Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:26-27
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 13:24-43
“I am not a role model. I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.” Five simple statements taken from a highly charged Nike commercial that aired in 1993. The words came from the mouth of Charles Barkley, a man who has been no stranger to controversial statements and non-role model activity.
In one sense, he makes five incontrovertible statements. He was/is not a role model. He was/is not paid to be a role model. He was paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court. Parents should be role models. The ability to dunk a basketball does not require someone to raise other people’s children. It would be hard to find anyone who could ever find fault with these statements.
But taken in the light of this weekend’s Gospel and the main parable that Jesus explains to His Disciples it seems that Charles and all of us are not let off the hook so easily. In describing the meaning of the Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat, Jesus points out that the weeds are “the children of the evil one.” He then describes the consequences for “all those who cause others to sin”: His angels will “throw them into the fiery furnace.”
This is in no way meant to propose that Charles Barkley needs to start wearing asbestos undies, but it is meant to bring us to the realization that we are all indeed the keepers of our sisters and brothers, and it is meant to propose that we can’t duck the responsibility to act as role models.
Everyone, Christian or not, is called to see that our actions do have consequences that go way beyond the momentary events and those directly involved. One image that I picked up years ago from Dorothy Day was that of the ripples set in motion by a pebble thrown in a pond. Those ever-widening circles can bring great good or great evil into the lives of people we have never even met, let alone those who are more directly affected.
So when someone says, “I’m not a role model” they might simply be stating the fact that people should look to others, like their parents, if they are looking for behavior to imitate. That simple declaration might truly be a heartfelt insight into personal imperfection. Anyone with such an attitude should be applauded for their honesty and supported in their quest to become more of who God created them to be.
Now considering the image that Nike was most probably attempting to project in that commercial (every commercial?) it would be difficult to pull from the text any deep soul-searching humility. Most people took it as an in-your-face apologia for the lack of role model activity of many highly paid and reverently adulated athletes. Thus it is the perfect sequel to the “Be like Mike” Gatorade commercial from the year before. Charles and Nike are simply reminding us that to “be like Mike” should be void of anything related to Michael Jordan the person.
Like it or not, all of us are called by Christ to be role models, even those whose millions come from playing a kid’s game and at the expense of the sweat of those who truly work for a living. As far as Jesus is concerned, when it comes to being a role model, He is telling all of us just do it.