tradition of service and advocacy. Assist us with Winter Relief in November; join our teams serving our partners in Haiti; volunteer with our St. Vincent DePaul society; gather with our ALLIES ministry, our Justice and Peace committee; join our prayer shawl ministry; learn about our outreach to immigrants in the Pastoral Migratoria; consider being on the Pastoral Council or liturgy committee. Even the Knights of Columbus can help us serve in faith. There are many others; just ask! Know Jesus in the people whom He touches.
Thirdly, dedicate yourself to personal spiritual development. Reaffirm your commitment to daily prayer – of the Rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, or whatever. Look for our Walking with Purpose groups as they start up in the fall. Look for adult faith formation courses – like Fr. Rob’s servant leadership course or my Scripture essentials (both coming soon!). Know Jesus in your own faith.
At the beginning of the new millennium, St. John Paul II urged the Church:
Is it not the Church's task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his face shine also before the generations of the new millennium? Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated his face. The Great Jubilee has certainly helped us to do this more deeply. At the end of the Jubilee, as we go back to our ordinary routine, storing in our hearts the treasures of this very special time, our gaze is more than ever firmly set on the face of the Lord. (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 16).
Now, at the beginning of our next fifty years, I echo that call: together may we contemplate the face of Jesus – in the poor, the marginalized, the lost, in one another. And as we find Him, may we continue to reflect His light for another fifty years, and beyond!