05 October 2017

Jesus says, "No."

26th Week OT (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

I was not a popular kid in middle school. I know, I know. . .you're thinking, “How could that be?!” Well, frankly, I was a little weirdo. That kid who didn't want to join a team or hang out after school. I had books to read! It wasn't until I started my sophomore year of high school that that my stock started to rise. By my senior year, I was elected Class President. Let that be an encouraging story for all you weirdos out there. As happy as I was with being one of the Popular Kids at 16, I still flinch when remembering how I was treated when I was 10. It was all my own fault. I excluded myself. However, visions of extravagant revenge would often play out in my overactive imagination. I never wished any particular person harm, but the idea of the school being consumed in sheets of hellfire – after hours, of course – sounded pretty good. Being rejected, for whatever reason, stings. And the disciples feel that sting keenly when the Samaritans turn them and their Master away from their village. The disciples don't simply imagine fire consuming the village; they actually ask permission to set the place ablaze! Jesus says, “No.”

Jesus said “no” then, and he says “no” now. Why? Jesus knows from the start of his public ministry that most will reject the Good News. He warns his disciples again and again that preaching the Father's freely offered mercy to sinners would – oddly – rub most people the wrong way. There's just something about getting something for nothing that people simply do not trust, especially religious people. Even professed Christians struggle with the idea that God loves them according to His nature and not according to their deeds. Now, we don't know exactly why the Samaritans refuse to hear the Good News. It probably has something to do with Jesus being a Jewish rabbi headed to Jerusalem, but there could be other reasons too. Regardless, they say NO. And Jesus honors that decision by moving on to the next village. I like to imagine that the disciples are disappointed. . .just a little. Like I was when I stepped off the bus every morning and saw that the sheets of hellfire had failed to consume my school! We can be disappointed when others reject the Gospel. We can even imagine that their rejection – if it persists 'til death – will end poorly for them. What we can't do is hope for – much less ask for! – immediate divine retribution. Jesus says, “No.”

And he says “no” for good reason. For the Good News to have any appreciable affect on the sinner, it must be willingly received, freely taken in as the gift it is. God's grace prepares the sinner's heart and mind by making reception of the Good News possible. BUT that grace cannot and will not force a decision. Obstinate refusal is always an option. As much as we might loathe the idea of anyone refusing the Father's freely offered mercy, we must be prepared to encounter those who – like the Samaritans – will say, “No, thanks.” Rejection stings. But the rejecters aren't rejecting me or you. They are rejecting Christ. And when we start feeling the bruises of rejection, we need to recall that when the disciples asked permission to burn them all to ashes, Jesus said, “No.” No one forced or intimidated or manipulated into believing can say that he/she freely received the Good News. Our task, as preachers and teachers of the Gospel, is to present the Good News – in word and deed – as a way out of sin, as a way out of the spiritual orphanage of the Law, as a way out of futile religiosity and death-dealing nihilism. As preachers and teachers of the Gospel, we must be the kind of person who others say of us, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

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