Fr. Dan Ruff, S.J. – 6:30 p.m. Mass – 9.28.08

Pastor – Old St. Joseph’s Church

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time , Year A

It’s hard to believe that it’s been twelve years since the film Jerry Maguire appeared in theatres where it enjoyed both critical and commercial success.  Cameron Crowe wrote and directed the original script, which combined comedy, drama, and romance.  Tom Cruise’s portrayal of the title character won him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor; and Cuba Gooding, Jr. received not only a nomination but the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  The film also gave Renee Zellweger her break-out role.

The character, Jerry Maguire, is a successful and popular agent for a large sports management firm; but an encounter with the son of an injured client pitches him into a crisis of conscience.  Unable to sleep, he writes a memo to his colleagues calling for less focus on short-term profits and more attention to the long-term welfare of the athletes they manage.  While everyone admires the noble sentiments, Jerry’s ideas are judged “bad for business”; he is fired, and his fair-weather friends scramble to snap up his clients.  Only two people remain loyal to him: a single mom accountant on his staff (who is secretly in love with him) and an arrogant football prayer whose obnoxious personality has kept him from reaching his professional potential.

In a famous scene, the football player, Rod Tidwell, phones Jerry to tell him he will continue to let Jerry represent him.

Jerry: That’s, that’s great. I’m very… happy.
Rod: Are you listenin’?
Jerry: Yes!
Rod: That’s what I’m gonna do for you: God bless you, Jerry. But this is what you gonna do for me. You listenin’, Jerry?
Jerry: Yeah, what, what, what can I do for you, Rod? You just tell me what can I do for you?
Rod: It’s a very personal, a very important thing. Heck, it’s a family motto. Are you ready, Jerry?
Jerry: I’m ready.
Rod: I wanna make sure you’re ready, brother. Here it is: Show me the money. Oh-ho-ho! SHOW! ME! THE! MONEY! A-ha-ha! Jerry, doesn’t it make you feel good just to say that! Say it with me one time, Jerry.
Jerry: Show you the money.
Rod: Oh, no, no. You can do better than that, Jerry! I want you to say it with me, with meaning, brother! Hey, I got Bob Sugar on the other line; I bet you he can say it!
Jerry: Yeah, yeah, no, no, no. Show you the money.
Rod: No! Not show you! Show me the money!
Jerry: Show me the money!
Rod: Yeah! Louder!
Jerry: Show me the money!
Rod: I need to feel you, Jerry!
Jerry: Show me the money!
Rod: Unh! Congratulations, you’re still my agent.

Besides creating a popular catch phrase which still endures in the popular culture, what is the point of the scene?  Well, Rod is saying to Jerry, in effect: I like you, man.  I think you have my best interest at heart, and for that reason, I am willing to stick with you as my agent, even though you’re down on your luck and you no longer work for the big management firm.  But… talk is cheap, Jerry.; and so is sentiment.  Professional sports is a time-limited career, and my family’s future welfare is at stake here.  So I’m giving you this chance; but you really need to deliver the goods for me.

And what is the point of my telling you about all this at mass?  Well, I thought the scene from Jerry Maguire made an interesting parallel with the parable in the Gospel.  We are nearing the end of the Church year – Advent is not that far off – and so, we are nearing the end of Matthew’s Gospel.  The mood is serious and somber.  Earlier in chapter 21, Jesus has already sent his disciples to set up for the Last Supper.  He has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and has cast the money changers out of the Temple.  Not surprisingly, the chief priests and scribes are indignant and they enter into a verbal confrontation with Jesus.  It is in the midst of this verbal sparring match that Jesus poses to them the puzzler of a parable we heard this evening.

It’s a parable, not a fable; so it doesn’t have a “moral” per se.  But if it did have a moral, couldn’t that moral be “Show me the money!”?  Jesus corners the chief priests and scribes into condemning themselves.  After all, they love to hold forth as experts on the Law of Moses – as, in fact, they are doing in their exchange with Jesus!  But Jesus confronts them with their failure to recognize and to honor John the Baptist as a prophet and to respond to his call for repentance.  Ironically, it is the tax collectors and prostitutes – the people whom the Temple officials hold in disdain and look down upon as unclean sinners – who did respond to the Baptist.  As a result, says Jesus, they are entering the kingdom ahead of the professional holy men, the teachers of the Law – although this is hardly what the chief priests and scribes want to hear!

Jesus is not preaching something new here.  You can flip back to the fourth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and check.  When Jesus returned from his forty days of fasting and temptations in the desert; his message at the very beginning was “Repent; the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  Along the way, people of good will with listening hearts – including the prostitutes and tax collectors – have come to understand that the Kingdom Jesus preaches is about mercy and forgiveness.  It is not about being right, coming out on top, control and power games.  It is not about riches or outward appearances or any of the things that “the world” holds dear.  It is certainly not about talk, which is cheap.

The Kingdom is about gratitude for mercy shown; and it is about humble, selfless love.  As Paul tells the Philippians: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”  The paradoxical path to glory is that of self-emptying love.  “Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus Christ] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name…”

Let go of your ego…  let go of yourself…  and God will pay you back a hundred fold.  It’s that easy, Jesus says to the chief priests and the scribes – and, of course, to us.  At the end of the Spiritual Exercises, in the “Contemplation to Attain the Love of God,” St. Ignatius Loyola puts it this way:  “Love ought to show itself more in deeds than in words.”  Show me the money.  Show me trusting faith in God.  Show me generosity born of a grateful heart that knows itself as a forgiven sinner – unworthy but blessed anyway.  Show me a life focused on caring for the needs of others, while trusting God to take care of you.

Jesus is saying to anyone who will listen: I like you.  No, I love you.  I think you want to do the right thing and for that reason, I am willing to stick with you as my follower.  But… talk is cheap, and so is sentiment.  Human life doesn’t last that long in the big scheme of things; and your eternal happiness is at stake.  So I’m giving you this chance; but you really need to deliver the goods for me.  Show me the money.  Repent.  Believe.  Live like you mean it.

In a few moments we will go to the Lord’s table.  If we see ourselves and our lives in the symbols of bread and wine, basic food and drink, and if we mean to offer ourselves in faithful service when members of our community bring those gifts forward, then we’ll be on the right track.  And God, of course, will “show us the money” once again by transforming our humble gifts into something much greater.  The risen, living Christ himself will be made present, and will offer himself once again as spiritual food for us.  But this time, the place he means to reappear is in us as we are sent “forth in peace to love and serve the Lord.”  If, of course, we “show him the money.”

The story is told of an American soldier in Italy during World War II. As he was walking through the mountains, he came upon a statue of Jesus. It was partly hidden behind some tall weeds. As he approached the statue, he noticed that the hands of Jesus were broken off and nowhere to be found. As he sat meditating on the handless statue, an inspiration came to him which he wrote on a piece of paper and placed it under a rock at the base of the statue. He gave the statue a 6-word name – “I have no hands but yours.”  It’s up to us to “show the money” to Jesus – and to the lost and needy world that he loves with all his heart.

©2008 Fr. Dan Ruff, S.J.