TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR C
The Amazin’ METS have been having an especially amazing season this year. They kept fans on the edge of their seats as they came oh so close to getting a wild card place in the playoffs with the tantalizing possibility of a World Series win. Then, true to form, they watched that goal elude them earlier last week. But their proudest hour came during Friday evening’s game against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field. In the bottom of the first inning, Pete Alonso hit a home run, his 52nd of the season. At that moment, he tied Yankee Aaron Judge’s record for home runs hit by a rookie in a single season. In an admirable show of sportsmanship, Judge said, “I’m happy for him, man — I got a chance to meet him this year and talk with him a little bit, and no better individual to represent not only the Mets, but the city of New York.” And he added his expression of confidence that Alonso will go on to break the record. ”He’sgot something about him,” Judge concluded. “You saw his grit and determination in that home run derby, too. He’s got that ‘it’ factor.”
Defining the “it” factor can be tricky. But St. Paul gives it a shot in his Letter to Timothy, using a three-fold formula: Pursue. Compete well. Lay hold of. Young Timothy whom Paul has recently ordained as a bishop is still a rookie; but Paul realizes that he has the potential to be an inspiring spiritual leader. Like a really good coach, St. Paul wants his man to succeed, and so he writes a letter full of good advice, including a formula that is easy to remember.
I doubt that St. Paul ever played baseball, but he did know a thing or two about athletic contests such as wrestling and racing, and he used them as examples of how to obtain the most important prize of all: life in Christ. Paul felt the love of Jesus so deeply and powerfully that the same way some fans talk baseball, eat baseball, sleep baseball, Paul talked Jesus, ate Jesus, dreamed of Jesus in his sleep. Jesus’ love was so powerful that Paul dropped everything else to share it with others; and through his letters Paul shares that enthusiasm with us. And as we accept his coaching, he tells us, “Pursue. Pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” Then he continues, “Compete well for the faith.” Compete with whom? Compete with all the voices that try to get you to settle for something less than Jesus, less than becoming the best person you can be, the person God has destined you to be. “”Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called.”
In the Gospel today Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who never learned to use the formula. Whatever he was pursuing: fancier clothes, tastier food, the company of the rich and powerful, the rich man was not pursuing the opportunity for eternal life that was lying at his doorstep. Had he used the formula the rich man would have competed with his neighbors to show compassion to Lazarus, offering him food from his table, cleaning and bandaging his sores, finding him better clothes and a play to stay. The rich man would have laid hold of Lazarus as though he were the Son of God and embraced him.
But the rich man did none of those things; he just stepped around Lazarus. And so, the rich man turned out to be a loser, the biggest loser of all. And sadly, he knows that his brothers are losers as well, men who could have learned the formula from Moses and the prophets, but refused to do so.
On the day that Pete Alonso tied Aaron Judge’s record, another story made headlines, this one concerning Air Force Technical Sargent Kenneth O’Brien. He pulled a person from a flaming vehicle in South Korea, served on President Trump’s security detail during the historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and played a pivotal role in the widely publicized rescue of junior Thai soccer players trapped in a cave, during which he saved the life of a Thai Navy SEAL. O’Brien was named one of a dozen outstanding airmen of the year. On a flight from Okinawa to Dallas to accept his award, he saved the life of a one-year-old child who was choking. He said merely that he happened to be at the right place at the right time. But he also said that since he joined the Air Force twelve years ago, all he has dreamed of doing is jumping out of planes and helping people. He has pursued that dream vigorously, competed successfully with death on several occasions, and laid hold of every opportunity to take the leadership in coming to the rescue.
St. Paul would say of Kenneth O’Brien and Bishop Timothy what MET fans are saying of Peter Alonso: “They have hit the ball right out of the park.” May Our Lord also say that about each one of us.