|Homily for the Second Week of Lent: Faith as Exchange|
|Written by Michael Fones|
|Monday, 01 March 2010 13:18|
I used to shave my head with a single-blade razor, until my dad gave me a high-tech razor with five blades…that vibrate.
I work on a 2008 MacBook that I really enjoy. I wouldn’t trade it for anything – except a newer, faster Apple product.
When I’m in Colorado Springs, the home office of the CSI, I drive a borrowed 1998 red Mustang ragtop convertible.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything, except a 1998 red Mustang ragtop convertible with manual transmission…and snow tires.
Even when we’re happy with the way things are, we’re willing to exchange for something that promises to be better.
That reality is the foundation of marketing, as well as the appeal in the TV show “Let’s Make a Deal,” that asked contestants “do you want to keep what you have, or exchange it for what’s behind door #1?”
I think exchanges are the foundation of faith.
The three figures highlighted in the readings today are good examples.
Abram, a wealthy, but old and childless man from the ancient city of Ur exchanges it all for a long journey to an unknown, yet promised, land and the hope for descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens.
Not a bad deal – since it all worked out.
His faith in this exchanged is credited to him as righteousness, and God seals the deal by covenant.
The split animals were a graphic way of both parties in the agreement saying “may this happen to me if I should break the covenant.”
St. Paul exchanged the life of a respectable Jewish Pharisee to be a disciple of Jesus, and more than a disciple – the missionary to the Gentiles.
But in 2 Corinthians he lists the hardships he’s endured: shipwrecks, beatings, robbers, and anxiety for the converts to Christianity.
He writes the Philippians from prison, knowing he’s to be a martyr, yet encourages them by saying, “imitate me.”
And just before this passage, he told them, I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Philippians 3:8
So he considered that he made a good deal, too, and wants the Philippians to exchange the things of this earth for a relationship with the risen Jesus.
And what of Jesus – what exchange did he make?
St. Paul told the Philippians, “though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, and took the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” Phil 2:6-7
In the transfiguration event, Peter, James and John are given a glimpse of what Jesus exchanged for their sake, and the Father asks them to make an exchange.
Rather than listen to Moses and Elijah, they are now to listen to Jesus, the new Moses and final prophet.
But that’s not the only exchange Jesus made. He exchanged his own human will for His Father’s will. He tells his disciples, “I only do what I have heard from my Father.”
This obedience will lead him to trouble with the religious authorities in Jerusalem.
So much trouble, that, as St. Paul reminds the Philippians, “he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross.” Phil 2:8
And are these good exchanges – or should Jesus have chosen what was behind door #2?
Again, St. Paul says, “Because of this God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above every other name.”
But more than honor, Jesus’ obedience is accepted by the Father who makes a wonderful exchange – His Son’s obedience for our disobedience.
Jesus exchanges his life for the redemption of every human who has ever lived and will ever live.
All three figures make these exchanges for the benefit of others: Abram for his descendants; Paul for the Gentiles who don’t know Jesus; Jesus for you and me.
All three are sent from comfort into the unknown – a frightening exchange.
They are given a mission, which comes from the Latin word, “to be sent.”
Everyone baptized into Jesus has a mission – a share in his mission, actually.
And every mission, every “sending” is to someone; it’s always for the benefit of others.
You and I, as members of Christ’s body, share in the ongoing redemption of the world.
The exchange that you and I are invited to make is our will, our plans, for God’s will and God’s plans.
The purpose of the parish mission will be to convince you that this is not just a good exchange, but the best exchange we can make – and show you how to discover your call today.
Now, a basic Catholic fear is that if I say, “Here I am, Lord, send me,” we’ll end up in Tanzania; or perhaps end up with a very limited wardrobe consisting of the cutting edge of 13th c. fashion.
But actually, our shortcut to happiness and fulfillment in this life is found in responding to God’s call.
Your mission will fit you: your education, talents, experience, even your personality.
St. Paul, with his excellent background in the Jewish scriptures, his zeal for God, and his willingness to live with his heart on his sleeve was a perfect instrument for spreading the Gospel.
As laity, your mission is going to be in the world – transforming its institutions from the inside.
Take Jack Russo, for example. He’s an attorney who started a Foundation to teach lawyers how to exchange aggressive advocacy that creates winners and losers for creative dispute resolution that benefits society.
Or consider Nancy Owen Myers; an entymologist by training, she exchanged the comfortable life of wife and mother for business entrepreneur.
When her kids wouldn’t eat the lunches she packed because they got crushed, she created a foldable, washable, lunchbox and a company she calls Lunchsense, with plants in the US and Viet Nam.
But her mission is still unfolding – all she knows is it has to do with combating hunger.
Steve Bigari, a West Point grad, business innovator and owner of 12 McDonald’s franchises, exchanged them all to start a non-profit called America’s Family.
He shows service industry companies that providing health care, short-term loans and other benefits to employees actually increases productivity and income, while helping the working poor break the cycle of poverty.
In doing so, he’s helped 10,000 families buy their own homes.
How did these people discover their call?
Often, it begins with a feeling of unease or discontent about what we are doing.
I was a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford in geophysics when I admitted to myself I wasn’t passionate about the magnetic field of the ancient earth – not the way my colleagues were.
I didn’t imagine I’d end up here, I promise you – but it’s an exchange I’d make again in a heartbeat.
Life is all about exchanges and priorities.
When you think about it, the story of the Fall is about one terrible exchange: knowledge about things, including God, in exchange for the experience of intimacy with Him and His creation.
And that’s what the Tempter, or Marketer, as I like to think of him, is always about: getting us to exchange our genuine good for a cheap imitation.
When we do that, we become a cheap imitation of ourselves.
Jesus came to re-establish that intimacy of relationship through his death and resurrection, and through the invitation to each of us to “come and follow him” as a disciple.
Pope John Paul II said a disciple "must…enter into [Jesus] with all his own self, one must 'appropriate' and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself." Redemptor Hominis, 10
In other words, by committing ourselves to a relationship with Jesus and allowing his will to become our own, we allow him to take flesh in us – we appropriate the Incarnation to ourselves.
St. Paul could say, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” Gal 2:20
By discerning what it is he would have us do and doing it, we participate in the ongoing work of his redemption of the world today: healing the part of the world to which he sends us.
Our mission forms us into the person we were created to be, and so is a part of our own redemption, as well.
Of course, there’s fear involved: fear of the unknown, of failure, of looking the fool.
That’s why today’s psalm reminds us, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?
We certainly shouldn’t fear God!
The covenant established with Abram through the sacrifice of animals was reaffirmed and deepened through the sacrifice of God’s own Son.
We celebrate that “new and everlasting” covenant at Mass, and we have nothing to fear – and everything to gain - in this holy exchange of bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood.
The “chosen Son” is with you always, calling to you now, in your longing for significance and purpose, in your gifts, and even in your discontent. “Listen to him” and dare to follow him.