February 21, 2015
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
Jesus Changes Priorities
If you hold back your foot on the Sabbath
from following your own pursuits on my holy day;
If you call the Sabbath a delight…
In three sentences the Gospel summarizes the whole process of conversion to Jesus.
“Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.” Jesus notices, looks at, and calls everyone. Levi was an outcast who betrayed his people by collecting taxes for a colonial government. Jesus saw what he could be and accepted him.
Pope Francis says this experience is offered to everyone:
No one should think that this invitation [to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ] is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.” How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost!
Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards! (Joy of the Gospel 1).
“He said to him, ‘Follow me.’” Jesus did not urge Levi to repent of his sins (although when preaching to a crowd he introduced the Good News by calling for a total “change of mind,” metanoia: Matthew 4:17). He did not call him to embrace a “religion.” If Matthew had been a Catholic, Jesus would not have pressed him to start going to Mass. What he invited him to was a personal relationship: “Follow me.”
This was Pope Francis’s first message to the Church:
1. The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew…
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day…
“And leaving everything behind, he got up…” We don’t find relationship with Jesus by including his teachings in our value system, or making him one of our circle of friends. The core of Judaism was and is that it is impossible to worship God by accepting him as one of many gods. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4). In the same way, it is impossible to follow Jesus if we follow—or pursue—anything else. We either give up all other goals, values, priorities, attachments and desires, or we don’t recognize Jesus for who he really is. Jesus doesn’t thunder it from the mountain, but he says it just as forcefully: “I am the LORD your God… you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Deuteronomy 5:6).
Jesus said the same thing in different words, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate [remove from all competition with me] father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple… So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions (Luke 14:26, 33).
Anything in our life that competes with total devotion to Jesus is an idol.
Pope Francis tells us what the current idol is:
2. The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.
The Jewish law of Sabbath observance struck at the heart of this attitude:
If you hold back your foot on the Sabbath from following your own pursuits on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight, and the Lord’s holy day honorable; if you honor it by not following your ways, seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice—then you shall delight in the Lord.
By requiring his People to abstain one day a week from doing anything that involved them in this world’s business or pursuits, God taught them in the most effective way possible that they had a raison-d-être, a meaning and purpose in life, that was not of this world, but above and beyond it. And, paradoxically, this is a first step toward the renewal of a society verging on ruin:
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday. Then the Lord will guide you always, and give you plenty even on the parched land.
People trained to put everything aside on the Sabbath can understand and accept “leaving everything behind,” to “get up” and follow Jesus.
“…and followed him.” Luke ends his sentence as all conversion to Jesus must end: with Levi entering into enduring relationship with Jesus. Being a Christian is not living by the teachings of Jesus or following his example; it is “following” Jesus himself by remaining constantly in his presence, in constant interaction (the reality of relationship) with him. To “accept Jesus,” believe in him, or give ourselves to him means very simply that we make him the focus of our lives. We make personal interaction, and personal relationship with him, our first priority and the priority that determines the place of every other.
How do we know we have truly encountered Jesus Christ? By the change it has made in our priorities.
Do I choose to let Jesus change my priorities?
Pray: (from “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”):
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
Practice: Ask before everything you do, “Will Jesus do this with me?”
Discuss: In practice, what does it mean to make interaction with Jesus the first priority in your life?