[“All the City was Gathered at His Door” by James Tissot]
In today’s first reading, Job asks, “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” I think many of us can empathize with Job’s cry. With the prolong economic crisis, many of us are experiencing difficult times. I have heard so many parishioners talk about losing their jobs, or having children who are unemployed. Parishioners who are retired have been talking about their anxieties as they see their retirement nest-eggs becoming smaller. There are many who are facing marital problems, serious illnesses, and all other kinds of problems. We, too, often wonder if we will “see happiness again.”
Peter and Andrew, and the other disciples, as well as all those gathered at the door of Peter and Andrew’s house also understood Job’s cry. Life in Galilee and Judea at the time of Jesus was very hard for most people. There was often a day-to-day struggle just to earn enough to put food on the table. To make matters worse, the Romans taxed the people, and the tax collectors often took more than their fair share. Life was often a drudgery
Then there was that incredible day at Peter and Andrew’s house. They had already felt a stirring in their hearts from their encounter with Jesus. Now they had been witnessing His miraculous power as He cast out demons and healed the sick. He had dramatically expelled a demon right in the middle of the synagogue. After healing Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus had spent the entire evening healing all the sick in the village. Jesus’ popularity is at a zenith. His preaching has been a huge success.
The next morning His disciples must have been wild with excitement. They may have even thought that Jesus would claim the Messianic kingship right away and gather an army to cast off the despicable Roman occupiers. And so, when they awoke to find Him gone from the house, and a growing crowd of townspeople clamoring to see Him, they were confused.
They frantically organized a search party and scour the area. But when they find Him, alone in prayer on the mountaintop, and they tell Him that everyone is looking for Him, Christ’s
answer is surprising. He tells them it’s time to move on, that His mission is not to maximize His popularity, but to preach the gospel to all of Israel — this is what His Father sent Him to do, and no opportunity for mere personal glory will distract Him from it.
This was the first installment of a lesson that Jesus would teach over and over, by words and actions: He is not a political figure looking to climb the ladder of success; He is a servant and a messenger, a man for others.
In a world that tends to idolize “success” and “achievement,” where great souls are withered by the rat race of petty promotions and vaporous rewards, the selfless, transcendent purpose of a man entirely focused on fulfilling someone else’s plan (i.e., God’s), is like a bright star shining in the darkness. Jesus is the Man for Others.
One reason so many people find it so hard to believe in Jesus or to follow Him is because they do not see Jesus as a man for others. Instead, they see Jesus as harsh and judgmental. That is not the Jesus of the Gospels, the Jesus of the crucifix, the Jesus of the Eucharist. So why do they think of Him that way?
One of the most common reasons is what the Catechism calls the “counter-witness” of Catholics. Every one of us is an advertisement for Christ. As Catholics, we have identified ourselves with Christ and his Church. And so, people who are outside the Church look at us to get an idea of what Christ is like. If we gossip, criticize, and talk trash just as much as everyone else, if we live pleasure-seeking, self-indulgent lives, getting drunk and sleeping around just like everyone else, if we look out for number one instead of looking out for our neighbor, if we lie, cheat, cut others down, and manipulate, just like everyone else, well then, is it any mystery why people who know that we are Christ’s followers do not decide to follow Christ themselves?
I came across an example of this counter-witnessing of the Gospel just the other day. As we are all aware, on January 20th of this year the Secretary of the Department of Heath and Human Services, with the support of the president, issued a policy mandating virtually all employers to pay for health insurance for their employees which includes coverage of contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization at no cost to the employee. This mandate is a direct attack on religious liberty and is telling religious organizations, like the Catholic Church, that they are going to have to violate their moral conscience or discontinue providing their employees health insurance, which would result in huge fines. Last weekend Bishop O’Connell had a letter read at all the Masses saying that as Catholics we cannot and will not violate our conscience and will fight against this unjust attack on religious liberty. Most of the bishops throughout the United States have issued similar letters. The White House, in responding to the protest of the bishops, has posted on its website counter arguments, including one that says that 98% of the Catholics in the United States use contraception. Now, we can dispute this number as being inaccurate — which it is — but that fact sadly is that a large percentage of Catholics do use contraception, in violation of the Church’s moral teaching. By doing so they provide a counter-witness to the Good News and the Gospel of Life.
However, if people see us Catholics walking away from gossip sessions and defending people’s reputations, if they see us living balanced, well-ordered and joyfully disciplined lives, if they see us as compassionate, forgiving, and yet firm in our moral commitments, if they see us trying to swim against the current of the corrupt, ego-centric culture that is tearing society apart, well, then, in that case, they will be drawn towards Christ, not pushed away from Him.
As Jesus gives Himself to us in today’s Mass, let us beg His pardon for the times we have been counter-witnesses, and let us beg His grace to help us be better advertisements for His Kingdom during this coming week.