17 January 2016

Are you ready to believe. . .by Word and Deed?

2nd Sunday OT 2016
Fr. Philip Neri, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
The party's in full swing. The couple is properly married. The band is jamming away. The food is hot and plentiful. Then disaster strikes! They run out of wine. This is how we know this isn't a Catholic wedding. Mary, knowing what knows about her son, approaches him and says – probably in that tone that mothers use when they want you to do something but don't want to ask, “They have no wine.” Jesus responds, “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” [Every time I read this, I cringe. Being a good southern boy, if I called my mama “woman,” I'd regret it. . .after came to.] Bravely, Jesus continues, “My hour has not yet come.” What? That's a lame excuse not to help the host with his wine shortage. Except that it's not an excuse. Jesus' “hour” is the moment he reveals himself to be the Christ. The second he reveals his identity as the Christ, the countdown clock to Golgotha starts ticking. Is he ready to reveal himself just to keep the party going? Is he ready to start his long, painful walk to the Cross? What's more, are his disciples ready to follow him? Are we?

We know that Jesus is ready to reveal himself. He changes six jars of water into wine. The head waiter is impressed and compliments the groom for serving his best wine last. About this miracle, John writes, “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory. . .” Changing water into wine is just the beginning, the first among many signs that reveal the glory of Christ. Though this story seems straightforward enough, there are a few odd moments that deserve attention. If his hour had not yet come, why did he perform a sign that would start his clock ticking? A clue to answering this question comes in the last bit of the reading. John writes that Jesus performs this sign to reveal his glory and b/c of the sign “his disciples began to believe in him.” If his disciples “began to believe in him,” then we have to think that they didn't believe in him before he performed this miracle. Setting aside for a moment how you can be a disciple and not believe in your teacher, what does it say about the disciples that it takes a miracle to get their attention? Just how hardhearted are they? How closed minded do you have to be not to believe in a teacher you've freely chosen to follow? Maybe they believed him but were just not ready to follow him to the Cross. . .

Here's a question for you: how do you prove that you really believe something? For example, if you say that you believe in God, how do I know that you believe in God? If belief is just a matter of saying or thinking, “I believe X,” then I have to believe that you believe. But what if belief required more than just a matter-of-fact assertion? What if belief required both a matter-of-fact assertion about belief AND a demonstration of belief? In other words, when you say to me, “I believe in God,” my response would have to be, “Oh really? Show me.” What would you do? How do we act out a belief? I know this seems like a weird question to ask, but it's a question that Christians have been asking one another for centuries. During the Roman persecutions of the Church, Christians identified themselves by refusing to offer incense to the statues of the Emperor. Christians serving in the Roman legions were tortured and executed for treason b/c they would not pledge themselves to Caesar. Martyrdom is possible today in Nigeria, the Sudan, China, North Korea just by going to Mass. In the E.U. and increasingly in the US, you can lose your job, your children, and your business for living the Christian faith. What if belief required you to sacrifice everything, up to and including your life? Would you say you believed?

Jesus knew all too well where he was headed. And he knew what would happen to those who freely chose to follow him. He never made a secret of the consequences of believing in him and acting on that belief. He goes out of his way to detail the ugliness that awaits his followers. It's almost as if he wants to discourage people from becoming disciples! Maybe this is why he seems to reply to Mary so rudely, “My hour has not yet come.” Maybe his love for the disciples causes him to hesitate before showing them a sign of his glory as the Christ. Deep down, he wants to spare them the trials of living righteously in a world in rebellion against his Father's rule. Showing them a sign of his glory—like changing water to wine—means moving their hearts and minds from being devoted to him as a holy teacher to following him as their Savior. That's a big move, a Huge Move! A move that will eventually lead all of them to martyrdom in blood and fire. Mary seems to understand her son's hesitation, so she doesn't push him to reveal himself. Instead, she leaves the decision to him, saying to the servers only, “Do whatever he tells you.” And b/c he knows that the mission of the Christ is to die for the sins of the many, he tells them to bring him some water so that he might begin his ministry of signs in Cana.

Are the disciples ready to follow Christ to the Cross? Are we ready to follow him? That move from being devoted to Jesus as a holy teacher to following him as a Savior is a big move, a huge move. It's the difference btw being a hardworking student of a great teacher and being a fellow-worker in ministry eager to share both his glory and his tribulations. I think most of us are ready to say that we're ready to follow Christ. In theory, the whole scenario looks good, even healthy: repentance, forgiveness, penance, love, mercy, hope, good works, all tied together in the sacraments and supported by a vibrant religious culture. The disciples don't have this kind of external support. They are Jewish heretics. Their religious culture sees them as cultish, separated from family and friends, unclean. Thus they are nearly overwhelmed when the ascended Christ sends the Holy Spirit among them at Pentecost, flooding each one of them with His passionate fire for spreading the Word. In their darkest hour, they are given Divine Love, unmediated by law or prophets, undiluted by age or tradition. We are given this same Love: the Spirit to believe, trust, love, show mercy, do good works, to repent, and grow in righteousness. Like the disciples, we too come to believe and believe by word and deed.

Our challenge as faithful followers of Christ becomes clearer and clearer every day. It's not our mission to defeat the world with holiness. The world is already defeated. It's not our mission to save the world with prayer. The world is already saved. It's not our mission to bring justice and peace among the nations through our good works. That's done too. Our mission is to live our lives as witnesses to all that has already been done by Christ. To live holy lives b/c the world is defeated. To live prayerful lives b/c the world is saved. To live lives doing good deeds b/c Christ's justice and peace lives already in us. We live lives of holiness and prayer, and doing good works not to change the world but to show the world all that has already been done for it. Christ gives one sign after another that shows his glory and the glory of the Father among us. All we can do is point to that glory with word and deed, and urge the world, “Do whatever he tells you.” That's enough to get us close to the Cross. But to get all the way to the Cross, we must be ready and willing to sacrifice. . .everything. To show the world the glory of Christ, we must believe—by word and deed—and be ready to die for love.


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