The ministry of Jesus was unlike any other because he spoke with authority, the authority of God, and he performed miracles revealing his power over nature, sickness and evil. Jesus uses his teaching authority and his miracles so that the people might believe in him as the Messiah. However, he does not want the people to look to him as a political leader who will deliver them from the Roman occupation. His teaching is always about the Kingdom of God; about our need for conversion, to turn away from sin and to be faithful; to love God above all things and our neighbor as our self.
When the Apostles heard Jesus, they immediately left everything and followed. There were others who were attracted to Jesus just because they heard of his miracles, and hoped he would do something for them. And then, there were those who refused to believe in him and looked for an opportunity to prove he was an imposter.
They all heard the same thing and saw the same thing, but their response was different. It is for this reason that Jesus frequently taught in parables. The parables were an invitation to look deeper and to believe, and not be among those who had eyes and could not see, ears and could not hear, and hearts that would not be converted.
The same is true for us today. We all hear the same Gospel, we all have seen or heard of remarkable things that can only be explained as God’s intervention and our responses are quite different. So the question that has eternal consequences for each of us is, do we believe Jesus is God and do we want to follow him? Do we have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that are willing to be converted?
Our Lord knows that our fallen nature is an obstacle to faithful discipleship; that we are inclined by our nature to be selfish. For this reason, He said we must deny our self, take up our cross and follow Him. Knowing how difficult this is for us, He pursues us and gives us opportunities to discover His Love and mercy. Sometimes an addiction can rob a person of all hope and they finally turn to God and begin life anew. It may be serious illness or financial difficulty that causes a person to realize they need God. It may be through a retreat or a pilgrimage experience that a person is awakened to the presence of God and then begin to commit their life to prayer and the sacramental life. Or perhaps it is a simple challenge to wake up and take God seriously.
About thirty years ago, someone asked me if Jesus was the Lord of my life. I don’t remember my response, but in my heart I knew I should say no. I went to Mass every Sunday, but gave God little thought after that. Did I, or did I not, want Jesus to be the Lord of my life – and did I want that to be reflected in the decisions I made in every area of my life? That thought haunted me for a while before I decided to do something about it. Within a week or so, I bought my first Bible, joined a prayer group and began to spend time in prayer every day. Those three decisions began to reshape my life and created a desire to draw close to God. My wife, Mary Jane, had the same desire and we started going to daily Mass and becoming more involved in our parish.
We know from our personal experience that there is a great difference between knowing about God in a casual way instead of having a desire to know God in a personal way and wanting to be faithful to what He has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. Our relationship with God brought new joy to our marriage and to our life in general. God has a great plan for all of us, but He must be in the center of that plan.
This is where we return to His authority. We all are tempted to do things our own way. We would like to know the minimum we must do to be a Christian so that we can get on with making our own plans. If we only want to do the minimum, we have eyes that don’t see, ears that don’t hear and hearts that do not want to be converted. God’s plan for us requires our total surrender, so that He can guide us to reach our potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity. If we think we can find our greatest happiness without placing God first in our life, we are mistaken. Most people try it and experience much sadness and unfulfilled purpose.
The Lord knows our struggles and for this reason He established His Church so that we have access to all the grace we need to be faithful and intimately connected to Him. In baptism, we become children of God and receive the theological gifts of faith, hope and charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit – and we have the capacity to become saints. In the sacraments of reconciliation and Holy Eucharist, we encounter Christ in a personal way when He forgives our sins through His priest and gives us His body and blood under the appearance of bread and wine, so that we might be transformed into His likeness. He has given us all of the sacraments to strengthen us and provide the grace we need to overcome sin and grow in virtue – for our own good, and the good of the Church.
Jesus is still alive in His Church and He still speaks with authority and He still works miracles. For our part, do we have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that are willing to be converted?
This was Deacon Tom’s homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B), Mark 1: 21-28, preached at St. Matthew Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas.