This is my homily for Sunday 21 November 2010, for the on-campus Sunday Mass (7:30 p.m.) of Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ. Mass is every Sunday during Fall 2010 + Spring 2011 semesters. I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association.
This is the Feast of Christ the King.
2 Samuel 5:1-3 | Psalm 122 | Colossians 1:12-20 | Luke 23:35-43
[__01__] This Gospel is part of the Passion of our Lord, a reading we would also hear on Palm Sunday, about the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus.
And, in this section, we read about the thieves who are crucified with Jesus. One of them is known as the Good Thief. He is the good thief because he becomes repentant.
[__02__] We might also ask, what is it that makes a thief good?
What it is that makes a thief good at stealing, at taking possession of things?
Two things that thieves do well are –
(a) Minimize risk
(b) Move quickly
[__03__] What we might feel, after watching Hollywood and fictional thieves, is that thieves are risk-takers.
They are bold, daring, adventurous. This gets them what they want. They have complicated plans and targets including –
(a) Back room or vault of a Las Vegas casino
(b) The cash registers of baseball stadium, maybe Fenway Park.
We admire the daring adventurer and thief.
[__04__] Is this really true?
Aren’t the most “successful” and “wealthiest” thieves the ones who do not call attention to themselves and avoid the searchlight and IRS/detectives for as long as possible.
They don’t want broad daylight.
[__05__] Couldn’t we say the same about baseball players and base-runners who are taking a lead, off of first base?
In baseball, we use the term “stealing” as well. All within the rules, I assure you.
But, we still describe this as a steal. What happens?
A runner leads off of first base. Then, he starts running during the pitcher’s delivery to second base.
For example, Jose Reyes of the New York Mets stole bases in 2005, 2006, and 2007 than any other player in the National League.
He is also the all-time team leader in stolen bases for the New York Mets. But, how does a base stealer?
He does not want to call attention. He takes a lead and runs during the pitcher’s delivery, as a surprise.
And, he wants to reach second base “safely” without risk. Maybe, he can get such an advance/jump that there is no risk and no throw from the catcher.
The base-stealer is also trying to minimize risk. That’s what thieves do. They get what they want without taking too many risks or dares. Everything is plotted. And, they the read the steal signs.
[__06__] In the Confessions, St. Augustine gives an example of stealing he committed in his youth.
One night, Augustine, as a young man, breaks into the private property and orchard of a local person. The orchard has many pear trees. He and other lads take the pears.
But, he admits that he did not find the pears delicious or beautiful. He admits, in the Confessions, that he did not find beauty in the pears but only in the stealing itself of the pears. He rejoiced – in youthful pride – in his ability to get away with something.
He could not enjoy the true fruit of the pear but only the counterfeit fruit of his own glory, pride, the “popularity” with his friends.
He is considered “cool”, though he does not use this term in his 4th-century autobiography.
[__07__] Was Augustine, stealing the pears, taking a risk, really all that daring? Or, was he simply follow a safe route to popularity, and a feeling of power?
We may do the same thing, even on a path starts out very honestly. For example, we avoid risks by connecting with and relating to the right people.
How far will I go in my search for connections? Will I simply take without giving of myself to others?
Am I willing to take what does not belong to me in the process?
All of us are called to be generous.
[__08__] The Good Thief on the cross has been good at obtaining what he wants by not revealing too much, not going out in broad daylight and not taking too many risks.
Here, on Calvary, he has a choice and he knows he needs help.
What might be his inclination? To turn to the rich and the powerful,the VIP’s.
They are the powerful ones of whom we hear…
“The rulers sneered at [ridiculed] Jesus and said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Chosen One, the Christ of God.’ ” (cf., Luke 23:35-43)
Perhaps, they, the rulers, can negotiate a lighter sentence for him, an acquittal for his crimes. That would be a low-risk choice, turning to those who have connections.
But, in this case, the thief discovers that he can no longer play it safe. And, he risks it all by asking Jesus, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This is the beginning of his personal relationship with Christ. And, with this honest confession, this humility, he advances further than he could have imagined.
If he were actually a base-runner in baseball, we would say he just stole home.
But, we could also say, that he has just come out of hiding. That was the risk.
Honesty is a risk. It is also his salvation. [__end __]