My niece is now in college; I can’t believe how time has flown. But back when she was little, she knew how to wrap Uncle Patrick around her little finger. I remember one time when we were out at the mall, she said something like, “If you want, you can buy me a cookie.” It reminded me of the way the leper approached Jesus in today’s Gospel. And Julia found out that I did indeed want to buy her a cookie!
You know, the most amazing thing about this miracle isn’t really the miracle itself. Sure, cleansing someone of leprosy is a big deal. But for me, the real miracle here surrounds those first three words the leper says to Jesus, “If you wish…” “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Isn’t it true that we so often wonder about God’s will for our lives? Especially when we’re going through something tragic, or chronically frustrating, we can wonder how this all fits into God’s plan for us. If God wishes, he can cleanse us, forgive us, heal us, turn our lives around.
And here the poor leper finds out that healing is indeed God’s will for him. But not just the kind of healing that wipes out leprosy. Sure, that’s what everyone saw. But the real healing happened in that leper’s heart. He surely wondered if God cared about him at all, and in Jesus’ healing words – “I do will it” – he found out that God cared for him greatly.
Not all of us are going to have this kind of miraculous encounter with God. But we certainly all ask the question “what does God will for me?” at some point in our lives. As we come to the Eucharist today, perhaps we all can ask that sort of question. Reaching out to receive our Lord, may we pray “If you wish, you can feed me.” “If you wish, you can pour out your blood to wipe away my sins.” “If you wish, you can strengthen my faith.” “If you wish you can make me new.”
Have you ever been sure of the Lord’s call in your life and it just terrified you? I have. And for those of us who have been in this position, we can perhaps understand Jonah’s reaction in today’s first reading. He had been called by the Lord to preach to the people in Nineveh. And let’s be clear about this: the people of Nineveh were unspeakably evil and had long been persecuting the people of Israel. And so for Jonah, this call was a bit like being called to preach to the people of ISIS or something like that. Not only did Jonah fear for his life in going to them, but, quite frankly, he also could not possibly care less if they repented and God had mercy on them.
But it’s a little hard to run away from God. He always catches up with you sooner or later. If that weren’t true, I wouldn’t be standing here today, I can tell you that! It would certainly be easier for us Jonahs if we would just give in to God’s will at the beginning and not have to do all this running. But sometimes the human heart just isn’t ready for radical change.
That was true of the scholar of the law in today’s Gospel reading. I think his question is more about testing Jesus than really wanting to be converted, but even so, he can’t help but get caught up in Jesus’ teaching. The question is, is he ready to “go and do likewise?” The reading ends before he can make that decision, but the implication is that it will be very hard for him to really love his neighbor in the same way that the good Samaritan loved the robbery victim.
And so those of us who look a lot like Jonah or the scholar of the law today, need to pray for softening of our hardened hearts. Will it take three days in the belly of a big fish for us to finally give in to God’s will? Or can we just give in and trust?
The prophet Isaiah and Jesus speak today about the great power of words. Isaiah speaks specifically of the power of God’s word, a word that will not return empty but will go out and accomplish the purpose for which God sent it. We see the word that the prophet speaks of here, of course as the Word – with a capital “W.” That Word is Jesus Christ who comes to accomplish the salvation of the world, the purpose of God ever since the world’s creation.
The prayer that Jesus gives us today, the classic prayer that echoes in our hearts in good times and in bad, is a prayer with a specific purpose in mind. That prayer, if we pray it rightly, recognizes that God’s holiness will bring about a Kingdom where his will will be done in all of creation. It begs God’s forgiveness and begs also that we too would become a forgiving and merciful people, just as God is merciful to us. Finally, it asks for help with temptation and evil, something with which we struggle every day.
Today’s readings are a plea that God’s will would finally be done. That his Word would go forth and accomplish God’s purpose. That his will would be done on earth as in heaven. As we pray those familiar words, they can often go past us without catching our attention. But today, maybe we can slow down just a little, and pray them more reflectively, that God’s will would be accomplished in every place, starting in our very own lives.
Because to God belongs the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
“In you, O Lord, I have found my peace.”
I believe that one of the goals of all our lives is to find true peace. And unfortunately, we spend time looking for that peace in too many of the wrong places. We might think we can find peace in wealth, or status, or whatever, but these things tend to lose their luster rather quickly, and the pursuit of them often stirs up something far less than peaceful in our lives.
But the Psalmist tells us exactly what is going to bring us that true peace that we look for, or rather, who is going to bring it. And that is the Lord. We could go after great things, looking for something beyond what God wants for us. Or we could go after things too sublime, things that require more from us than what we can give, but the Psalmist refuses to go there. Rather, he says, he has stilled and quieted his soul like a child on its mother’s lap.
True peace is a product of quieting one’s soul and finding God’s will. Reaching for things that don’t concern us, trying to get involved in things that are not what God wants for us, letting ourselves get dragged into sin, those things will never bring us peace. Only in the Lord is our hope and our peace.
One of the greatest obstacles to the Christian life is comparing ourselves to others. Because, and I’ll just say it, discipleship isn’t meant to be fair. At least not as we see fairness. The essence of discipleship is doing what we were put here to do, we ourselves. We discern that vocation by reflecting on our own gifts and talents, given to us by God, by prayerfully meditating on God’s will for us, and then engaging in conversation with the Church to see how best to use those talents and gifts. That’s the process of discernment, which is always aided by the working of the Holy Spirit.
What causes us to get off track, though, is looking at other people and what they are doing, or the gifts they have, or the opportunities they have received. We might be envious of their gifts or the opportunities they have to use them. We may see what they are doing and think we can do it better. We might be frustrated that they don’t do what we would do if we were in their place. And all of that is nonsense. It’s pride, and it’s destructive. It will ruin the Christian life and leave us bitter people.
That’s the correction Jesus made to Peter. Poor Peter was getting it all wrong once again. He thought Jesus was revealing secrets to John that he wanted to know also. But whatever it was that Jesus said to John as they reclined at table that night was none of Peter’s business, nor was it ours. Peter had a specific job to do, and so do we. If we are serious about our discipleship, then we would do well to take our eyes off what others are doing or saying or experiencing, and instead focus on the wonderful gifts and opportunities we have right in front of us. As for what other people are up to, as Jesus said, “what concern is that of yours?”
As always, the Psalmist has it right. We don’t look at others, we have only one place to look: “The just will gaze on your face, O Lord.”
Saul is proof that God’s ways are not our ways. How is it that God would pick for one of his chief Apostles a man who imprisoned and murdered the followers of the Christian Way? That had to surprise even, and perhaps especially Saul, whose life was turned completely upside-down. Poor Ananias had to be quaking in his boots to carry out this command of the Lord. But thankfully both Paul and Ananias were obedient to the Lord’s command, and we are the ones who have benefited from that. Not only has the Word of God been passed on through their faithfulness, but we see in their lives that obedience to God’s will, while it may not always make sense, is the way that true disciples live.
Learning to discern the Lord’s voice is a big part of our development as people of God and disciples of the Lord. There are many competing voices out there, and so it takes great discernment to know which of those voices is God himself. The way that we learn this is, of course, through prayer. When we practice often enough, we will gradually find it easier to hear the Lord’s voice, and then tell him, “Here I am, Lord; I have come to do your will.”