Preparing to become a deacon I was looking forward to the class on homiletics. I remember the first words of our teacher telling us we are to preach not to teach or catechize. We are to break open the word of God and help people apply it to their lives. When I coupled this concept with our scripture teacher who told us the scriptures are like an artichoke and to get to the heart you must peel back layers upon layers. It was then I began to realize God always gives us a starting point – the obvious – but often times there are multiple messages and yet there is one message that is supports all the others and it found deep within the story.
Today’s’ readings have so many stories interwoven with each other they are easy to hear and not find a message for us to reflect on during the week. Job describes daily life as drudgery. Far too many of us can relate to that sentiment because we feel that same way about life. Life seems to go nowhere and we are struggling to find something better and we come to God to assist us.
If you study scripture and the life of the normal Israelite you would find those very sentiments expressed. They were occupied and struggling to pay taxes, temples tithes and have enough left over for their families to exist. They were expecting the coming Messiah to change all of that and free them. However, when the messiah came he does something completely opposite – he challenges their beliefs, their comfortable faith and their concept of what the messiah would do for them.
Jesus first words as he comes out of the desert are to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He boldly proclaims in the temple he is the anointed one to set captive free, give sight to the blind thus making the kingdom a reality among them. Instead overthrowing the Romans he overthrows demons, heals the sick, forgives sins and breaks the laws established by God through Moses.
Those actions were totally unexpected and made them question who he was although they recognize he spoke with authority. He is not a Pharisee or a Levitical priest he was just a man, the son of a carpenter, but he was sought out by ordinary everyday people because he offered them something beyond life’s drudgery – he offered to satisfy their deepest hunger and thirst.
Jesus used the healings to show us even as great as a healing could be we still had a hunger that goes far beyond healing. He shows us by his own seeking the mind of God how we too must find own quiet place and time to communicate with the one who sent him. It is interesting to me as I read the scriptures where Matthew tells us Jesus “went to the temple daily as was his habit.” Yet, in spite of being in church every day he has this need to go off by himself to pray. Jesus tells us we will do the things he did and by his seeking those moments with God he is showing us how time alone with God is a must beyond all other spiritual things we do.
However, just as Jesus’ time with God was interrupted by the people seeking him we too are often interrupted in our quest to pray. Instead of being upset with ourselves and those that interrupt us we should look to the example of Jesus who although interrupted responded to the needs of the people who sought him.
This gospel is full of examples for us to emulate on our spiritual journey in today’s gospel. Buried under all these stories is our own need to move beyond our own concept of being faithful and go into the unknown by following Jesus. We have to go beyond doing what is easy and comfortable and trust God’s plan for our life. This is the message we find when Jesus leaves Capernaum saying he must go to other towns and villages to proclaim the kingdom.
It is easy for us to find that place where we feel we have encountered something spiritual and stay there. However, Jesus is telling us to leave that place and seek more of him. If the people of Capernaum wanted more of Jesus then they must join the disciples and follow him. If we want to receive what Jesus offers us we must follow him and become part of his mission to proclaim the good news.
You are I are called to be witnesses of the gift of salvation given to us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We must become witness of the simple spiritual truth that our sins are forgiven by the grace of God and the death of Jesus on the cross. We cannot earn eternal life but we can appropriate the grace of it by believing in God who loved us enough to reconcile us to himself by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul in today’s second reading understood this after his encounter with Jesus. He knew he was entrusted with the message of salvation and it could not be shirked. He realized he must bring that message to everyone – those who accepted him and those who did not.
We are asked the same question Jesus posed to Paul when he encountered him on the road to Damascus – why. Why are we so fixed on our belief in who the messiah would be and how he would come to us? We like Paul need to have our eyes opened to see the reality of who we are – sons and daughters blameless before our God because of the death of Jesus.
Yet, we must move from knowing about God to experiencing God in order to become followers and vocal messengers of the love of God, the gift of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit at work in all of us. Jesus is telling us not to be distracted by all the marvelous things he does around us because that is normal in the kingdom of God. We are to keep our eyes on Jesus and follow him wherever he leads us. In order to do that we must leave our Capernaum’s – those places where we live comfortable with our faith because Jesus is telling us there is life, joy and peace where he is leading us.