We were very pleasantly surprised today at the 9:30 A.M. Mass for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. Bishop Calvo gave the homily on the Gospel reading and “Get Low,” starring Robert Duvall as a Felix Bush, a citizen of Dogwood, Roane County, Tennessee on June 26, 1938, and a member of Cave Creek Baptist Church.
In the case of the real Felix Bush, his pastor, Rev. Jackson stood up to preach the funeral sermon. Reverend Jackson stated in the homily of the funeral, “It might be wholesome for everyone to hear his own funeral while he is living…Here we speak of life, if life is all right; there is nothing to fear about death. There are no tears and heartaches, only happiness at this service… If a lot of those roughnecks out there had to face the music before they pass out, they would improve their way of living.”
Bishop Calvo took off with his homily. We should all live our lives in such a way that we would want to hear that homily, the statement of our lives. In “Get Low,” Rev. Jackson does not give the homily about Felix Bush. The people of Dogwood are asked to tell Felix Bush stories about him. Bishop Calvo related that we should always live our lives in such a way that we would want to hear what other people say about us.
In Matthew 22:32, Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6, which says, “‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?” He then adds, “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” In Aramaic, “God of the living” is “Elohim Chaim.” Grammarians call this the construct case, which means it can also mean, “God of Life.”
Bishop Calvo took this point to take Rev. Jackson’s homily a step further. We must live our lives in such a way that we would want to hear what people would say about us at our funerals. Also, we should live our lives in such a way that we would want to hear what the God of Life, the God, the Abba, who is love, Ahabba, the One who is to come, has to say about us.
Bishop Calvo related this to the Gospel reading, “The bridegroom came, and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. The door was locked. The other virgins came and said, ‘Kyrie, Kyrie, open the door for us!’ The bridegroom replied, ‘I do not know you.” At the other side of those pearly gates is the great Eucharist. In the Eucharist in this world, we pledge to bring God into our lives. Do we live that life?
Bishop Calvo pointed out that God is the God of Life and of Love. He knows life and love. If we live our lives in life and love, God knows us, because we are like him. If we lead a life of life and love for others and ourselves regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, or what they may have done or not done, as individuals and as a nation, God knows us. If we live our lives in any other way, God does not know us.
There is another way to live our lives. Our first reading relates, “Whoever watches for Wisdom at dawn shall… l find her sitting by his gate.” Ruth 4:1-12 relates why Wisdom is “at the gate.” This is where the elders met to decide cases. Wisdom is at the gate to help the elders of the village decide cases.
There are two ways to decide cases. The first way is to point to the law and decide strictly by the merits of the law. In Jewish culture, a Sodomite is a legalist. The way God wants us to decide a matter is like sandlot baseball. During the game, a case might come up where the players need to decide which ball, bat, or glove, belongs with which kid.
In addition, players may need to decide if a close call is a ball or a strike, or whether an outfielder did or did not catch the ball. Either children decide, on the merits of the pitch, without instant replay, or they decide in favor of the love of the game. While the children are playing the game, it really does not matter, which ball, bat, or glove, belongs to which kid. That is only important when the game ends. In sandlot ball, it really does not matter if any given pitch is a ball, or a strike or if it is caught or not. The final score in the game is not that important. What is important is that everyone enjoys the game and gets out of the game what they put into it.
In “Get Low,” Rev. Jackson says, “Here we speak of life, if life is all right; there is nothing to fear. There are no tears and heartaches, only happiness at this service…” The service is the service to the game of life and service to each other as fellow players in this game of life.
The Jewish “Ethics of the Fathers” relates, “Judah the son of Tabbai would say: When sitting in judgment, do not act as a counselor-at-law. When litigants stand before you, consider them both guilty; when they leave your courtroom, having accepted the judgment, regard them as equally righteous.”
When we decide cases, it is for the love of the game, to continue the game. After we render the decision, both sides agree the decision is just, and continue the game. If we act strictly according to the law, one side or the other will feel slighted, and will no longer be willing to play, or as willing to play, and we will have hurt the game. If we play favorites, one side or the other will feel slighted, and will no longer be willing to play, and we will have hurt the game.
Do we want people to refer to us as legalists, even if it hurts our brother or sister in Christ, a fellow child of God, or do we want people to refer to us peacemakers, (Matthew 5:9) who treated all as fellow children of God? That is what Jesus means when he says, “‘Come, blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Matthew 25:34. That is the life God calls us to and that is what we pledge ourselves to when we sit at God’s table in his house, the Eucharist.