What a wonderful gospel we have today. “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your soul will find rest, for my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” But is it? Some might say that is not my experience. In fact, it is just the opposite.
My relationship with God right now is a little weak. If that is the case, I ask you to look at your relationship with those around you, family and friends. Your relationship has to rest on some kind of trust even in perplexing and strained times. We accept without question that our relationships with other human beings are not a contract type of thing. I will be loyal and so will you. I will be honest and so will you. I will be faithful and so will you. I will do everything I should and so will you. It just does not happen that neatly. Does it?
It does not happen that way because we know that relationships are imperfect. They are not based on guarantees, but on trust. We make room for forgiveness, reconciliation, change, growth, uncertainty, hope and, as St. Paul says, for love – a love that somehow will overcome all the deficiencies. But, when it comes to our relationship with God, we often change the rules.
We often come up with a contract kind of relationship. God, I kept all the commandments, so how could you let my child get so sick? I go to Mass every week and say my prayers, so how could you let my marriage disintegrate? I can understand it when people say things like that under stress. Sometimes I ask them to remember Jesus. He was faithful to God, kept all the commandments and yet was spat upon, scourged, crowned with thorns and hung on a cross to die. And this was the one about whom God said, “This is my Beloved Son”.
So often our relationship with God is not of trust, but one of contract. We do not want trust, we want guarantee. We do not want acceptance, but explanation. We do not want faith, but certainty. We do not want mystery, but a signed agreement. We do not treat family and friends that way. So why do we do it to God?
Let me tell you the story of Joseph Schultz, who was conscripted into the German army during WWII. Joseph was not a Nazi, he was Catholic and had thoughts about being a Priest. He was sent to Yugoslavia just after it was invaded. One day the Sergeant called out eight names, his among them. They thought they were going on a routine patrol.
Until they drove over a hill and saw eight Yugoslavians standing in a row. Five men and three women, it was only then that they realized what their mission was. The eight soldiers were lined up, the Sergeant barked out, “Ready,” they lifted up their rifles. In a moment of silence before the command, “Fire” there was a thud of a rifle butt against the ground. Everything stopped as Private Joseph Schultz walked towards the condemned prisoners.
The Sergeant ordered him back to the line, he pretended not to hear and instead he walked the fifty feet to the mound of the hill and joined hands with the Yugoslavians. There was a moment of silence, then the Sergeant yelled, “Fire.” And Private Joseph Schultz died mingling his blood with those innocent men and women. In his file in Berlin are the contents of his uniform and there was one piece of paper.
It was an excerpt from St. Paul, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” So why do I tell you this story? Joseph Schultz was drawn into a war that was absurd. He was drawn into an event that was evil and he did not understand. And he wondered, where is God in all of this mess? And yet, he trusted that his sacrifice would make a difference and God would be faithful.
He had no guarantee, he had no special insight into any plan. But he did have a relationship with God, who he trusted even when he did not understand.
In normal times hundreds of people have come to this church on weekends to worship and pray. And many of them would say that life is unfair. My children have been a big disappointment, I have lost a spouse, I have lost a parent. I have lost my health. Is this the way God treats His friends? If that sounds like something you have said in the past, I would ask you as you get angry with God, for heaven’s sake, look at the crucifix. This is His beloved Son. In the crucifix is the message that you trust. Trust the relationship as Jesus had to do. It is permissible to get angry and to doubt as Jesus did on the cross. The resurrection of Jesus who had His doubts is proof that God will have the last word.
Years ago there was a popular song called “From A Distance”. It went something like this: “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us from a distance.” The music was emotionally moving, but the theology was all wrong. God does not watch us suffer from some distant shore. He has joined Himself to our human situations. Listen, listen to the words of Consecration that you have heard so many times- This is My Body, My blood given for you.