Change Your Life – Believe the Message

It’s a humble journey, a humble journey with Jesus that we begin in Mark’s Gospel today, this First Sunday in Lent. It’s a quiet, unassuming, modest journey. At the same time it’s an amazing, remarkable, life-changing journey for us Jesus people, for us Easter people, because we peek out of an empty tomb to watch it begin, and we know that this journey is filled with God’s voice ringing in our ears and hearts, Satan’s temptations and wild beasts lurking in the shadows of our lives, angels when we need them, and our unashamed witness about how we follow Jesus.

Our journey is like Jesus’ journey. It’s both humble and obedient to the point of death, as well as it is glorious and world-changing.

It begins with an undignified smudge of ash on our foreheads, foreheads that were splashed with baptismal waters years earlier and a voice: “Child of God, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Our travels are marked by a trail of muddy footprints as we make our way through a wilderness littered by the beastly issues of home and school and office, stress and sickness and sadness, confusion and chaos and violence. F

We struggle all our lives to say yes to what is good and to be faithful, as Jesus was, to our covenantal relationships.  The issue isn’t temptation. The issue is fidelity. Temptation always presents a choice. Making the right choice brings growth, strengthened relationships and a time of fulfillment.

Like Jesus, we call out as we travel with words similar to those that Eugene Peterson uses in his rendering of the gospel The Message: “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”

Adapted from Renew International Year B

Be Opened!

family-515530_1280In this gospel Jesus opens the ears and loosens the tongue of the deaf-mute. Both he and the crowd cannot contain themselves, but proclaim what Jesus has done. What has Jesus really done? Healed the man? Yes, but more. Jesus has revealed that he is far more than a miracle worker, as fascinating and wonderful as that may be. Understood only as an external sign, however, the miracle falls short of the reality. The miracles Jesus performs reveal his own divine power, his own compassion for the human condition, his own mission. Jesus cares for each of us, cares enough to reach out and touch us! What must be proclaimed is not the sign itself, but that to which it points: God’s Presence bringing salvation.

Faced with this revelation, no one can keep silent. The Word grants the power of word.
We surmise that something very profound must have happened between Jesus and the deaf man even before the miracle that brought the deaf and mute man to an intensified insight about Jesus. Jesus must have communicated something to him that resonated deep within the man’s very being and changed him. This is why he could not help but proclaim the miracle—his encounter with Jesus changed him. He was able to see beyond the miracle to the wholeness (salvation) Jesus offered him.

The crowd recognized that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (see first reading) when they say, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Jesus’ miracle points beyond himself as a miracle worker to himself as the One who has come to save us. The miracles are a sign of salvation—God’s new Life is breaking in on humanity and changing who we are and giving us a whole new insight into our relationship with God. We now see God’s mighty deeds, know Jesus is our savior, and proclaim God’s salvation. This Good News cannot be contained.

Jesus is very personal with the man he heals: he touches his ears and tongue; he prays to his Father (“looked up to heaven”) with a groan, as if his whole being were involved. How much Jesus wishes to touch us, heal us, encounter us! Like the healed man and crowd in the gospel, we cannot keep quiet, either. Encounter with Jesus leads to our proclaiming his nearness, his care, his healing. We are never alone. We only need to open ourselves to Jesus’ touch. We only need to open ourselves to the Word who grants us all power to proclaim his nearness to the whole world.

In terms of Christian discipleship, we must come to know Jesus before we can proclaim who he is. Looking to mighty deeds that we think may be unfolding around us today—reports of miracles, etc.—is not where this gospel leads us. Rather, the gospel leads us to see Christ in the little things around us—the caring touch, the encouraging smile, the unexpected friendly phone call—and interpret these as evidence of God’s Presence and salvation. We ought to be “astonished” today by the many manifestations of God’s Presence in and through the people around us. We ought to be astonished at how God uses us as instruments to proclaim the Good News of salvation. We ought to be so keyed into Jesus’ Presence that we, too, cannot contain ourselves, but must proclaim God’s mighty deeds to anyone who has ears to hear.

Ascension of Our Lord

Today is the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord.  It is the day the Church celebrates Christ’s ascension to sit by his Father’s side. The mental image we have is that Christ simply “floated” into heaven.  In a homily I once heard, the homilist spoke of a child’s interpretation of the Ascension. For when preaching to group of very young children on this Solemnity several years ago, he asked the children what they thought the disciples saw when he ascended.
One little boy answered innocently, “I see the bottom of Jesus’ feet!”  Apparently, Salvador Dali felt the same way.
But today’s Solemnity is about more than the Ascension itself. We can find Jesus’ command to all of us in the Gospel reading. 
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)  
Make disciples of all nations.  Wow!  What an undertaking.  Yet, as baptized Christians, that is what Jesus commands of us.  Are we expected to travel to the far corners of the earth and share the Good News with all God’s people?  No, but there are many who do so through their missionary calling.  All we have to do is begin right in our homes.  If we share the passion we have for our faith with our families and then our friends, then they will go forward and share with additional friends and family.
This feast is an invitation to us to preach the gospel by the way we live. The most effective preaching is the goodness of our own lives. When we reach out with comforting words that heal broken hearts, when we reach out with strong hands to lift up the discouraged, when we act with integrity that makes clear to whom we belong, we preach the gospel of Jesus.
Jesus started with 12 disciples, then he commissioned the 72 (Luke 10) and so on and so forth.  Our love of Christ and our faith shouldn’t leave us standing there looking up at the sky and searching for the bottoms of his feet.  But we are to shout from the mountain tops with passion and love.  This way of living calls us to surrender ourselves into the Father’s hands.