Saturday, June 07, 2008

Sunday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (A)
Sales Pitch

Readings: Hosea 6:3-6; Psalms 50:1, 8, 12-13, 14-15; Romans 4:18-25; Matthew 9:9-13
Picture: CC quatre mains

Sisters and brothers, are any of you interested in getting a new vehicle? Do you think that now is a good time to buy? As you know, the COE prices for June have gone down in every category. That’s good. But then oil prices are going through the roof. Even Malaysia has raised its petrol and diesel prices. So is it a good time to buy or not? Whether or not it’s a good time, just imagine for a moment that you are thinking of buying a new vehicle. What type will you get? What make and model? And how will you decide? Most probably you’ll consider things like the intended use for the vehicle, how much it costs, its fuel consumption, engine capacity, after-sales service and so on. And, unless you’re getting it only to show-off, you will probably choose the vehicle that will bring you the best benefits for the lowest cost.

But why, you may wonder, are we talking about buying a new vehicle at a time, and in a place, like this? Maybe Father is looking for one and needs some advice? Not really. Here’s the reason. Don’t you think that our Mass readings look a little like a brochure or an advertisement for a new vehicle? This, of course, is not just any ordinary vehicle. It’s a special kind of vehicle. We all need it, but not to shuttle us back and forth between home and work, or school, or the church. We need it for a far more important purpose. We need it to carry us on our spiritual journey. We need it to get us to heaven. Are you interested?

But if it is not a car or a pick-up, a motorcycle or a van, then what kind of vehicle is it exactly? The answer is found in the second reading. Here Paul talks about the spiritual automobile that carried Abraham into heaven. Paul tells us that this vehicle is the faith that was ‘considered as justifying him’. This, my sisters and brothers, is the type of vehicle that our readings are offering us today: faith. But what does this vehicle look like? How much does it cost? What make and model is it? What benefits does it bring us?

The first benefit is also described in the second reading. Here, Paul tells us that faith enabled Abraham to do something quite extraordinary. It gave him the ability to believe. And not just to believe anything, but to believe the unbelievable. He was already a hundred years old and his wife, Sarah, was past the age of childbirth, and they were still childless. Yet he dared to believe that God would fulfill his promise to make him the father of many nations. Of course, I don’t think there’s anyone here who is already a hundred years old, let alone still trying to conceive a child. But, whatever our age, don’t we all need the grace to believe the unbelievable?

Especially when we are going through tough times – whether financially, emotionally or spiritually. When no one seems able to help us. When even God seems painfully absent. At times like these, don’t we need the strength to believe what we heard in the first reading today? Let us set ourselves to know the Lord; that he will come is as certain as the dawn… That he will come is as certain as the dawn. Aren’t these unbelievable words precisely what we need to believe, especially when we are stumbling about in the dark?

And there is also another particularly unbelievable thing that faith helps us with. It helps us to believe that God’s love for us is more powerful even than our sinfulness. Isn’t this what we see in the gospel? Imagine the scene for a moment. There, by the customs house, sits Matthew, the tax collector, the public sinner. And yet, the power of faith is such that it enables him to believe that Jesus can actually be calling a sinner like him. Don’t we too need this kind of power, this kind of belief? Especially when we ourselves may be struggling with our own particular areas of sinfulness. Don’t we need to believe that however serious or deadly our sin, Jesus can and wants to reach into our hearts and call us back to life?

And belief is only the first benefit that the vehicle of faith brings us. We can probably already guess what is the second. Consider again Matthew’s example. Once he believed that Jesus was calling him, what did he do? He didn’t simply remain seated where he was. The gospel tells us that Matthew got up and followed Jesus. He left the customs house, the place of his sinful occupation. We’re not told exactly where he went after that, only that he followed Jesus. But we do know that he ended up a saint. This is the power that faith gave him. It gave him the strength not only to believe but also to move, to move from the customs house into the Kingdom of God. And isn’t this also what happened to Abraham? His faith in God led him to believe, and his belief gave him the strength to move, to move his entire family, including the animals, from their ancestral home in Ur of the Chaldeans into the land of Canaan.

Don’t we also need this same power of movement? Especially when we may find ourselves stuck, whether it is in a sinful situation, a difficult relationship, or a stress-filled and meaningless life. The vehicle of faith gives us the strength to leave the customs houses of our lives, and to follow the Lord wherever he leads us.

There is still a third benefit that comes with this vehicle of faith. It’s not as clear in today’s gospel taken from Matthew. But in Luke’s version (5:29), we are told that the tax collector is the one who held a great reception in his house in Jesus’ honour. Having received the gift to believe the unbelievable, and the power to move along with Jesus, the new disciple now opens his home and his heart. He gladly welcomes others to share in the joy that he has found, or rather, the joy that has found him. Don’t we want to have the same gift also, the gift of welcoming others and of sharing with them the treasures of our faith?

These then are the three precious benefits, the three invaluable blessings that faith brings us: belief, movement and welcome. And knowing these benefits, we can now identify the particular make of this vehicle that is being offered to us today. It’s a BMW.

One thing remains for us to consider. How much does it cost? How many hours of prayer must we spend? How many Masses do we need to offer? How much fasting must we endure to buy this vehicle? The price tag is found in the gospel. Here Jesus tells us the good news: what I want is mercy, not sacrifice. The cost of this vehicle is nothing more or less than mercy. It is, of course, the mercy that we are called to show to those in need: the people of Sichuan and Myanmar surely, but also those closer to home, the lonely family member, the struggling neighbour, the new and very blur colleague. We need to show them mercy. But that is not the whole story. The mercy that we show others, we first receive from God. For this is the same God who walked by the customs house and sold a sinner a brand new vehicle. This is the same God who then walked on to Calvary and was raised to life on the third day. It is this God, who by his boundless mercy, has already paid the price for us, in full.

Sisters and brothers, are you ready to buy yourself the BMW of faith today?

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