The Planets Can’t Love: A Homily

A homily given at St. Ignatius Church 22 May at 10 AM Chestnut Hill, Mass. 

During John’s account of Jesus’ passion, Pontius Pilate infamously asks, “What is truth?”  It’s a question that is still very applicable in our times, just as it was in Pilate’s. What is truth?

We tend to think of truth along the terms set out by science. You scientists in the congregation will know better than I, but it seems that in science, truth starts out as a hypothesis. The hypothesis stands as the truth until further evidence comes along to modify or even overturn that once held truth.

For example, until very recently it was thought that only 10-20 percent of the stars in our galaxy had planets orbiting them. Now, thanks to scientific observation, scientists believe that nearly all of the major stars in the galaxy have at least one, and perhaps two major planets, planets the size of Jupiter and Saturn, in their orbits. This means that in our galaxy, the planets now outnumber the stars. This discovery represents quite a drastic change in the way we think about our galaxy. We knew the galaxy was chock full of stars, just look up into the sky at night in a dark place and see the millions of bright points of light. Now, thanks to this most recent discovery, the galaxy just got a bit more crowded, as it seems that each of those stars now has a couple of giant planets in its orbit. The truth we once knew is displaced by a new truth based on scientific observation. Perhaps this new truth will be displaced in a few years as scientists sharpen and heighten their abilities to peer into the universe. Truth, then is really something to hang onto very lightly since it seems that we will have more data in the future and a new truth will reveal itself.

But Jesus says, I am the truth, the way and the life.

When we think of truth, perhaps we think of it as scientific facts waiting for an upgrade.

When we think of a way, perhaps we think of our car’s GPS unit that calculates, and recalculates, precise directions, turn right on Commonwealth Avenue, turn left onto Foster street.

And when we think of life, perhaps we think merely of electrical impulses from the brain to the heart to the extremities.

Jesus says we need to thicken up our concepts of the truth, the way and the life—but especially our concept of the truth. Jesus is not just another hypothesis awaiting further data to confirm or deny his claim. We are not waiting for more data to verify, confirm, or even overturn his claim. His claim is not a hypothesis. As Christians, we are invited to trust and believe in Jesus in a way that goes beyond our normal attitudes towards truth.

What is the difference between the truth of Jesus and the many truths upon which we build our lives?

Well of course, there are the true facts about the life of Jesus. There was a man named Jesus who lived in Palestine in the first century, who walked the face of the earth and proclaimed the kingdom of God. There was a man named Jesus who was put to death by Roman and Jewish authorities for claiming that he was the new king of a new kingdom. It is a fact, that after his death, his disciples found his tomb empty and discovered a new way of being in relationship with this new king. But these are just the facts, and facts are not the same thing as truth. Facts merely hold us over until new facts come along and overturn or modify the old facts.

Jesus in claiming to be the truth, the way and the life, makes quite a different definition of truth for us. He asks us to richen and deepen our concept of truth beyond merely placing our trust in discrete facts. He claims that he is the truth, not that the details of his life are true, but that he is truth.

In our scientific age we are not accustomed to viewing people as truth. But this is in fact what Jesus claims. A person, namely this person of Jesus, is the truth.

For us, this means that we can be in a living relationship with the truth. By virtue of the fact that Jesus is a person, we can know truth as we know a person, we can be in relationship with truth as we are in relationship with a person. And people are not a collection of discrete facts—2+2=4, E=MC2—etc. People, especially the person of Jesus, are much richer, more complex than facts.

Because Jesus is alive, risen and fully alive, we are invited into a relationship with the truth that is more akin to our relationships with the people in our lives. To answer Pilate’s question, what is truth, we Christians can say that truth is a relationship with a person, the person of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, getting to know the truth is a lot like getting to know other people rather than memorizing facts and details. Entering into a relationship with a person is much more complicated than merely memorizing their email address, their telephone number, their height, weight, and age. These are the facts of their lives, but they do not add up to the truth of the person. To get to know a person, requires time, patience, sacrifice, and openness. It requires all the complexity of a human relationship. We can grow to love people in a way that transcends the facts of the person. We don’t fall in love with a person’s resume—we fall in love with the person.

Perhaps this is the biggest difference between Jesus’ concept of truth and our watered down, scientific understandings of what is truth. Jesus is a truth that we can fall in love with. Jesus is a person, with all the complexities of a person, who loves us in a way that a fact cannot love us. Those two planets for each star in the universe do not love us, even though it seems now, that they are true facts.

Truth, in Jesus’ terms, is an invitation relationship with a person. Therefore, truth, as Jesus views it, is an invitation to love, and more than an invitation, truth is the foundation for love. It is a bedrock upon which relationships are built. When we love, love a child, a spouse, a friend, a neighbor, we come closest to what Jesus means by truth—very different from memorizing equations, facts, dates, and theorems. Jesus’ truth is more like falling in love—and more difficult—staying in love.

Yes, there is a challenge to us in what Jesus calls truth. It’s easy to memorize the times-tables—2 times 2 is four, 2 times 3 is six, etc—it’s much harder to love and to stay in love. It requires forgiveness, patience, openness, transparency, tenderness, compassion—these are not the things we find in textbooks on mathematics, physics, and economics—the typical domains of our little earthly truths. These little earthly truths are easy to master, love requires a certain form of unmastering—the unmastering of self, the denial of self and the laying down of our lives for the others. This is no easily accomplished set of homework problems—the truth of which Jesus speaks is much, much more difficult to accomplish and to master. There are no academic degrees offered in this field of endeavor—no PhD’s in love—no Masters degrees in loving our neighbor as ourself. When it comes to the truth of Jesus there are no textbooks, no dissertations, no monographs, no equations—there is only the person of Jesus in all his complex love of us.

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One Response to The Planets Can’t Love: A Homily

  1. Such an inspiring post that I just can’t contain myself.
    Actually, as near as I can figure it, a hypothesis is a sort of stepping stone to a thesis or theory. The first part, “hypo” implies, under or less than which sets the stage for the “thesis” part which is like a theory but, while the standards may be as high in quality, they aren’t as formally set. So, a hypothesis is something I might think is a good piece of knowledge to add to what we know but, I may have a lot of work to do improving it to get it accepted by professionals who test and approve it – or not – during peer review so that it becomes a theory. The approval is not a so much a proof but a failure to disprove under diligent scrutiny.
    The reason I mention it is because this general approach isn’t only used in the so called “hard sciences” such as physics and chemistry where the facts, figures and calculations either do or do not add up clearly. The same sort of hypothesis to theory to peer review which validates the theory and makes it acceptable to the group who use the theories (until a better one comes along as was so well stated in the initial post) are also used, at least some of the time, by the softer sciences where the data may not be quite so conclusive (psychology, sociology) and in theology at times.
    One can find a better description given by those who know theology and its uses better than me at another Catholic site which has a page on the matter at; http://blog.adw.org/2011/06/when-your-only-tool-is-a-hammer-everything-looks-like-a-nail-why-physical-science-is-not-enough-and-why-we-need-the-full-range-of-disciplines-and-branches-of-knowledge/
    My main point is that some people, for possibly varied motives not necessarily limited to negative ones like egotism, seem to manage to get a hypothesis published as if it is a finished theory or thesis and those who are not aware of the differences, and the subtleties beyond what I have to offer, may think that it is part of the fully accredited knowledge in use by groups who set the high standards they need. Theology, whether presented properly or improperly for instance, can effect people’s reaction and their Salvation in ways that go beyond our temporal survival to eternal survival.
    And yet, we still have instances where untested information causes many sorts of results in many people and groups; like the one which was suppose to happen on 21 May of this year and didn’t show any results that I could notice; results that could have been better. History has scattered predictions of the second coming and other grand predictions without results.
    I think (and I try to use humility as a strength here by admittiting it’s only my hypothesis, not even theory) that we are at risk of degrading our way of assessing & communicating truth so that when it’s time for, “Then you will know the truth…will set…free…slave to sin…” in John 8:32-36, we may not be able to comprehend it because our way of using knowledge has become too eroded. Also see Romans 1:18-32, 6:5-11, 7:14 and 2 Peter 18-32 where all this coverage by Yeshua and two of His chosen seem to show a lot of importance – and who, I ask, is the great enemy of us and of our Salvation whose interest would be served by that?
    As an aside, my earlier comment about humilty as a strength reminds me of two excellent examples of humble strength starting with the scientific one, “insufficient data” which can turn the researcher from deductive logic used too soon and, back to the preperatory inductive logic.
    And the second, better of the two for grand finale (if I dare say so myself ” Nemo judex in sua causa” or no one is a judge in his own case) one of my Christmas cards poems;

    (See Matthew 11:28-30 and Luke 18:9-14)
    Is humility so degrading
    That we can only use it at lowest low?
    Or, is humility a massive strength
    That puts us in the know?
    As it untangles lies and denial
    Out of which we’ve built a prison wall
    And keeps our feet on solid ground
    Lest we tumble down and fall.
    Well, who sets a fine example
    That humility is a strength?
    Some are the winners in Recovery
    Whose abstinence has great length.
    But, there is One who used humility
    On the first Christmas Day on Earth
    Who showed that the Best used humble strength
    When He slept in a feeding trough after birth!

    As a matter of fact, while I protect most of my poetry and the copyright thereof in case I manage to publish some day, the ones which came to me as Christmas and Easter cards feel like a special gift so … I put them out for anyone who cares to use them if they make their own cards. So here’s the rest;

    When the weather turns grim and stormy
    And the dark cloud rages and vents
    That is a time when many shepherds
    Huddle in the warmth of their clustered tents.
    With flocks gathered close
    To help each other stay warm
    But, there is one Shepherd who rises
    And ventures into the raging storm
    To search for the poor little lamb
    Who’s lost the way among steep craggy cliffs
    Where lightning bolts do their battle
    In destructive and thunderous tiffs.
    Until this Shepherd who endures the worst of the storm
    Stretches a hand to this lost little lamb
    So that, holding it close and soothing its fears
    He bears it back to the flock
    Which warms it and offers comfort which cheers.

    (See John 8:31-34)
    Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men
    Is like a seed in my heart to be shared with my pen
    For the Greatest of Gardeners has planted a seed
    That grew to a plant which choked out every weed
    So that the peace that I live in can come from within
    As it helps shed the bondage which chained me to sin
    So that I’m happy to celebrate that wondrous birth
    In a manger, in a stable, that first Christmas on Earth.

    (See John 1:1-5)
    On Christmas Day
    As the sunlight grows longer
    And darkness recedes
    While the light grows stronger
    We celebrate with a feast
    The Birth of the Word
    Whose nourishing message
    Of love was heard
    So that our spirits can strengthen
    And grow a little bit more
    As we move toward light
    Through the opening door.

    Easter Cards

    When the sun arose
    To the sky on Easter Morning
    The empty tomb gave notice
    Of a new day aborning
    That was proclaimed across the land
    Spreading from nation to nation
    Letting us know the good news
    Of God’s love and salvation.

    When Easter Time comes in the Spring
    The flowers sprout and the birds will sing
    As so much new life bursts around us
    We recall when renewed life made a great fuss
    A long while ago in a time of Salvation
    That fulfilled a plan made in early Creation
    When our ransom was paid by the Son, God the Word
    In the days when His message of Love was first heard.

    Genesis 22:1-18 John 19:17

    In obedience to his father
    The son carried the wood on his shoulder
    As he climbed up the side of the mountain
    Where there was many a rock and a boulder
    “Where is the lamb?” asked the son
    “The lamb for the sacrifice?”
    For grain or oil wouldn’t be enough
    For only a lamb would suffice
    “God will provide the lamb.” said the father
    As he prepared the one whom he’d waited for
    The son he was promised in his youth
    Then had waited many decades & more
    Until, with his knife poised over the alter
    He was stopped when ready to offer his “lamb”
    Then he sacrificed a sheep with horn in bush
    But the sheep was not a lamb but a ram.
    For centuries the question hovered unanswered
    As empires were built and then fell
    While the people went to Egypt and to Babylon
    And were returned, ’twas a great tale to tell
    Until a humble King was born in a stable
    And slept His first night in a manger in hay
    While His Father’s servants filled the sky
    In honour of that great special day
    Then the Father’s Son went to River Jordan
    Where many were baptized by a man whose food was quite odd
    A man who answered that age old question
    “There is the Lamb of God!”
    So the Lamb spent several years teaching
    To many a faithful beholder
    Until He climbed up the side of the mounain
    Where there was many a rock and a boulder
    So that, in obedience to His Father
    The Son carried the wood on His shoulder.

    Note; I realize that this poem doesn’t carry on to
    the third day but, as many are fond of saying, “The
    rest is history.”

    Also, the comment in the post about turning from one street to another when using the gps, reminded me of the story of directions in a periodical on how to find a new church that was on the corner of Wine Avenue and Water Street.
    Since Water Street was a more significant thoroughfare the directions stated that one should go along Water until it turned into Wine.

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