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5th Ordinary Sunday (B), 07.02.21: The decision of faith

We saw last Sunday how the power of Jesus’ preaching in the synagogue of Capernaum discombobulated those who heard him. It claimed an absolute authority over them. It even chased an unclean spirit out of one of their number. Today, the scene changes from a public one, a synagogue, to a private one, the home of Peter and Andrew. The authority of Jesus in this case brings healing to a sick woman, Peter’s mother-in-law.


Word had got out. The minute the sabbath ended, the whole town brings its sick and possessed to Jesus and he cures them all. Yet, Jesus’ main task was neither to heal nor to exorcise evil spirits. Throughout his whole ministry he only cured a proportionally minimal number of people. Rather, he came to preach the Gospel of God to all creation, to announce God’s purpose for man and God’s absolute claim over him.


After the miracles in Capernaum, he probably guessed that, the next morning, people would return for more. So, he gets up long before dawn and goes to a lonely place to pray. We often find Jesus doing this. Why? Because in prayer, away from the acclaim of the crowd, he reinforces his submission to the will of the Father. He continues to resist Satan’s temptation to make him famous or popular by the use of power. Truth, not power, was his mission.


Predictably, the apostles seek him out. The people of Capernaum wanted him back. But Jesus refuses and instead tells them to come with him so that he can continue his preaching throughout Galilee. It was for this that he came.


The core of what Jesus called the Gospel of God is this: “the time has come. The Kingdom is near. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” What he is saying is that, in his person, creation and history, space and time, have now been visibly invaded by God. They are no longer outside of God’s dominion or kingdom. The Son of God has appeared in them, in person, in the flesh. And the purpose of his visible invasion is to enable creation and history to re-enter into the eternal dominion of God.


How, then, did Jesus attain that purpose? Jesus foretells how to his apostles a number of times in the Gospel. St. Paul, in one of the earliest traditions of the faith, sums it up in this way: “The tradition I handed on to you in the first place, a tradition which I had myself received, was that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried; and that on the third day, he was raised to life, in accordance with the Scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; and later to the Twelve.”


The Gospel of God is fulfilled, then, in Christ’s death and resurrection. You could say that the Gospel of God is fulfilled in the Gospel of Christ. Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom comes to its completion in his own Passion and Resurrection. This means that God’s absolute claim over man, God’s reign, now comes to us through the death and Resurrection of Christ. This explains St. Paul’s urgency in preaching the Gospel and his statement, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” Paul is aware that the Gospel is the only way for human beings to know of God’s claim on them in and through Jesus Christ and the only way to evoke the response of faith in that Gospel. If he knew that and failed to preach it, his own head would be on the block.


The preaching of the Gospel is thus intended to place each person in a crisis, the crisis of faith. To the urgency and absolute claim of Christ there corresponds the urgency of the decision of faith, of unconditional faith in Him. A child may be baptised in the faith of its parents, but the main purpose of parenthood is to bring a child, as it passes towards adulthood, to the point of owning that faith in a personal and profound decision of faith. Yes, we are free not to do so, but there is no alternative that can compare even infinitesimally. To live solely by our own will in this mortal life is folly, for when death actually comes, what will become of us? Nothing? Does nothing or nihilism really hold the answer to the deepest yearnings of the human heart? Or are they nothing, too?


Have I taken the conscious, personal and unconditional decision of faith in the Gospel of Christ? Do I preserve and nurture my decision of faith with repeated acts of faith especially in the important matters of life? In my moral life, do I take strong decisions for Christ and his truth and reject the seduction and fascination of the evil One whom Christ exorcised from those he liberated? If I have decided not to believe in Christ, who or what do I believe in and how do I answer the question of the meaning of life, love and death?


I encourage everyone to renew today, in a deeply personal and conscious way, the act of faith in Jesus Christ as your Saviour, your Lord and your God. I encourage you to make acts of faith every day in the midst of all your joys and sufferings, offering them to him and joining them to his own self-offering to the Father for our salvation. When the bread and wine are offered to the Father on the altar, see in them your own lives in all their complexity, light and shadow. In a profound act of faith, unite yourself to Christ so that he may pour out upon you the treasures of the Spirit in return. For it was to this end that he first preached in Galilee and endured the ignominy of the Cross in Jerusalem. Only the Gospel of Christ has a future and is our future. Hold onto it with all your being and the Kingdom will be yours.