Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Life-Changing Encounter

So I love the first reading from the book of Job, because it starts by saying "Is not man's life on earth a drudgery," and then Job continues to go through how awful his life is, then it ends with "I shall not see happiness again." And what do we say in response this tale of woe and misery, which is the word of the Lord? We say "Thanks be to God." How weird are we? This reading might get us down if we don't know the whole story, but luckily, most of us know the full of story of Job, how he lost everything but through his trials learned to trust God completely. Since most of us know the full story, how Job was a blameless man who through his terrible sufferings learned a new kind of humility, we can read this small piece of the story, when Job was at his lowest, and say "Thanks be to God."

It's always important to approach Scripture passages with an understanding of the full story, otherwise we run a risk of misinterpreting the things we read or taking them out of context. The Gospel provides another example where we need to make sure to widen our view and grasp what is happening on a deeper level. Today we see Jesus heal Peter's mother-in-law, and then she proceeds to serve them.

Side note: The interesting thing is not that Peter was apparently married and now priests are celibate. That is the result of the Holy Spirit working in the Church through the centuries, and the fact that Peter was married is no argument that celibacy today is a bad thing. That's not the interesting thing here.

No, what's interesting is that Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law and seems to get a servant out of the deal. If you want to misinterpret the meaning of the story, then you see only the bare facts: Jesus heals this woman of her fever, she gets up and waits on them, good deal for Jesus. That would be a misinterpretation, so we have to dig deeper to see exactly what this woman is experiencing.

So what exactly was Peter's mother-in-law experiencing? She didn't just experience a healing. No one in the Gospels just experienced a healing. They were healed, yes, but they experienced the Savior of the World, the Word through whom all things were made. They didn't just experience a healing. And once they have met Jesus, once Peter's mother-in-law has experienced Jesus, she can't help but respond to this meeting. Meeting Jesus elicits a reaction. When Peter's mother-in-law met Jesus, she couldn't help but respond in service.

Whenever you meet someone you love, you want to do something good for them. So when we really experience Jesus, once Jesus has touched our lives, it has to elicit a reaction of service. In our Gospel today, when it says that the mother-in-law waited on them, the Greek word for waiting on them is diakonia, which is where we get the word for deacon. Deacon literally means servant. On Friday, I got to see one of my best friends, Andrew, be ordained a deacon in Cheyenne, and then on Saturday I go to see him preach for the first time in Gillette. At that homily, he told the people, "God healed my heart, through the Sacraments, especially Confession and Eucharist, and so I responded in a radical way." God touched his heart, at some point in his life he experienced Jesus and he couldn't help but respond the only that fit for him.

So when we meet Jesus and are healed by him, it has to draw us to serve him in whatever way he calls. For Peter's mother-in-law, it was by serving at table. For my friend Andrew, it is as a deacon and then as a priest for our diocese.

So the bottom line is that we have to meet Jesus. How do we do that? I want to suggest two preeminent ways, two ways of meeting Jesus that will change your life: The Sacraments and in the poor. If you faithfully participate in the Sacramental life of the Church and you serve the poor, you will meet Jesus in a way that will change your life. And I'm not suggesting an either/or approach, the Christian life demands both, so let's briefly examine these paths.

When we gather here as the Body of Christ, we don't gather here because we're bored and wanting to be entertained. That's what Netflix is for. We don't gather here to celebrate ourselves. Frankly, if I want to celebrate myself and how wonderful I am, I have a mirror for that. That's all very mundane, but God calls us here for a higher purpose. We gather here to meet God. Not just to feel his presence in some vague, ethereal way, but to actually meet him, hidden in the bread and the wine.

So if we're going to meet God himself, and not to celebrate ourselves or be entertained, everybody here should act the part. First off, the behavior and demeanor of the priest should point you towards God, and so I humbly beg for your prayers. The music should point us to God, the artwork should point us to God. The way each of us acts here at Church should communicate to those around us that we're here to worship God and not to be entertained. And don't mishear me, this is not a call to sit down, shut up, and pay attention, this is an invitation to examine why you are here, and to make sure that everything about your life is oriented towards God.

And we need to serve the poor, in all of their distressing disguises. Every so often, Jesus himself wants to wait on a street corner with a cardboard sign, or sleep on a park bench, or stop by our parish office to be helped by the money that you put into the collection basket. And he's usually dirty and smelly, and he's somebody we'd rather not deal with. And then we have a choice, we can serve his needs like Peter's mother-in-law, or we can judge him and say that he doesn't measure up to the Jesus I've created in my head and say that he is not worthy of my help.

So we meet Jesus in the Sacraments and in the poor. But why? Why bother with this at all? In the Gospel today, what happens after this healing encounter? Jesus goes off to pray early in the morning, and Peter and those who are with him pursue him until they find him. Having had this healing encounter, they can't help but pursue Jesus. Just like you and I would always seek out the ones we love no matter where they are, these disciples seek out Jesus. Their hearts have been awakened, something has stirred in their hearts that they know only Jesus can fill. Jesus creates a new kind of happiness and a new kind of joy in our lives that nothing else can fill. The disciples knew it, that's why after meeting Jesus and experiencing his healing, they couldn't help but follow him wherever he went.

So if you've never actually met Jesus and experienced his healing in your life, start here. Examine why you come to Mass and pay close attention to the prayers and the movements of the liturgy, and be alert for the times that Jesus presents himself in the poor. Truly meet Jesus, and let him awaken in your heart a desire for a new joy that only he can fill.

No comments:

Post a Comment