Sunday, February 19, 2012

Homily for 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
7th Sunday

in Ordinary TimeFeb. 19, 2012
Mark 2: 1-12
NYLT, Putnam Valley, N.Y.
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT) is a Scouting program to help boys in leadership roles in their Scout troops to develop their leadership skills. This weekend the team of experienced Scout leaders and adult Scouters was planning a course to be given in April. Some other Scouts who were in camp also joined us for Mass on Saturday evening.For a couple of Sundays we’ve been hearing how crowds and crowds of people have been coming to Jesus. E.g., last Sunday, in the verse that immediately precedes today’s gospel we were told: “It was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places”—camping, but surely without a tent—“and people kept coming to him from everywhere” (Mark 1:45).

Why do you think people came to Jesus from everywhere? [seeking healing, witnessing the wonders he worked]

We have a further example today. Jesus has come home—to Capernaum, where he’s made his HQ, so to say, because it’s alongside the Sea of Galilee and on the main road between Judea and Syria; Nazareth, on the other hand, is off the beaten track. Jesus has come home, and again a huge crowd has gathered: in the house, around the door, down the street. And what’s he doing? [preaching the word]

So people came by the hundreds—by the thousands, even, as we know from the stories of how he multiplied bread and fish for them—not merely to see miracles but just to hear him preach the word of God. He must have been a far more interesting preacher than someone else you know! But I’ll bet he went on a lot longer.

That a talented and convinced preacher would attract thousands of listeners isn’t that unusual. I doubt that your American history textbooks cover the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s. Throughout the British colonies, from Georgia to Massachusetts, the Great Awakening was probably the most significant event in the 18th century, up till the Revolution. It was a religious revival preached by men such as Jonathan Edwards (you’ve read a snippet of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in your American lit), John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and George Whitefield (pictured below). Even today on U.S. 17 north of Myrtle Beach, S.C., there’s a roadside historical marker noting that Whitefield preached near that spot on Jan. 1, 1740. Newspapers and letters of the period tell us that people traveled 20, 50, even 100 miles, to hear these preachers, and you could tell where the preachers were from the clouds of dust that the wagons and horses raised on the roads as they converged on the preaching place.

Ben Franklin, who is in your history textbooks, was a great skeptic in religious matters, writes in his Autobiography of George Whitefield’s visit to Philadelphia. He relates how he walked as far as it was possible still to hear the preacher and how he then calculated that the number of people who might fill the space between where he stood and where Whitefield was would amount to more than 30,000 listeners.

From 1952 to 1957 perhaps the most popular show on TV, with as many as 10 million viewers each week, was Bp. Fulton Sheen’s half-hour program, Life Is Worth Living, in which he taught religion and preached the word, with no other prop than a blackboard. I was too young to appreciate him at the time, but my mom and dad watched, as I’m sure the parents of many of your Scouting leaders did. The bishop won an Emmy in 1952, too! You can still watch many of his programs on YouTube.

Throughout the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s evangelist Billy Graham traveled the country and the world, preaching to tens of thousands of people at a time in auditoriums, arenas, and stadiums, including Yankee Stadium.

So Jesus initiated a great preaching tradition. People came to him to hear him preach the word of God and to seek physical healing, including “casting out demons,” as we heard in the gospels 2 and 3 Sundays ago.

Now let me ask: do you remember the very 1st words out of Jesus’ mouth in Mark’s Gospel? We heard them on Jan. 22: “Jesus came to Galilee,” Mark writes, “proclaiming the gospel of God” (1:14). And what Jesus proclaimed, Mark tells us, was, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (1:15). (Gospel is a very old English word that means “good news,” and it’s a literal translation of the Greek word that Mark uses, euanggelion. The word evangelist means, literally, one who preaches the Good News.)

Jesus’ 1st words link “fulfillment,” the presence of “the kingdom of God,” and repentance. Those 3 elements add up to “good news.”

What’s being fulfilled? [all God’s promises thru the prophets, promises of deliverance and protection]

How is the kingdom of God made present? [thru the preaching and the actions of Jesus, and thru how those 2 things lead people to change their lives for the better]

What does “repentance” mean? Mark’s word is metanoeite, which means “change your mind,” “change your outlook,” “change your attitude.” When a change of mind or attitude leads to a change of behavior, in religious or moral terms we have conversion or repentance. People’s lives will be changed for the better—the kingdom of God will be made present—when they undergo a conversion of heart, a repentance for their sins with a resolve to change their behavior, to act in a more God-like manner.

St. Augustine in one of his commentaries has a fine passage that speaks of this. Using the example of filling an empty container, he writes: “God means to fill each of you with what is good; so cast out what is bad! If he wishes to fill you with honey and you are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go? The vessel must be emptied of its contents and then be cleansed. Yes, it must be cleansed even if you have to work hard and scour it. It must be made fit for the new thing, whatever it may be. We may go on speaking figuratively of honey, gold or wine—but whatever we say we cannot express the reality we are to receive. The name of that reality is God.”[1]

In other words, before we can be filled with God—with his love, with his grace, with his mercy—we must empty ourselves of whatever would keep God out: sin. Only then can the kingdom of God be in our hearts.

That’s why Jesus says what he says and does what he does in today’s gospel. A paralyzed man is brought to him. But the healing of our bodies isn’t what we really need in order to be filled with God. Physical healing doesn’t go to the heart of our problems, of our hurts. We all need deep within us spiritual healing, forgiveness, the cleansing of our souls. Without peace of heart, the best of health, good looks, power, all the money in the world will not satisfy us.

When Jesus drives out demons or heals sick people, like the leper in last Sunday’s gospel and the paralytic today, he’s showing outwardly what God’s mercy does for us inwardly. Ultimately, the most complete healing of our bodies will be our resurrection from the dead, a resurrection unto eternal life if we have turned away from our sins in repentance and accepted the forgiveness that Jesus offers us: thru Baptism, thru Reconciliation, thru a changed attitude and way of behaving toward God and our neighbor.

This Wednesday we’ll begin the Church’s great annual season of repentance, of conversion—Lent. It’s a season for us, once again, to commit ourselves to Jesus: to his teachings, to his way of living, to his Person, and therefore to reject, turn away from, repent of anything that’s inconsistent with his way of living, with his teachings, with a healthy relationship with him—whether those inconsistencies are selfish behavior, snotty attitudes toward our peers, disrespect for our parents, lying, cheating in our schoolwork, stealing from our employer, laziness, sexual immorality, failure to pray and to go to church on Sundays, reckless behavior on the highway or in our use of alcohol, etc.

Every one of us is invited by Jesus today to turn away from our sins—which begin inside, in our opinions and attitudes—and to be healed; invited to recommit ourselves as “Christians,” people who belong to him, who walk with him, who with him are headed toward the kingdom of God.

[1] Tractates on the first letter of John, tract. 4: LOH 3:221.

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