I think we will understand and learn best form the gospel today if we start our reflection with the first reading and reflect on the covenant that God renews after that flood. Covenant is a word that is very important in the Catholic-Christian tradition. It wasn’t a word that was important in other ancient religions. A covenant means an agreement. It means something that happens between two people -- or it can be a large scale too -- as a covenant of marriage when two people promise to each other they constant faithful love.
The Peace Pulpit
Sometimes I think when we hear incidents described such as the one in today's gospel, where Jesus heals someone, performs what we think of as a miracle, we think that that's put in the gospel to prove that Jesus is God, but that's not the case. You see, when the gospels were written, by that time, sometime after Jesus had died and risen from the dead, they were written by communities of people who were convinced simply by their experience that Jesus is God; they didn't need any other proof. They had experienced the risen Jesus in their life. So these stories are not given to us to prove that Jesus is god, but rather to show us what kind of God we worship.
St. Paul gives us a very difficult challenge today: “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” First of all, he’s very bold in kind of saying how he himself had begun to imitate Christ, but then he challenges us to imitate him as he imitates Christ, even though, I’m sure at the time, Paul didn’t think he had perfectly imitated Jesus, but he was trying and that’s what he’s asking of us -- to do the best we can in trying to imitate Jesus. If we listen carefully to the lessons today, I think we’ll discover what a challenge it is to be like Jesus.
If we take some time this morning to probe these scriptures a bit, two things can happen. First, we will come to know, I think, in a deeper way, that Jesus is truly human, truly our brother, one like us in every way except sin. It's important for us to know this because that's how we can relate to Jesus as someone like us, one who can become our friend. Otherwise, if we think of Jesus only as God, we must be in awe and trembling before the God who is a total mystery to us, the God who is the maker of all things, the God who is infinite, the God who is all-powerful and the God who is without beginning or end, the God who is beyond us totally.
As we reflect on the gospel lesson today, it's important, I think, for us to remember the context within which this event in that synagogue in Capernaum happens. The context, of course, is from our first lesson today, where Moses told the people, as Moses was about to die, "Yahweh said to me, 'I shall raise up a prophet from their midst, one of their own brothers who will be like you. I will put words into his mouth and he will tell them all that I command.' " Of course, we are to understand that this prophet that God promised, that now begins his public life, is Jesus. He's the one who's to come after Moses who is greater than Moses, greater than all the former teachers of the Law.
As we reflect on these scripture lessons today, there are two very amazing truths that are being proclaimed, and I hope as we quietly enter into this word of God, we do experience amazement. One of them is very consoling and the other, very challenging. The consoling truth comes in the first reading, where at the end of the passage, the author of this story about Jonah says 'When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, God repented and had compassion and did not carry out the destruction God had threatened upon them."
|Jonah 3:1-5, 10|
Psalm 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Full text of the readings
This is amazing. Don't you remember learning, as I know I did, as s child, that God is perfect, God is complete? You can't add or subtract anything from God. We hear those terms, God is "all-knowing," God is "omnipotent," "all-powerful," God is "infinite," "without limit." God is "the one who is." All of those philosophical descriptions of God are deeply embedded in our awareness and we tend then, to think of God as impersonal; "Source," some people say, or the "unmoved mover." None of these things really, though, show us as deeply as this short verse from the Jonah does, who God really is.
I thought it might be appropriate today to begin our reflection on the scriptures by sharing with you a brief anecdote. It's a very brief scene from a famous play, written by George Bernard Shaw about St. Joan of Arc.
In this play, when Joan is before the king on trial, one of the officers asks, "How do you mean, voices?"
[Editor's Note: Bishop Gumbleton preached this homily at the confirmation ceremony at St. Timothy Church, Trenton, Mich., Jan 11, 2009.]
Maybe the first thing I should say as we begin to reflect on our scripture lessons today is how important it is for you to say yes to that question. When I say, "Do you wish to be confirmed?" and you say yes, what are you saying yes to? This is what's really important. You could think of it as, "Well, I'm saying yes to a ceremony. I'm going to be anointed with oil and people will pray over me. So I say yes to that ceremony and it'll be all over in 45 minutes or an hour and then we go, and everything is the same as before."
You may remember on Christmas day and the second Mass of Christmas, the Gospel of Luke told us, after the shepherds had come to tell Mary and Joseph all they had seen and heard and then were leaving, "Mary treasured all these messages and continually pondered them in her heart."
We’re grateful to the children and their leaders for providing us with a visual presentation of what we heard in the gospel lesson this evening. It takes much effort through pageants like that and even more through our reflection -- careful, prayerful reflection -- to try to get a grasp of the mystery that we celebrate tonight.