|Memorial - Saint Agatha, virgin
Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15
Psalm 103:1-2, 13-14, 17-18
I’m a great fan of the show called “The Little Rascals.” Nowadays I have to explain to my college students who they are. Were it not for Nickelodeon and now DVDs my students would think I was making this all up!
In one particular episode the young Jackie Cooper was to be disciplined by his rather stern father. Just before the event Jackie hides a book in the seat of his pants. His father removes the book and says to him, “Son, this is going to hurt me as much as it is going to hurt you.” Jackie replies, “Yes, but not in the same place!”
I tried this line on my father once. It got a laugh. I still got a spanking as I recall.
The first reading discusses discipline, perhaps one of the most odious topics for us of the “Dear Lord Jesus come and squeeze us” generation. We should be loved not disciplined right? But what about when love requires discipline, when growth requires correction and encouragement, when love needs to be tough? What happens when a situation is not improved by saying “it’s all good…” but by saying that something is not good and needs to be changed?
As a teacher, it’s easier not to have to correct students than to correct them. Students like all of us love to be praised and they should be praised for their accomplishments. But if a student writes a poor paper, or hands in an inadequate assignment or simply does not come to class it does little for his/her development to simply praise that person. When I correct students I always preface it with the statement that if I thought that this was all the student was capable of then I would accept the work and behavior as “the best” but that I know better can come forth from that person. I guess I feel like Jackie Cooper’s father in that scene from "The Little Rascals."
So too the letter to the Hebrews has great confidence in the congregation as much is asked of them. Much too is asked of us as disciples of Christ.
Jesus comes and teaches and expects much in his native place but is disappointed in the response. The people and his relatives dismiss him as ordinary, just one of them. And thus Jesus is unable (not unwilling) to perform the transformative miracles of God there.
Discipline is never simply for the sake of discipline if it is to be good and holy. Discipine must be about relationship. Remember Jackie Cooper’s father? He reminds Jackie that he is his SON. The author of the letter to the Hebrews calls his addressees brothers and sisters. God calls us sons and daughters. Jesus is among his very kin. In the classroom I am a teacher with responsibility to and for students. Relationships, as my mother would remind me, are two way streets.
Discipline is about exercising and restoring relationships in a right way. While one may not be able to avoid discipline one can reject it even as it is administered. This breaks relationship. When one accepts discipline one can restore relationship and grow.
Discipline is painful on both ends (so to speak). Jackie Cooper knew that. Years ago when I was new at college teaching I flunked my first student (rather, I gave the student the grade the student deserved). It was a painful decision that I worried over for some time. Years later this student actually thanked me for doing that for the student said that it was a wake-up call that enabled that student to turn things around.
Discipline takes faith on all sides. It is painful on all sides but it is ultimately an investment in the person—a labor of love. Our willingness to be disciplined, to discipline and to change is truly an act of faith and trust.
Let us pray for the grace to live in faith so that Jesus may continue
to transform each of us as individuals and as a community. In this
way we will recognize Jesus as brother and allow him to work the transformative
miracles we need in our lives.
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