19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A priest was invited to attend a house party. He went professionally dressed and wearing his priest’s collar. A little boy at the party, though, kept staring at him the entire evening.
Finally, the priest asked the little boy what he was staring at.
The little boy pointed to the priest’s neck.
When the priest finally realized what the boy was pointing at, he asked the boy, “Do you know why I’m wearing this collar?”
“Yep sure do,” replied the boy — To kill ticks and fleas for up to three months.”
Priests are often identified, out in public and in church, by the Roman collar that they wear. In today’s second reading, we’re told how to be identified as God’s children in a far more integral way— by being “imitators of God, as beloved children and” living “in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (EPH 5:2)
The author of Ephesians makes it clear that the fundamental way we become imitators of God is by living in love and knowing that we’re loved by God. The way we can tell if we’re truly convinced of God’s love for us is by reflecting on the motivations we have for doing the things that we do. Do we do what we do because we’re afraid of going to Hell? Or do we do what we do because we’ve experienced the saving grace that God has poured into our hearts? Do we do what we do because of the experience of being named God’s children or do we do what we do because we still feel outside of God’s family, alone and afraid that if we’re not perfect, God will reject us? It’s an important fundamental reflection we have to make because our identification with God must flow from our experience of being loved by God and, freely and without consideration of the benefit to ourselves, loving God in return.
One of the ways Christ demonstrated his love for us is that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Yes, Christ didn’t demand perfection from us in order to be called his beloved children. He didn’t even require our repentance before dying for us! No, Jesus took upon himself the weight and the filth of all our sinfulness, because of his great love for us! Exclamation point! That sacrifice of Jesus’ very life on the cross became the means by which our sins would be forgiven and our new life in God would begin!
The natural question that flows from this realization, is this: If we seek to be imitators of God, what sacrifices are WE willing to make for God and for God’s people? Are we willing to follow public health guidelines both inside and outside of church and our homes? Are we willing to sacrifice of our time to help someone who doubts God’s love for him/her, and who may be on the periphery of our society? Are we willing to be a listening ear to someone who’s faith has been shaken by the recent residential school discoveries? Are we willing to get fully vaccinated, so that we don’t become an easy receptacle for the Covid-19 virus to mutate and to spread to others and potentially lead to even more virulent strains of the virus being created and to even more people dying from Covid-19? As you can see, there’s no shortage of ways we can sacrifice today to demonstrate our love for God and God’s people. The question is whether we indeed love God enough to make such sacrifices and whether we’re ready to be imitators of God in concrete, demonstrable ways.
Our second reading reveals that demonstrating our love for God doesn’t just mean making sacrifices. It also means making fragrant offerings to God, of our lives. A fragrant offering is something that catches another’s attention, in a positive way. It’s something that causes us to pause and be in amazement. It’s something that perhaps others don’t expect to find in our world, in our church, or in our personal lives. It’s something that may be counter-cultural or hard to do, without the grace of God enabling it, in the first place.
A fragrant offering is something that recognizes the innate divine presence in each person and tries to elicit that divine presence to be brought forth more abundantly in the other, by the way we treat them.
Our second reading describes what such a fragrant offering might look like. It includes being kind to one another, being tender-hearted, and being ready to mutually forgive one another for wrongs done or for sins committed against the other. All such fragrant offerings are indeed based in and find their rootedness in, a pervasive and unswerving love for God and for one another. – a love that we’ve first experienced from God and now are called to imitate as far as is humanly possible.
In our world, these fragrant behaviors would definitely catch the attention of others, sadly because they’re so rare! For it’s much easier to be bitter and angry at someone! It’s far easier to blame another for some perceived slight against us. It’s way easier to slander and malign another person’s reputation and prop ourselves up or pat ourselves on the back for not being like another. It’s far easier to get angry and to fight with one another endlessly, rather than to work on resolving our differences, seeking peace, and forgiving one another for our failures to love the other, as God loves them.
Indeed, our second reading urges us to “put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice” and instead, to cultivate being “kind to one another, tender-hearted, and forgiving one another, as God, in Christ, has forgiven you.” (Eph 4:31-32) We probably don’t need to think too hard of instances when we’ve failed at being a fragrant offering to God in our world. We probably don’t need to wonder what others may have thought of us, when they observed such unchristian behavior from us, either.
The good news is that we can leave that behavior behind with the grace of God and live anew as fragrant offerings to God!
To do that, we have to remember that all the bitterness, wrath, anger, malicious thoughts and unforgiveness that we sometimes harbor, are all behaviors that intend to separate us from one another. They seek to make us enemies, rather than brothers and sisters of one family in God. They seek to put us in competition to one another, rather than to work together as teammates to solve the problems with which we’re confronted. They’re attributes that, at their base, ignore the real and pervasive love of God that’s at the heart of our Christian baptismal consecration, a consecration that makes us children of God and calls us to be imitators of God.
To help us remember this profound love-connection with God begun in baptism, the Lord has given us his Sacred Body and Precious Blood as our spiritual food and our drink throughout our pilgrim journey in this world. He’s given us the Eucharist too, as a reminder that divinity resides within each of us and that we’re called to be the life-giving presence of God to a hurting and sinful world. Yes, Jesus is the true bread that comes down from heaven! He longs to give eternal life to every person in the world! And he so desires to bestow that life from person to person, each day —to all who come to him despite their sinfulness, who have even a little faith that Jesus can make of them, a fragrant offering to God. Are we ready to be that fragrant offering and that pleasing sacrifice? Are we willing to allow Jesus to come into us, in bread and wine, and to influence every aspect of our lives, to affect our every thought, to influence our every action, and to inspire us to greater service of the Kingdom? Are we willing to be imitators of God in the love we express to God and for others?
To Download please click below.