Homily for October 25, 2020

  No Fair Weather Friend

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 25, 2020

One day a pastor was walking along a country road with an old-time friend. As they strolled through the farmland, the pastor noticed a barn with a weather vane perched on its roof. At the top of the vane were the words: God is love. The pastor remarked to the friend that he thought this was a rather inappropriate place for such a message. “Weather vanes change with the wind,” he said, “but God’s love is constant.”

The friend walked along a little farther before he replied, “I don’t agree with you about those words. You misunderstand the meaning. The weather vane is indicating a truth: regardless of which way the wind blows, God is love, and such love is constant.”

In our language we have the phrase “fair weather friend”—referring to a person who stops being a friend in times of trouble or difficulty. We know from the gospels that Jesus had friends like that. In times of danger, Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times. Judas, of course, was initially attracted to Jesus and his teaching, but he chose to betray him to the authorities.

There’s a cute story about the Apostles and their reactions after Jesus proclaimed the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. According to the story, Peter spoke up and said, “Do we have to write this stuff down?” Andrew asked, “Are we supposed to remember this?” James piped in, “Will we be tested on this?” Philip asked, “What if we don’t understand it?” Bartholomew inquired, “Is this an assignment to turn in?” John said, “The other disciples didn’t have to learn all this.” Matthew said, “When do we get off this mountain?” And Judas questioned, “What does this have to do with real life anyway?” Then one of the Pharisees asked to see Jesus’ lessons plans. And Jesus wept! It is significant that, of all the Apostles, only one was brave enough to stand at the foot of the cross in the time of Jesus’ greatest need.

What Jesus intended, of course, is that what he taught should be lived, and to add emphasis to his teaching, he lived it himself. His love was constant. When Peter asked him how often we are to forgive, Jesus gave the famous answer, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven times”—in other words, constantly. Later, as he hung upon the cross, Jesus himself prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” After the Resurrection, when Jesus met with the Apostles, he didn’t kick them out of office. In the case of Peter, he asked if Peter loved him; then to express his love and forgiveness for Peter’s failures, Jesus gave him the keys to the Kingdom. Even when the others faltered, Jesus’ love was constant. He was not a fair weather friend.

One of the intriguing aspects of today’s gospel passage is that, when Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he responds with two. Because love is constant, intended for everyone and everywhere, the two commandments have to be understood together. This is commented on and clearly spelled out in the first Letter of John 4:20-21. “If anyone says, ‘My love is fixed on God,’ yet hates his brother [or sister], he is a liar. One who has no love for the brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: whoever loves God must also love his brother or sister.”

Earlier in the same chapter John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God. The person without love has known nothing of God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). Again, love is constant. Genuine love is constant like God’s love, both in heaven and on earth. Even when we sin, God doesn’t hate us. Like the father of the prodigal son, he scans the horizon, hoping that we will return to his outstretched, loving arms, for God is love. Hopefully, like the prodigal son, we will have discovered that love is the only way that satisfies, that brings joy, that makes life worth living.

In today’s gospel Jesus teaches that everything—the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the sermons, the stories, the ancient laws, the words of the prophets, the prayers of the Psalms—everything rests on love. Each time we fail to love, each time we choose to sin, each time we prefer to hate, each time we refuse to forgive—we are not in tune with God or the universe God has created. It was all meant for love from the very beginning. And no matter what else changes, God’s love will not, for God is no fair weather friend.