Homily: “On Boasting in the Cross”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

We come upon one of the more poetic and lovely Collects of our Calendar, one that is perfectly situated in time. Grant us, Lord, it begins, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly. And of course, for us, the heavenly is not the far away and remote, but the Kingdom of God which has come near, and has come intimate, through the Cross of Jesus Christ. The heavenly is the deeper dimension of our reality as we live and move and have our being as baptized Christians—very members incorporate in the mystical Body of Christ, Christ who is Himself in heaven, and we are members of Him Who is in heaven. We ourselves—you all and me, in our actual lives in the here and now—are sacraments of Christ’s presence. We are outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. This is nothing to boast about. As Saint Paul’s teaches in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Let him who boasts boast of the Lord.” Perhaps all of us could take this very positive teaching of the Apostle more literally and seriously: a daily remembrance that God has baptized us, and made us part of Him.

We find the twelve disciples of Jesus boasting as well. This boasting, however, runs contrary to Paul’s teaching, found in the verses directly prior to the one I just quoted. He wrote: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” It is because they were boasting, and doing so in the presence of God, that they were silent.

Can we fill in the picture a bit, based on the sketch provided by Saint Mark? He said they were silent. Would they not be embarrassed? chastened? feeling foolish? They had just heard the second of Jesus’ three teachings on his coming death and resurrection, and yet as they walked behind Him on the way through Galilee to Capernaum, they were hardly His followers. For their conversation was rather about who would be the leader, who was the greatest. They were no different than Saint Peter, rebuked for trying to lead not follow.

And so to teach them, to correct their misunderstanding, He took a child. Perhaps in doing so, Our Lord intended this a teaching moment, not only about how to receive the divine reveaation—for we are to receive it like a child, that is to not be high-minded, having no proud looks. Again, this is Saint Paul’s teaching—to refrain the soul, keep it low, like as a child that is weaned from his mother, to trust in the Lord, because without Him, without such firm trust, we are as helpless as a young child without her mother—and so not only a teaching about that, but perhaps an invitation, a seed planted in the minds of the Twelve, holding up a baby: an invitation to probe deeper into Jesus, to find out what Jesus was like as a baby Himself, the graduate-level course in theology which contains the meanings of the revelation through the Annunciation and the Nativity.

Our task, then, while we are placed among things that are passing away—so perfect is our Collect for the passing of summer to autumn—is to hold fast to those heavenly things that shall endure. We do so like children, although children who are both innocent as doves and wise as serpents. The way for us to hold fast to the things that endure is found in our adoration of the Cross. The way for us, unlike the Twelve, to not fall into the temptations toward boasting, temptations toward pride, in other words, is found in our adoration of the Cross. And the way for us to grasp heaven within the passing away of the temporal, is found in our adoration of the Cross. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by Your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.