Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany – January 29, 2012 by Father Stephen
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
“What manner of man is this that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” The apostles were learning about Our Lord. Each time they were surprised. They had seen no one like him. Remember the miracle of the changing of the water into wine. The apostle John who wrote the gospel was there and he said, “….and his disciples believed in Him”. Now they were already following Him for a while, but this was, as John records, the first miracle of Jesus. In the Old Testament times, the language it’s called signs. They didn’t call them miracles. They were called signs, pointing somewhere else, heaven. No one can do such signs, they said, unless God would be with him. Has anyone ever heard of changing the molecules or the atoms of the substance of water into wine that if you consume more of it you get inebriated, losing the faculty of your will and your mind if you drink too much of it?
They were learning about Jesus. He changes matter. Then we have on the following Sunday another miracle. Jesus coming down from the mountain teaching, and there was a leper who heard of Jesus and believed in Jesus already, a leper. He was not a disciple of Jesus, he could not be. Because he was a leper, according to law, he had to stay away from the towns and from any gathering of people so his leprosy would not be widespread and threaten the population. So he had to be far off.
And as the other ten lepers when they came to see Jesus, they must also have shouted from a distance. And he said, as you heard, “If you want to, you can heal me”. So he had faith in Jesus. He wasn’t sure if that was His will to change him, to heal him, so he left it up to Jesus to decide. And Jesus said, “Yes, I want to. Be healed.” And He came over and touched him and he was healed at that moment. Leprosy, the rotting of the skin on the body, having terrible odor from a distance, they had to stay away from him, and all of a sudden he has the body, as it was described also in the Old Testament Eliseus performed such miracle because God was with Him. And the King’s legate whom He healed, the Old Testament says that his flesh became as that of a little child, tender, healthy, vigorous, and this is what this Man does. The apostles were learning about Jesus. Who is Jesus?
And then followed up by a great event of a centurion, a pagan, not a Jew, a pagan whom the Jews were very leery of and afraid of, he was a pagan among the army of the conquerors who were subject to Israel at that time. And he came and knelt before Jesus, the gospel says. He knelt down before Jesus and gave Him honor, just like the pagan three kings. Foreigners were coming to Jesus now. And Jesus was going to heal his servant, and the man said, “You don’t need to. In fact, I’m not worthy that you come unto my hut”, whatever that was back where he lived. He honored Jesus so much by his faith, he said, “All you need is to say the word and my servant will be healed.” And they said at that moment he was healed, they found out later.
So the apostles were learning about Our Lord. These are powers not possible according to physical laws, biological laws that govern and surround us and limit our lives here on earth. For God these are not limitations, but for us they are, and we have to observe them. You don’t jump out of the third floor and expect to fly, because you are not a bird. The gravity will pull you to the earth and crush your skull and you will die. We have to respect the laws of nature. But God is not limited. He created nature. As He can change the old law to a new law, he can change matter that He created, and create an eye for a boy that was born without it, as we learn later.
And today’s miracle is very interesting because Jesus was asleep. How often do you feel constraint, all the things around you just crushing in upon you, threatening you. It could be people’s anger, hatred, gossip that is false witness, damaging your reputation and you could lose your job. We can be surrounded by a lot of evil and threats, just like the apostles were at that moment. The elements, the air and the water were revolting, they were shaking and the boat was getting filled. They were running scared. And Jesus was asleep. How often do you feel that even in great difficulty, and you pray and you pray, you pray and you feel like you are not being heard. You say God is asleep. He is not. Remember St. Monica had to pray 28 years, that’s a lifetime. That’s a generation. And for all those years she had to pray, and she didn’t give up as the Lord says so. If you persevere and it’s good, that what you ask for, God will be given to you in His time, not in ours. God will not be manipulated. God will do what He freely wishes to do. He is God. He is not the next-door neighbor that we can say Hi. He is Lord.
And yet He loves us so much that He would save the apostles from perishing. But notice what Jesus did, the first thing He said. It was a teaching moment for the apostles, because they were panicking and they had no faith. Not enough that would matter. They were moved by the elements and did not know that Jesus was in the midst of them, even though He was there. They saw Him. Now we don’t see Jesus. Jesus has gone to heaven 2000 years ago. He is not here. That’s why Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are you because you have seen and you believe. More blessed are those who have not seen and who believe”. And that means you. You and I are called to faith, because faith is the power, the only power we have that can connect us with God. Faith, which is available to us human beings, weak as we are, faith can connect to the infinite supernatural God above which is beyond our limitations. We can be united with God. That is why it is so important that Jesus said, “Faith. Unless you have faith, you will not enter into heaven”. In fact, those who do not believe are already condemned. There is nothing more severe than this sentence that Jesus spoke. Baptism is not that severely critical as faith. Many people were saved without being baptized in the water. Jesus said to the man next to him on the cross, “Today you shall be in paradise.” He was a thief, a robber, whatever else sins he committed. But because of his faith in Jesus and his love for Jesus, he was rewarded. He said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
So you see, faith has power to connect you with God, to bring you to oneness. And if you reflect on your faith, you will be grateful. There is nothing more precious we can have as a human being, as faith is. That’s why we have in today’s epistle St. Paul talking to us to be sure that we have this love for our neighbor because in it everything is fulfilled. But this love presumes that you have faith. If you don’t have faith, you cannot love anyone for the sake of God while he is your enemy. Only your faith in God, in Jesus Christ, can give you that power to love, even those who offend you, or cut you off, or wish evil on you. Just pray for them and your name will be great in heaven. Because if you greet only those and you do good to only those who do the same, what’s the merit in that? The pagans do that without faith. That’s common sense. I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine. Big deal. “Where is the merit?” Jesus said. It’s in the sacrifice that you are willing to forget yourself, your needs or your hurts and reach out and help others, and be available when a husband is hurting or a child is hurting, while you are hurting you can still help. That requires a profound faith in Our Lord. This is what is needed for Christian charity, Christian love, St. Paul talks about in the epistle. And if you have this faith, you have this supernatural divine love in your heart for your brothers, you, then, can hope to enter heaven, and not without it. And, as Jesus said and St. Paul repeats today, “The supernatural divine love for a neighbor that is able to forgive and forget and still help even your enemy, despite everything, without all the reasons, you could have the whole laundry list of reasons why you should not love him and like him, and you still do for the sake of God. That’s the kind of power which resides in the heart because it comes from God and St. John says, “Love is God and if you have love in your heart, you have God in your heart. God abides in him.” This is what you need to know, this is what you need to practice, get on your knees and ask God to strengthen your faith and be grateful and learn about your faith. Many people do not know their faith. Many Catholics become all kinds of denominations because they don’t know what they have in their faith. They never bothered to learn. They become Jehovah Witnesses. Most Jehovah Witnesses are Roman Catholics fallen away. Mexicans and Latin Americans coming to this country, they go and embrace Protestantism because they don’t hear in their churches about Jesus anymore. That cannot be with you, but it is with you if you don’t open your gospel daily and get to know Jesus as the apostles were learning about Him. We are called to know Jesus personally because He cares about you, even while you think He is asleep.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.