11 January 2013

Wishing ain't willing

Friday after Epiphany
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Let's see if you heard what I heard in the conversation btw Jesus and the leper. Here it is again: “'Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.' Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, 'I do will it. Be made clean.'” Did you catch it? Both equate leprosy with being unclean; this is, sinful. Both are talking about making the leper clean. Both indicate that Jesus is the one to accomplish this miracle. But none of these is the catch I'm talking about. The leper says, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus doesn't say, “I do wish it. Be made clean.” He says, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leper believes that if Jesus makes him clean, he did so b/c he wishes to. But Jesus knows that there's no wishing involved in his mission to forgive sin. It's all about his will and the will of his Father in heaven. So, he wills that the leper be made clean—he moves himself, involves himself, actively goes out of his way to do the cleansing. Do you believe that Jesus merely wishes you were clean? Or do you believe that he wills that you be made clean and then cleans you? 

The difference btw “wishing” and “willing” in English is clear enough. If you don't believe me, consider this: “I wish to pay taxes” and “I will pay taxes.” Hear the difference? Even though the original Greek of this passage uses one verb, the same verb for both “wish” and “will,” I'm grateful, as a sinner and a preacher, for the chance to distinguish them and point out why we should believe that Jesus wills our cleansing from sin. Set against the whimsical nature of wishing, willing is all the more comforting for its certainty. Jesus might have gone about the countryside wishing all sorts of fanciful things to happen. Since he didn't come among us as a genie or a wizard, we can say with confidence that none of them did. What he wished to happen, didn't; however, all that he willed to happen, did. The leper is cleansed. The blind see. The deaf hear. And all of God's children—all of us, from creation to right now—are given the chance to accept and receive God's mercy for our sins and establish with Him a life of righteousness. Have you ever heard yourself say something like, “I wish I could be holy. I wish I could be at peace”? Well, stop it! The leper wished to be cleansed, but the Lord willed it. If you will to be holy, then be holy. If you will to be at peace, then be at peace. 

How many times do you think the leper wished himself clean? Thousands? Millions? Given the slow, rotting nature of the disease and the fact that it made him a social pariah, I doubt there was a second of his many unclean days that he didn't wish himself clean. If you are living with the disease of sin, suffering the consequences of your disobedience, and walking around wishing to be forgiven. . .well, stop it! Stop wishing to be forgiven and understand that you have already been forgiven. Follow the leper's example: come to Christ and receive his will—the will that you be made clean. Jesus may have wished that all the lepers in Judea be made clean. But only one came forward, prostrated himself, and received the Lord's will that he be healed. And that's why we know about him. What do we know about all the lepers Jesus may have wished to be made clean? They died lepers. What do we know about all the sinners Jesus wishes would come clean. . .? Our leper is a victor over his disease b/c he believes that Jesus is the Christ and b/c he asks and receives what Christ wills: his healing and life everlasting. 

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1 comment:

  1. Yep, I sat with "I do will it" for about 10 minutes this morning. Couldn't get away from it, so I was glad to see your homily this afternoon. You made a great distinction, btwn "wishing" and "willing"...."I wish" vs. "I will". But doesn't saying "I will...." indicate as well a belief and trust that He "moves himself, involves himself, actively goes out of his way to do...."? Which tells me I need to stop saying "I wish I could trust", and just say "I will trust". Well, yes, that king of certainty is comforting...and quite frightening at the same time. (“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”) Sigh :-).