Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 7, 2016
Somehow, I was able to squeak through my high school English literature class by reading the “Cliff Notes” summary of Charles Dickens’, “A Tale of Two Cities.” Although I didn’t know too much more about the tale other than London was a refuge and Paris was a dangerous place where the streets were filled with angry, vengeful, and bloodthirsty mobs. Years later, I found, read, and thoroughly enjoyed the novel.
In a way, the passages from Luke’s Gospel we’ve heard these 4th and 5th Sundays in Ordinary Time offer us “A Tale of Two Cities.” Well, not exactly cities; rather small, close-knit villages, the center of each being the synagogue where the people set the pattern of their daily lives through the traditions and practices of their faith. Almost isolated by geography, poverty, and primitive means of transportation, the people of both Nazareth and Capernaum looked inward rather than outward to the rest of the world. And as they faced the center of their village life, they encountered God in their village house of prayer. Still, in spite of the shared religious practices and traditions, they proved to be very different kinds of communities. The people of Nazareth rose up against Jesus, and were literally transformed from worshippers into a dangerous mob. In order to avoid being hurled over a cliff to His death, the Lord passed through their midst and went away.
Jesus didn’t cross the English Channel to seek refuge; instead, He hiked the 40 or so miles across rugged terrain to the northernmost point of the Sea of Galilee. There, He found an adopted family and a “new home.” The people of Capernaum welcomed The Lord. They encouraged Him to stay with them. They listened to and embraced the message He brought to them…The Good News! And among them were those willing to be transformed from ordinary fishermen into Apostles and disciples. Luke reports a “tale of two cities” separated by only a short distance; the first, threatening violence to God’s Word made Flesh, the other offering The Lord refuge and supporting Him in the work of evangelization.
So, as we prepare to begin the 40-day journey through the Lenten Season, it is important to ask: What is my starting point? Which city am I departing from as I make my way to the heavenly Jerusalem? If the answer is “Nazareth,” then a deep conversion experience is needed. This involves truly accepting and then living the Gospel. There are no “shortcuts.” But, when we permit the Holy Spirit to be our guide, then the journey becomes more joyful and the destination more certain. Whether we simply neglect it or intentionally resist it, once we open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit, life becomes so filled with peace and joy that we wonder why we waited. But there are no “shortcuts.” To put on the mind of Christ, we must reject sin and commit to faithful discipleship in the Church.
For those who “live in Capernaum,” Lent offers the opportunity to become better acquainted with Jesus Christ. Even the people who walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee with Him learned new and ever more amazing things from and about Jesus; and so, too, with us today. The transforming power of the Holy Spirit enables us to learn new and ever more amazing things about our God as we live with Jesus Christ. But, like the fishermen who were transformed into disciples, we, too, are called to become fishers of others. A perfect way to continue our own conversion process is to make Lent a time when we look for every opportunity to introduce the Gospel to our day-to-day lives in hopes that others might come to believe. Lent is the perfect time to let the light that came into our hearts at Baptism shine even more brightly, so that others might come to Christ. Lent is a time to amaze ourselves as we discover that when we speak, think, and act like Christ, we have the power to transform the lives of others.
So, whether you are beginning the journey from Nazareth or Capernaum, know that by allowing the Holy Spirit to chart the course over the 40-day journey…the destination will be the same…an empty tomb and Easter joy; and someday, the Heavenly Jerusalem. It really is “A Tale of Two Cities,”…here and there. And if we want to live for all eternity THERE, across the channel of time, in a place of safety, joy, and eternal peace…we need to make the crossing with the Spirit of Lenten repentance and conversion.