Homily – February 26th, 2012
Christ finds people refusing His announcement that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Among them, we find the rich young man who seems at first so eager. This well dressed youth runs to Jesus, kneels before the Lord, and politely asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds he should observe the Ten Commandments. And this handsome fellow answers. “Teacher, all of these [Commandments] I have observed from my youth.” Pressed further, Jesus on the instant likes this youth.
Then Jesus adds this. “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come follow me.” At that statement, the young man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions (Mark 10:17-22).
Besides this youth who tossed away Jesus’ invitation, we find others refusing Jesus. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father rejoices when the wayward returns;
but the elder son becomes angry, shouting that the Prodigal has lived riotously on his father’s money. This son is angry, spiteful, negative, a person resenting the Father’s mercy, God’s grace. This son, too, tosses away Jesus’ invitation(Luke 15:11-32).
A number of disciples cease association with Jesus. These people listen as Jesus speaks about the Eucharist.
“My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him…..Whoever eats this bread will live forever…. But there are some of you who do not believe….” As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him (John 6:55-66).
The scribes and Pharisees also refuse to hear Jesus. They, too, toss away the Lord’s invitation, for they actively oppose Jesus. In speaking to the crowds, Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees as frauds.
“They tie up heavy burdens,” says Jesus, “and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them….Woe to you, scribes and
Pharisees, you hypocrites…. Woe to you, blind guides…. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna? ….I send to you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that there may come upon you all the righteous blood shed upon the earth….(Matthew 23:1-36).
Not only do these refuse to hear Jesus, these people actively work to put Jesus to death.
Herod Antipas much desires to personally speak with Jesus. He has his chance. However, the silence with which Jesus meets Herod’s questions is perhaps the most severe rebuke administered by Jesus in the entire Gospels, and Herod in anger labels Jesus a fool and returns him to Pilate. Herod and Pilate became friends that day, even though they had been enemies formerly (Luke 23:7-13). So this King who, inebriated and aroused, had ordered the severed head of John the Baptist, loses his moment with the Lord of life.
Pontius Pilate has his opportunity to meet Jesus, to speak with the Lord. At first, Pilate sends Jesus to Herod, but eventually Pilate concludes that no capital crime has been committed by Jesus. “Therefore,” says Pilate, “I shall have him flogged.” Yet Pilate eventually condemns Jesus to crucifixion. Like others, Pilate fails; he has failed to recognize his Lord.
It is a wonder to us that in the time of their visitation, so many failed to recognize Jesus Christ as the Word of God. Jeremiah says, “More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? / I the Lord, alone probe the mind and test the heart, / To reward everyone according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). The Psalms, too, wonder that foolish people do not recognize God.
Fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
The deeds [of fools] are loathsome and corrupt;
Not one [fool] does what is right.
The Lord looks down from heaven
Upon the human race,
To see if even one [fool] is wise,
If even one seeks God.
All [fools] have gone astray;
All alike are perverse.
Not one does what is right,
Not even one. (Psalm 14: 1-3)
Saint Paul, like the Psalmist, writes that only those who lack sense fail to realize spiritual values. “Now the natural person,” says Paul, “does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and [the natural person] cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone.” And Paul concludes: “We have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:14-16).
St. John sums up the thinking of those who refuse Jesus.
“The light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God” (John 3:19-21).
Christ goes to the desert where He fasts and prays in preparation for His life’s work of preaching the kingdom of God. Many refuse His message; they refuse to realize Jesus in His miracles, in His teaching, and in His living among them. Refusal infests people in our day.
By following Jesus to the desert, by living Lent, we strive to be among those who recognize our Lord, and who draw close to Him. Amen.