29th Sunday (A)      October 22, 2017

I had gone to the bank to withdraw a $100 bill to use for the Gospel: Jesus looking at a coin and saying: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”  My car wouldn’t start on Tuesday and I had to call roadside service.  When he came to jump start my car, I opened my billfold to find only a $5 and $100.  I didn’t want to be cheap, so I gave the $100…

Here’s a different $100 bill.

The well-to-do religious leaders who benefit from their connection to the government ask, “Whose image is on this $100 bill?”

“Fr.Vince, you are a truthful man and you teach the way of God, and you don’t regard people according to their status:  is it lawful to pay taxes with this $100 bill?  You know that Benjamin Franklin was not a religious man and represents the government that can’t decide one blasted thing?”

My response is simple:  “I cannot send cash to pay my taxes; this won’t even get me a car wash!”

Why would religious leaders and others of Jesus’ time want to trap him? He seems to us to be a great person who cared about people, and willingly gave up his life because he believed in us.

Who wouldn’t like that?

The main reason lots of people didn’t like Jesus and wanted to harm him is because ‘he was not one of them.’ HE WAS DIFFERENT!

“Yay!” we say. We like those differences. He cared about people and showed a new way of believing, a new way to experience the life of God in the world.

But he was different, and unique — and dangerous.

Dangerous, you say? Why would Jesus be dangerous?

Because he talked like he was a teacher, without credentials or permission.

He showed forgiveness to the unforgivable.

He hung around the extremely poor and outcast (who people thought deserved their                      poverty).

He broke important rules of his society.

He didn’t show proper respect to the status quo.

And he talked to women in public, ate with them.

He had a new way of looking at God in the world — different than before —

An expansive God who embraces everyone…..

Those wanting to trap him said: WHO DOES THIS MAN THINK HE IS?

He was different! AND NOW THEY FELT HE WAS DANGEROUS!

Twenty years ago this week, a young gay man named Matthew Shepard went to a bar after a long night of studying at the University of Wyoming. Promising him a ride home, two young men lured him from a bar.  They pretended to be gay so they could beat him up, teach him a lesson….

They did not know him; nor did Matthew initiate contact with them…

They just knew:  HE WAS DIFFERENT…HE WAS DANGEROUS

They had heard about him!

So they took him to a rural fence row, TIED HIM TO A LARGE FENCE POST and beat him mercilessly.

When done, the last young man came back from the pick-up and kicked Matthew again.  They drove away and left him for dead!

My God, my God…………why have you abandoned me?

Seemingly a friend, a betrayer lured Jesus out from the garden of Gethsemane, into the arms of thugs. Jesus said:  ‘If I have harmed you, tell me what I have done to you.’

A handful of men dragged him off and beat him mercilessly.

The Chief Priests, Pontius Pilate, Herod all said: ‘this man is different…he is dangerous!’

They got others to believe it.

Others chanted, ‘Crucify him!! Crucify him!!!’ Jesus was made to stumble up a hill into the countryside.  They had decided to teach him a lesson. 

They had tied him to a wood beam….

              They made fun of him, nailed him to the post and left him for dead.

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?!!

But, you say, that’s not the same — Jesus had done nothing wrong.

He was different because he was good to everyone.

Matthew was different because he was………………….

GO AHEAD, SAY IT…………HE WAS DIFFERENT BECAUSE……….HE WAS GAY!

A God who creates in spectacular spontaneous uniqueness, creating no two things in the universe exactly like the other….

Whom the Catholic Church teaches that each and every one of us is made in the image and likeness of God, and by our lives show forth the very face of God. A God who relishes ‘’different’ and is dangerous to many, so much does he love us!

And Christ who teaches us that ‘being different and unique’ is a badge of honor and courage…

….not a plague to be avoided at all costs.

Like uniformity and being like everyone else to be popular or accepted.

My friends, ‘uniformity’—it’s overrated.

Friends, don’t you want God to find you in a crowd because you are different and unique, not getting lost in a crowd because you are the same as everyone else, like in the penguin poster.

I heard a minister on TV a few weeks back railing about his contention that some people come into this world with a disorder. That minister was not CATHOLIC because we don’t believe that, our Church teaches — without exception — that every person is created good in the image and likeness of God and enters this world unique and non-repeatable.

But there is not a day goes by that we don’t hear something about bullying…

cyber bullying…physical taunting….even assault!

WHY? Because: ‘Those people are not one of us; they are different — and dangerous.’

It is reported mainly in our schools, but do know that we adults are often the same — we just disguise it better. Those people are too poor, too smart, dress differently, live in the wrong place, are too big, are too plain, have a disability, are the wrong color (unless they are good at sports and then it’s OK…), they stutter…

The taunters speak with disgust: “Oh my God, she is different, everybody is talking about it.” If you watch the news, week after week after week are hateful things being said and done — bullying, taunting, hate mongering…

Leading to teen suicides — almost all of them bullied or discriminated against.

My friends, Jesus is different and he is dangerous because of how much he loves. And if we follow him, so are we different and we must be dangerous, because people who do these hateful things should have to deal with us~~~

We should not stand for this happening in our midst, in our families, our schools and our communities.

When we see our unique differences, it is easier to accept them in someone else.

All are welcome here: to pray here, to worship here, and work on being the true likeness of God unfolding in our lives.

And all of us here are called to hold each other to a higher standard of conduct.

I learned that so early, from my father; this story I’ve told 100 times before….

A young African-American boy moved into our town, in which at the time, diversity meant that someone adopted a child from another country. As we were riding home, one of my brothers made a terrible slur. My dad stopped the car and put us all out, and he said:  “We don’t act like that in our house. People have enough problems without you adding to them!” I said, ‘Dad, I didn’t say anything’ and he said, ‘but you didn’t defend him!’

That’s the kind of parish we want to be—and that’s the kind of people we want to become: We don’t act like that in our house….

Who is standing up for others — if not us?

Who is speaking out — if not us?

Who is confronting the bully or the racist or hate monger — if not us?

Who is befriending those who are hurting — if not us?

Who wants to be one of the crowd, just like everybody else…

…don’t you want to be different?

…it is so dangerously alive to be different!!!

To be different is a badge of honor and courage.

We rely on the power of God — the God of enormous love —lived out through the saving mission of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who will sustain, with courage and commitment to be different.

It took great courage to stand up for a friend, a friend who was different, in a dangerous time.

Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

We who are followers of Jesus, know what he said under his breath:

“Think what you want — everything and everyone belongs to God.”

Jesus survived that day, but he knew the danger of believing in an expansive God — not a tribal God who belongs only to a few.

If we want our lives to be meaningful, we have to decide nearly every single day whose side we are on.