Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Sitting on a fence is a man who sees no sense at all

Tomorrow’s Gospel reading finds the people once again questioning Jesus and doubting in him.  They accuse him of being allied with Beelzebub, the chief of demons, the entity we know as Satan himself.  Then others were testing him asking for more miracles, more signs.  The thing is the signs were an extra, an addition to Jesus mission, but the primary goal was to evangelize.  He came to spread the Good News the Kingdom of God was among them, it was right there, right now.  Jesus then goes on to tell them that a Kingdom cannot stand divided, it will always fall.   How could he then be performing these miracles from Satan?  These were miracles of healing, miracles of the light, miracles that brought people closer to God.. that brought them to the Message, not away from it.  

Jesus evokes to the mind of those present two amazing images.  He compares his miracles to the miracles of the exorcists of the current Jewish clergy.  This brings back the image of Pharaoh and his magicians fighting against Moses.  

Luke and Matthew both have these Jewish images of Jesus that portray him as the New Moses, sent to lead Adonai’s people from slavery to the promised land in an Exodus par excellance.  Here Jesus infers that the people questioning him, the ones testing him, are like Pharaoh and his magicians, standing in the way of God’s plans.  

He challenges them to make a choice… there is no middle ground.. no third option.. either you believe that I am from the devil or that I wield the power of the finger of God.   

That bring’s another image to their minds.  The finger of God… the very thing which wrote the law, the tablet of stone.  What kind of man then would he be if he were doing this with that sort of power?  He challenges their Jewish sensibilities.   He says, look it’s impossible for me to be from Satan, Satan couldn’t perform these miracles without undermining his own goal.  Therefore I am wielding the finger of God.. I am writing the new covenant right before you, are you willing to let me write on your heart of stone? For some this message stuck, as we see with the Apostles, with the woman at the well, with good old Bartimaeus.   They accepted this teaching, this authority, and as such experienced a metanoia so powerful that they left behind their old lives and followed him, even unto death.  For others, like the young rich man, it left them sad and walking away.   We don’t know that he didn’t accept it, but we do know that he knew the message.

There is a book that I purchased many years ago in my search for the true Church.  It is called A Rabbi Talks with Jesus by Jacob Neusner.   In this book he imagines what it would be like to be one of these first century Jews confronted with the message of Christ.   He puts himself in several of the scenes where Christ taught his torah and asked himself, what would it mean to me?  What would my response be?  What is it that Christ is offering in his teaching?  In the end the Rabbi walks away from Christ, not accepting him as a savior.  One thing is clear though, there is no doubt in Jacob’s mind that Jesus is not just offering a new teaching but claiming divinity!  Claiming the power to write with the hand of God.  Claiming to be God.

That puts us in the same shoes as those gathered around Jesus in the Gospel, right here, right now.  The Gospel doesn’t just record an event from the first century, but presents the same event to every person of every time.  Jesus is standing before us today, two thousand years later, and saying “Who do you say that I am?”  He is offering to write on your heart of stone with the finger of God itself.   To take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.   That’s the Gospel, it challenges us to have an encounter, a relationship with God.  He wants to arm us with faith, and with an ally so strong that he can never be overcome.

In the scripture we are shown that Jesus has overcome Satan, he wields a divine authority, a beatific power that cannot be overcome.  Jesus speaks later in a parable where he says “When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils.”  God has offered you the greatest spiritual military available and strength beyond human limits.   He has offered to fight for you, to guard your palace, and your soul will always be safe.”  All you have to do is be obedient, to listen to his Son and follow Him through the teachings he has handed on through his Apostles.  If our Armor is not Christ himself, then we will be overcome.  That’s what happens when we try to do it on our own isn’t it?  Those little sins that we keep falling into it.. when we think “I have this beat!” that’s the moment when it rears it’s ugly head.  However, when we fall on our knees and say “God I can’t do this on my own.. help me!”  That’s a moment of conversion.  A moment when we give ourselves to that defender who cannot be beaten, the King of the Universe himself.

It’s interesting when we look back to those who were given that offer at the very beginning of the salvation history they responded heartily “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 19:8)  Then we see in Jeremiah the Prophet reminding us how often we humans fail to do what we have promised.  

But they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed. They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs, not their faces, to me. From the day that your fathers left the land of Egypt even to this day, I have sent you untiringly all my servants the prophets. Yet they have not obeyed me nor paid heed; they have stiffened their necks and done worse than their fathers. When you speak all these words to them, they will not listen to you either; when you call to them, they will not answer you. Say to them: This is the nation that does not listen to the voice of the LORD, its God,or take correction. Faithfulness has disappeared; the word itself is banished from their speech.

They failed.  They failed because they eventually began to count on themselves.  They stopped trusting in God, they stopped listening to him and turned back to their own ego, their own means to try and provide for their own spiritual defense.  They were human.  God was faithful to them though.  He’s faithful to you.  He is merciful and forgiving (Dan 9:9). He has given us the fullness of revelation in Jesus Christ.  Jesus gave us the Church and her Sacraments to say to us: “When you fall, when you forget me, come back to me.. I am waiting.  I am your Father and you are my prodigal child!  When I see you coming to me in the distance, I will run to meet you in your filthiness, in your fallen state, and I will clean you up.. I will wrap my arms around you, clothe you in my robe!  Put my ring of authority on your finger!  Then invite you into my banquet.”  That’s what confession is!  That’s what the Sacrament of Reconciliation is all about… it’s about God reaching out to you to take care of you.. to change you.. to bring you into his feast, his banquet, to re-armor the inner chamber of your heart, that you can say again “All that you have said, I shall do.

Let’s not waste the next few weeks of Lent.   As we draw closer to Holy Week, as we draw closer to the Via Dolorosa, let’s draw closer to Christ.  Let’s increase our prayer life, our fasting, and our almsgiving! Let’s put on the armor of God, and produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit in such abundance that no one will doubt whose side we are on.  God isn’t offering a middle ground. "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." Are you ready to choose?  Does your life say that you have sided with Jesus?  Is your heart made of flesh or are you clinging to remnants of stone?  Are you trusting in God to armor you?  Or burying your head in the sand and trying to do it on your own? Are you ready to stop sitting on the fence and climb over into the promised land?

His servant and yours,

He must increase, I must decrease.