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2/19/23 Homily: Power and Vulnerability

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]

There’s a great scene, one of many, in the film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, released a couple of decades ago, in which the characters portrayed by Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi duel for possession of a sacred sword known as the Green Destiny. I happened to watch that scene this past week.

Michelle Yeoh may be at her finest in displaying mastery over an arsenal of weapons in a single action sequence. She wields dual sabers, a spear, dual hook swords, a monk’s spade, a metal club, and a broad sword, in that order. Within the story, the entire fight seems aimed to illustrate the superiority of the Green Destiny over every other weapon.

At the end of the duel, the character played by Chow Yun-fat, interjects, and pursues a fleeing Zhang Ziyi. Despite Ziyi wielding the Green Destiny, Chow Yun-fat easily recaptures the sword from her within three moves and unarmed, after an extended sequence of lazy sword play.

His mastery of the sword gave him leeway to be vulnerable at times, even allowing Green Destiny to stop near his throat at a certain point. He was fearless, because he could seize the initiative at any point throughout the duel.

It reminded me of that principle where power and vulnerability can seem to increase proportionally; as power grows, so does the capacity to be vulnerable.

Think of a father wrestling with his young son. A toddler or child doesn’t have the strength of a full-grown man. A father can allow his son to expend his full strength while playing with him. If any real danger seems imminent, the father can immediately seize the initiative, even from a place of apparent vulnerability.

I remember undergoing a surgery around the age of three. I was groggy and under a bit of anesthesia. As I was being wheeled away to the surgery room on a rolling hospital bed, my father walked alongside of me. I tried to hit him in my confusion and frustration; and he let me. I think he was wounded more by the fact that he couldn’t undergo that surgery in my place.

That play between father and son is an infinitely small microcosm of that example that is always before us, where absolute power and absolute vulnerability converge [gesturing to the Crucifix]. This confounding display teaches us how two extremes can merge into one. We see the eternal and almighty God dead on a cross.

Yet, even from this place of absolute vulnerability and surrender, our God, at any point, had the power to seize the initiative. And he did, at a time of his own choosing. He rose from the dead on the third day.

God’s victory over sin and death is the only context in which we can truly appreciate his words we hear today: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well,” says the Lord. After my enemy has slapped both of my cheeks to shame me, he will have run out of cheeks to slap. Perhaps then he too will be ashamed.

“If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well,” says the Lord. After I’ve given a person both my tunic and my coat, perhaps he will then see my nakedness, and learn to have pity on me.

“Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles,” says the Lord. If I go a second mile with a person; perhaps that will give us both the time that we need to share our experiences, and to pass from hatred to friendship.

In the end, maybe my open hands and silent mouth become the most eloquent of teachers, and I will have won a brother in the Lord. Perhaps. That’s the hope. I place a great deal of hope in the one persecuting me. It is the best mercy that I can show him.

It’s the mercy our Lord showed each of us. Jesus hopes for our response. He hopes for the final conversion of our hearts. Jesus allowed his own heart to be pierced, so that his blood could change the heart of the one holding the lance.

“No one takes my life from me,” says the Lord. “I lay it down of my own accord.” Evil has its limits, and it inevitably exhausts itself after expending its fury. But it’s then that the power of God can be revealed. “My power is made perfect in weakness,” says the Lord.

When we can’t endure more, when we can’t speak anymore, because we no longer have breath, it’s then that our silence unites to the silence of Jesus in the tomb, and the power of God then fills the void. The stage is finally set for the Resurrection, where absolute vulnerability and annihilation transform into absolute power.

When conventional wisdom teaches us: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; and you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy; the call to non-violence and to love one’s enemies is truly radical and nearly incomprehensible.

But there is precedent. We’re faced with that precedent every time we look upon our crucified savior. Jesus did it first. As his disciples, we try to follow him. And this is the way [gesturing to the Crucifix]. “Anyone who would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” says the Lord.

This is the way of perfection. “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect,” says the Lord. This is what perfection looks like in a fallen but redeemed world. As Christ’s disciples, we chase after his perfection, seeking to unlock the meaning of the riddle which is his Cross.

Saint Paul, near the end of his life, would write: “I complete in my body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ”. What could possibly be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? Nothing. Nothing, except our participation in it. Let that be our aim, to participate in the cross of our savior.

Through the grace of the Mass, may God perfect within us, this image of our Savior. Let this be the mirror to our spirituality.


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