I had a day yesterday. Morning Mass, had a quinceañera, we had a wedding, evening Mass and meals and such…it was a wonderful day, a busy day. But the thing that took out most of my energy was going to store. It was my first time at the store since I’ve been here. You all feed me very well. But I hate going to the store. It took me seven minutes to find the cream cheese. Then I had to go to the spices isle, where they have 800 spices in three brands. I was there to buy the makings of apple cider. Finally I got what I needed. It is fun making apple cider. The trick is to add sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and a touch of syrup. And since we’re Catholic, a splash of bourbon. You let it simmer for two hours, then crush the heck out of it. Then, viola, you’ve got cider! It’s a lot of fun to crush apples. I highly recommend it.
My brothers and sisters, the first reading today tells us that it pleases God to crush…us. It pleases God to crush us. Why? Because it is through crushing us that he transforms us into something better. When was the last time you felt crushed? I think about the times my heart has been crushed over the years—crushed by some love of my life, by some loss, by some farewell. You know what? That all has made me love better; all that has made me love in a more heartfelt, heartbroken way. And it has made me empathize better. I think about the times I have seen people finally break down in the confessional, who finally tear down whatever wall they had constructed, and how, broken down and crushed, they’ve been put together again by God. I think about the times I’ve heard children crushed that they can’t have this or that thing, and how they’re better for having had parents good enough to put up boundaries and teach them what is really important. I think about people I’ve seen in hospitals and nursing homes. I’ve seen their bodies deteriorate and fall apart—I’ve seen them be crushed—but then, then comes that moment when their dazzling white souls enter into Glory! Yesterday was the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a first century saint. He wrote a letter to the Romans one day when he was nearing his martyrdom. His persecutors were all set to release him to wild beasts, and that they did. But first, Ignatius wrote to the Romans about how excited he was at the prospect of being ground up and crushed by the teeth of the animals, for that would be the means of his salvation. Crushed first, but then raised up, exalted.
God does not crush us in order to destroy us or inflict pain in our lives, although pain often comes with the crushing. Instead, God crushes us so as to transform us and make us better, and ultimately to lift us up. That’s the Gospel today: only the humble servant, only the crushed one will be called “great.” You see, God crushes us so that boring, dry apples can be transformed into the magical tonic of savory apple cider.
Except that there is something greater than apple cider here. I’m thinking of two other things that need to be crushed before they take their true form: bread and wine. Grapes are crushed in order to make wine. And wheat is crushed and ground in order to make bread. That is the stuff of the Eucharist, you know. I think it is entirely appropriate. Because the first reading—it is ultimately speaking of Jesus, the ultimate suffering servant. God the Father is happy to crush him for you and me–not destroy him, but crush him–which is to say, just as apples have to be crushed in order for us to have apple cider, Jesus has to be crushed in order for us to have the Eucharist. And that is the most important thing, the thing that gives us meaning and hope and strength, and the thing that saves us.