October 21, 2019

Too Tall an Order?

Should we take Jesus seriously? The quick answer is “YES.” But that quick answer would expose the superficiality of our commitment to Jesus and the shallowness of our faith. By now it should have dawned on us that Jesus’ words are truly words of life. This is exactly what Simon Peter acknowledged in a moment of enormous collective crisis among the disciples. (John 6:68)

They are words of life or, rather, alive words the way electric power is alive. Any right application of electric power generates better living conditions and makes them more livable—in comforts and conveniences. However, any misuse of electric power spells disaster and even death. Hence, because of what electricity can do, it should be taken seriously. Similarly, Jesus’ words pack incredible power to lead to eternal life those who welcome them in their minds and hearts. But the very same words spell destruction and death for those who choose to take them lightly or ignore them altogether.

Let us face it: so far we gave the Gospel some undivided attention, but for not more than a few minutes at the time, and only if the homily that followed was half-way decent. Even before we headed for home after Mass, life’s routine, pressing issues, unresolved situations, fatigue, boredom, dreams, a lot of things pushed even the best, more challenging statements of the Gospel in the hazy background of the mind. We know that we should take Jesus’ words much more seriously than we usually do and put them into practice lest our house would not withstand the raging elements of life’s trials and severe challenges (Matthew 7:27).

But this time we might be justified in wondering if we have to take him seriously. What Jesus proposes is more than preposterous; it is humanly impossible, even by a long shot.

We can take the following two Old Testament orders seriously because they sound reasonable and fair.

  • An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
  • You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

Gouging out two eyes for one eye: that would be unfair because excessive. Knocking out several teeth in retaliation for a lost tooth, would be unwarranted. Loving friends and good neighbors while keeping our enemies at a distance is a natural and reasonable way of feeling.

This is reasoning in our “comfort zone.” In our comfort zone filled with situations void of challenges, seemingly, there is no need for outside help precisely because most of what is before us sounds reasonable and fair.

But the very nature of the Gospel places certain orders squarely outside our comfort zone. Actually, in the zone in which the Gospel confronts us today we must ask ourselves if we should take Jesus seriously.

Why should we submit to injustices? Why should we let those with more power than we have walk all over us? At what point could we say: “Enough already?”

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

In Thailand, where forgiveness and love for one’s enemies are practically unknown even among disciples of Jesus, one of our catechists, a Karen man, took Jesus’ order seriously. But his “Yes” did not come hastily. Mindful of Gospel orders such as these, he forgave his wife and her seducer. However, her seducer killed him because he could not believe that he had been truly forgiven.

It is risky to step outside our comfort zone, and reason, think, act and react consciously and deliberately rejecting what had been reasonable for us thus far or had remained unchallenged until now. Some of us might recall the unspeakable tragedy that happened on July 23, 2007 in Cheshire, CT. Should Dr. William Petit love Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes who clubbed him over the head, tied him up and then proceeded to rape his wife and two daughters, douse them with gasoline and murder them? Should he pray for these two low-life specimens?

Do you see how we cannot answer quickly whether or not we should take Jesus seriously?

Already in the Old Testament, in Leviticus 19:2, we find an unreasonable order: “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.” The Israelites of old (and all of us as well since God’s words are never “seasonal”) are ordered to be holy.

That means that we are ordered to be thinking, reasoning, acting and reacting led by total otherness, by total separateness just as God is. If we can live with this order we should not be super-shocked by the unreasonable orders that Jesus gives us today. We realize that the Gospel turns our mere human way of reasoning on its head.

The final order meant to end all wonderings and all shocks is this: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) This is not a fluke. In Luke 6: 36 we read:  “Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful.”

In this world’s plateau we let justice take its course according to laws made by human beings. But, as people of the New Covenant sealed in the Blood of God’s only Son, we are ordered to think, reason, act and react on the loftiest plateau there is, God’s plateau filled with infinite otherness, mercy, perfection and love.

Today we should decide that it is o.k. to live with this sense of abiding inadequacy of knowing that we will never reach God’s holiness, otherness, mercy and perfection. Our confidence is not placed anymore on other human beings but on the Holy Spirit who enlightens every page of the Gospel and gives us the power to carry out even the tallest of Jesus’ orders.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin
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