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Avoiding the Bad Side of Blessedness
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Jesus was in the midst of sending out the 72 disciples (some translations render as 70) to minister in "every town and place he intended to visit." They were going to be the advance teams for ministry in preparation for his teaching. Their work would not necessarily be in the area of logistics, getting the locations ready. They were to begin proclaiming the Kingdom of God that had come through the Messiah and heal the sick. Thus, they would be demonstrating the power of their message through signs and wonders.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Today's Gospel passage is a real downer and the first reading isn't much better! Full of woe and warnings, it reads;
Jesus said to them,
"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!
For if the mighty deeds done in your midst
had been done in Tyre and Sidon,
they would long ago have repented,
sitting in sackcloth and ashes.
But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon
at the judgment than for you.
And as for you, Capernaum, 'Will you be exalted to heaven?
You will go down to the netherworld.'
Whoever listens to you listens to me.
Whoever rejects you rejects me.
And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."
After reading through these verses, all I could think about is the old children's song, "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me. Guess I'll go eat worms."
So, what do I mean by the "bad side of blessedness?" This is where you can end up after refusing to accept the grace that God has made available to you. You end up with the "woes."
From listening to the words from Jesus in the passage, this is not a good place to be.
However, as my New Testament professor used to say, "Context is everything!" In fact, our gospel passage makes real sense if you remember the reading from the day before.
Jesus was in the midst of sending out the 72 disciples (some translations render as 70) to minister in "every town and place he intended to visit." They were going to be the advance teams for ministry in preparation for his teaching.
Their work would not necessarily be in the area of logistics, getting the locations ready. They were to begin proclaiming the Kingdom of God that had come through the Messiah and heal the sick. Thus, they would be demonstrating the power of their message through signs and wonders.
He then tells them that if a town doesn't receive them to leave and "shake the dust from your feet." Nothing is going to be offered to them.
At that point he points to three cities in what many Bible scholars call the "evangelical triangle" along the Sea of Galilee. He declared them as cursed since they would not receive his word - and cursed they were but not right away. It was a few hundred years later, around 400 AD when an earthquake would destroy all three. Attempts to re-build on those sites have not proven fruitful.
So, what can we glean from this week's passage? Three words can sum it up: repent, listen and accept.
Jesus pointed out that the major problem in Chorazin and Bethsaida was a lack of repentance for his previous ministry among them. Mighty deeds had been done in their midst and it seemingly didn't impact them at all. In fact, our Lord goes on to say that even Tyre and Sidon, two Gentile cities up in Phoenicia, would have eagerly repented if they had the opportunity to experience what these cities were given.
The two cities ended up on the bad side of blessedness, getting a "woe" from the Lord.
As I've shared in previous Friday homilies, repentance ("metanoia" in the Greek) means "to change one's mind," "to change direction." As we are convicted of the sins in our life, we are called to have accountability that involves more than simply turning away from sin but turning toward the Lord and His grace.
In St. Mark's Gospel, our Lord shares the message he has for the world with his early followers. "The time is fulfilled," he said, "and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15)
In a Year of Faith Lecture at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said, This is one of the key moments in all of Scripture. Jesus comes out of the desert on fire with the presence of his Father. He calls on us to wake up from the darkness in our lives. He speaks with passion and urgency. And that's how we need to hear his words, because time matters. Time is the only thing in life we truly own, and none of us has more than a little of it. God is near. The kingdom is coming. What we do right now to prepare for it - tonight, tomorrow and for however long God gives us in the world - has consequences not only for ourselves, but for the people we touch with our lives.
Part of the problem with repentance, for many people, is centered on the fact that they don't see any immediate benefit because they are looking at life through the wrong lens. They don't see financial gain or material upgrade.
As Archbishop Chaput reminds us, what we do now is not just for the present but our future.
Repenting is just the beginning. After turning away from our life of sin and turning toward the Lord, we need to truly listen to what he says.
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Listening, by the way, involves more than simply having His message enter our ears. Listening implies a response. We have to do something with what we hear. The Jewish people knew this well. It was steeped in them from an early age as a part of their daily spirituality and, later, was cited by Jesus as the greatest commandment.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Dt. 6:4-9)
This was called the "Shema," which is the first word of the passage - "hear." In this passage, the people are called to respond - talking the words they had heard about loving God and placing them in their hearts and in their actions - affecting every time of day and area of life.
Jesus, in the section, is telling his disciples that when the people listen to what they are saying it is the same as if Jesus is speaking. The same can be said for today. Not only in Holy Scripture, but also in holy men, our priests, can we hear the words of life. Acting "in persona Christi," they are speaking truth to this generation.
The word "accept" is not found in today's passage. Instead, we find its antonym - reject. Our Lord is saying that if the message and ministry of the 72 are rejected by the people, they are also rejected the one who sent them, Jesus himself.
Accepting the word is actually a part of listening; it is the response part. You have to do something with what you have received.
In youth ministry we used to say, "you can't become a follower of Christ by just sitting in the church any more than you can become a car by sitting in a garage."
For some today, the issue of accepting the teachings of Christ is based on what feel they want to believe. As St. Augustine put it, "If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself."
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For others, it is a matter of merely going through the motions. "I've been baptized and confirmed; I go to Mass. I'm a good person," they'll argue. Yet, they've missed one critical point.
I discovered this many years ago when I was a young man in the Navy. During my last year on active duty I was stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and came upon a music group performing at Waikiki Beach one Sunday morning. The music was very different from what I had heard before - they were singing about the Lord.
After the concert I was sitting under a palm tree when a few of the members of the group came up and introduced themselves to me. We began talking, with them sharing why they were singing about Christ and my sharing about growing up in the Church. We talked for a long time and it dawned on me that we weren't talking about the same thing.
It was at that moment I realized that my relationship with God came from taking personal responsibility to commit myself to him. I had to take seriously the promises I made at confirmation that were first made by my parents and godparents at my baptism.
It was only by my own acceptance of Christ's work on the Cross and my determination to follow him that I established that personal relationship. From that point in time, I desired to live of life of abiding, where Christ became the center of all that happens in my life.
Just as Jesus sent out the 72 so that those around might hear the message of the gospel, then repent, listen and accept. The same ministry continues to this day in His church. Those of us who are called to preach the gospel and minister the sacraments do not want anyone to end up on the bad side of blessedness.
The invitation to respond positively to his message and ministry abounds today. St. Josemaria Escriva said it well. "Don't you long to shout to those youths who are bustling around you: Fools! Leave those worldly things that shackle the heart - and very often degrade it - leave all that and come with us in search of Love!"
Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Ordinariate Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate. He is a popular speaker for parishes, apostolates and organizations.
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