TODAY IS THE DAY

Author: Fr. Michael Byron
January 28, 2019

This coming week will mark an important milestone for me since becoming pastor here at Pax seven months ago.  I will be observing the 2,000th deleted email on my computer in the office.  And that doesn’t include the phone calls, texts, messages on my cell phone, emails on the account that I still have active at my former parish, or the roughly 150 emails here that are still sitting in my inbox.  It feels overwhelming to realize just how popular I have become.  Who would have guessed?

So it was a wonderful relief for me this past Thursday to turn the page in my calendar and to see that rarest of blessings: I had absolutely nothing scheduled, morning, afternoon, or evening.  Nothing.  Here at last was an opportunity to catch up on all that stuff that was in need of attention.

And it was an utter failure, at the end of the day I not only hadn’t made any progress in addressing the backlog, but I was deeper in the hole.  Because I kept getting interrupted by tasks needing immediate attention (like a nearly dead battery in my car) or people asking for a bit of my time.  And then of course there was the need to prepare a homily for this weekend’s Masses.  So when I was confronted with today’s gospel of Luke, which tells of the very beginning of Jesus’ ministerial career in his hometown synagogue, there was one word that leaped off the page at me.

It was from the mouth of Jesus in the last sentence, “Today this scripture passage (of Isaiah) is fulfilled in your hearing.”

And the word of importance is, “Today.”

And I was able to understand that all of those “distractions” on that precious schedule-free Thursday were not distractions or interruptions at all.  They were the things to which I was being asked and invited—and even required—to attend to in the moment, in the now.  I became aware that all of that electronic communications clutter is not necessarily important just because it’s there.  Some of it isn’t important at all.  

My work in ministry is not merely to attend to a list of tasks efficiently, and neither is yours.  It is rather to discern where and how God is stirring in the moment—in the now.  Where does attention need to be paid today?  And to whom?  And that demands a certain openness and spontaneity among any of us who are honestly desiring to follow the Holy Spirit of God, because that Spirit often tends to “interrupt” what are our plans for today—our lack of plans.  A few decades ago I was part of a Catholic community that was undertaking a major renovation of its worship space, and it had hired a well-regarded liturgical designer/architect to lead the process.  But he proved to be an uncompromising bully in that role, who was often dismissive of the community’s history and values and desires while in pursuit of his ideal space.  He was mean to people, and hurtful in the process.  And after the project was finished I remember the liturgical musician saying to me, “He leaves behind beautiful buildings and shattered communities.”

It's another example of getting it wrong—of placing some imagined idea of how the church should be—and my role in it—ahead of today, and who and what is standing right in front of me, requiring God’s mercy, compassion, respect, dignity and justice.

If my goal of being rid of backed up email ever becomes more important than my responsibility to be present to God’s spirit in the moment, that will be a failure.  Jesus told the people, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Not someday, not in heaven, not after we take care of all these tasks that loom before us.  But today, now.  Here I am.  And if that conflicts with your calendar, well…here I am.
And we can get a little more specific about that “here I am” by remembering just exactly whom Jesus was speaking about when he was quoting the Prophet Isaiah that day:

I’ve come to pay specific attention to the poor.  Here I am.
I’ve come to liberate those who are captives.  Here I am.
I have come to give sight to those who cannot or will not see.  Here I am.
I’ve come to set free those who are oppressed.  Here I am.  Today.

Jesus in the synagogue that day wasn’t announcing anything that his audience hadn’t already heard many times before.  It was all right there in the Torah scroll, already hundreds of years old by then.  He simply added the word, “today,” and in next week’s gospel we’ll see how the addition of that single word worked out for him.  It wasn’t happy.

Because to insist upon today requires an urgency on our part, an immediacy, to be less in service to a grand plan or to an ideal of what the Christian life ought to look like, and more alert to what the Spirit is asking of us right now.  That means duty, and that means responsibility, and who prefers that to control?

There is little evidence in Sacred Scripture that Jesus kept a schedule or a calendar during his earthly ministry.  And he wasn’t beholden to big projects, and mercifully he didn’t have a cell phone or email account.

He just met people—as they were, in the moment.  And when they interrupted his immediate plans, like his prayer time—as we heard last week—he let them, and he responded to them.  It was today.  It was now.
Even for the most dedicated and best-intentioned Christian people—as I presume most of us here are—it can become tempting to try to pursue some grand plan for what and how we believe the church ought to be and must be, someday.

That’s not wrong unless it comes at the cost of being inattentive to the now.  To the requirements of today, which can threaten to seem like distractions but are not.  Today is the whole point.  That is Jesus’ simple yet incredibly challenging message.

So as we continue our prayer together, perhaps we might ask of ourselves just what is it about today, in my life, in that of my family or community or school or workplace, that is presenting itself as needing God’s attention in and through us.
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Eden Prairie, MN 55347

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