Immersed in Christ: January 24, 2021
Third Sunday of Year B in Ordinary Time
The Power of Light and Love
Teach me yours ways, O Lord. (Responsorial: Psalm 25)
How much power do you think you have? Who has more real power: presidents or parents? Priests or peers? What can each do?
The Entrance Antiphon calls us to “sing a new song to the Lord,” A new song doesn’t do any good unless someone is singing it. Singing to the Lord is always good. But singing where there is nobody around to hear doesn’t help other people much. So the antiphon continues: “Sing to the Lord all the earth!” We want to make the “new song” of Christianity the song of the whole human race.
In the Opening Prayer we ask God to “direct your love that is within us so that our efforts in the name of your Son may bring humanity to unity and peace.” The power to bring humanity to unity and peace is love. And that love is within us. It is God’s love. We share in it.
In the alternate Opening Prayer we ask “that the limits of our faults and weaknesses may not obscure the vision of your glory.” Whatever “limits” the scope of our awareness by focusing us on the things of this world “obscures the vision” of the mystery revealed to us: the Good News of the new identity we have by grace; of the enlightenment we grow into through God’s word; of the power to bear witness that is ours through the Gift of the Holy Spirit; of the “posterity” promised us if we will mediate the life of God to others through ministry; of the victory that will crown our efforts to establish the reign of God over every area and activity of human life. We need to keep the vision clear, to keep ourselves aware of the “new song,” the new relationship with God made possible by Jesus Christ for those who are “in him.”
In the Prayer after Communion we ask: “May the new life you give us increase our love….” Christian life on earth is all about growth: growth into clearer light through faith, stronger encouragement through hope, more generous efforts through love. And growth begins with awareness of the mystery of God: “Truth and beauty surround him. He lives in holiness and glory.” This is our “new song.”
The People Believed
In Jonah 3:1-10 there are five things to notice: 1. Jonah “went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord.” It wasn’t his idea or personal project. In fact, he didn’t want to do it (read the first two chapters). So when he did, he was very aware that he was preaching as an instrument of God and that God was speaking in him and through him. 2. “The people of Nineveh believed.” They took God’s words seriously. 3. They did something about it. “They proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least.” 4. This was a communal response, They expressed themselves as a community. No exceptions. The king himself “covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” 5. “God relented.” Their response saved the city from disaster.
This encourages us to believe that, not only individuals, but families, the Church, even entire nations, can be converted from the distortions and spiritual mediocrity that are destroying them. But someone has to call them to it as a prophet delivering God’s message. And they have to believe, reflect on God’s words together as disciples, and respond as a united community, each taking responsibility as priest and king.
Are you aware that you were consecrated by God at Baptism to be a prophet? To deliver God’s message to all you live and work with? Is your community—family, circle of friends or associates, your parish—aware of itself as a community of faith, called to reflect on God’s words together in order to come to decisions that embody a communal response? What are you doing to make them (and yourself) aware of this?
“Follow me and I….”
You may be asking, “Who am I to convert my family to anything? Or my friends? Or my parish?” The truth is, most families are not aware of themselves as communities of faith. And even parishes do not engage in much communal discussion about how they should live out, express or grow in the faith they share. It is possible, even commonplace, for people to share the same faith without sharing it with each other. This leads to disaster.
Mark 1:14-20 should encourage us. Who were these men Jesus chose to convert the world? They were ordinary, family-business fishermen. The four in this Gospel probably couldn’t read and write. Peter, who wound up pope, had more recorded sins and errors than anyone else in the four Gospels. The others must have thought it a joke when Jesus re-named him “the Rock.” But he turned out to be a rock. A rock of human shortsightedness and weakness held together by the grace of God. 1
Jonah wasn’t so holy either. He literally ran away from what God wanted him to do. It took a “whale of a lesson” to turn him around. (Sorry). Does God have to feed you to the fish to get you to carry a message to your family, friends and parish? Or, if you refuse, is he just going to let you go down with them?
We all need to keep aware—because God is going to judge us on it— that we have an official job to do, a call and commissioning from God we cannot deny. Like it or not, we are consecrated to continue Christ’s mission as Prophet, Priest and King; that is, to let him continue it in us. “Follow me,” he says, “and I will make you fishers of people.” He is telling us what he will do in us and through us—if we stay aware of it.
The Greatest Power
What is the greatest power on earth? Authorities and lawmakers have power to affect or change peoples’ actions. It takes a greater power to change peoples’ hearts. And that, more than anything else, is the power of example.
Whom are children more likely to imitate? The President or their parents? Whose attitudes and values are teenagers more likely to adopt? Those preached from the pulpit or those they see lived-out in their peer group? Children will participate in Mass the way their parents do; or believe, at least, that is how they should. More powerful, perhaps, than the example of parents, is what they see and hear their brothers and sisters doing. Praying, cussing, obeying, smoking, helping others, drinking, reading the Bible, driving recklessly, watching clean TV or porn—we embrace these things because of others’ example. Others’ power.
St. Paul uses the phrase “should live” in almost every one the few sentences of 1Corinthians 7: 29-31. He is telling us how people who know that “the time is growing short” should live in order to help each other be aware that all the joys and sufferings, all the professions and preoccupations of this world, important as they might be, are passing away even as we engage in them. With the enlightened sense of perspective we enjoy through Fear of the Lord, nothing we deal with in our culture should have power to scare us or seduce us, put us under pressure or throw us off guard. Why? Because “the world as we know it is passing away.”
Hearing this from the pulpit can help us somewhat to be free. Talking about it with each other might help more. But what Paul counts on to help Christians really believe that we are free from the fears and slavery that others experience (free from all fears that are not Fear of the Lord) is the support we give each other by our example. The married who visibly live as couples invited to the “wedding banquet of the Lamb”; the bereaved who visibly live as people who know they are only separated for a time from their loved ones; those who “enjoy the good things of this world” but visibly live in a way that shows they aren’t attached to them; those “whose life is buying things,” whether professionally or for private use, who live in a way that makes it evident possessions have little importance for them; and those who “have to deal with the world” who visibly live as if they were hardly affected by it—these are the people who help themselves and others remain aware of the Good News. By their example they are the most powerful people on earth.
Has this refection made power something you want to think about in your life?
Write down all you started doing because of others’ example. Look twice.
1 Peter was wrong when: he rejected Jesus’ way of saving the world; (Matthew 16:22); he misunderstood what the transfiguration meant (17:4); he presumed Jesus would pay the temple tax (17:25); he objected to Jesus’ washing his feet (John 16:22); he protested that he would never deny Jesus (Matthew 26:35); he slept during Jesus’ agony in the garden (Jesus singled him out by name in his reproach: Matthew 26:40); he opted for violence and cut off Malchus’ ear when Jesus was arrested (John 18:10).