Suppose Jesus visits you today and asks you two questions. First, what message did the priest deliver in Sunday’s homily? Second, what did you do to follow through with what was said? How many of us would pass the test?
God spoke a Word to each of us this past Sunday. Maybe it was a word that came through one of the Scripture readings, or maybe it was a message delivered in the homily. How seriously did we take his Word for us, and how well did we follow up on it?
If God sent an angel to do some data collection in our city, what percent of the people would score well in their answers to Jesus’ questions?
In my parish the priest talked about how generous God is in sowing his Word in our lives. Surely some of it would find rich soil inside us to take root and grow. He asked us if we are living such an insanely busy life that we don’t have time to pray, listen, and let his precious Word sink into the ground of our hearts. He challenged us to take time to be alone with the Lord and learn to be sensitive to the seeds of grace that he is sowing in our lives. So, we ask, what percent of the people at that Mass took this homily to heart?
What would God’s reaction be to the angel’s report on our cities? Would he be pleased or would he be disappointed?
Today we read about how Jesus paused in his ministry and did an evaluation of three cities where he had worked. Each of these cities flunked the test, big time (Matthew 11:20-24).
“Jesus began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you’”
Towns of Israel that had a heavy exposure to the signs and wonders performed by Jesus may have been impressed by his works, but they didn’t take them to heart. On the whole they refused to repent. The Gentile coastal towns, on the other hand, that had little exposure to Jesus, had a higher approval rating from God than did the towns of Israel where Jesus preached. Had Gentile towns been visited by Jesus, the people would have rejoiced and repented the way Nineveh did when Jonah preached there.
Jesus continued his reproaches. Even the town where he had a home and set up his base of operation—the town where he did most of his ministry—failed the test. He hit them hardest of all:
“And as for you, Capernaum: Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the nether world. For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”
Even that cesspool of evil, Sodom, would have responded better to the works of Jesus than Capernaum did. The people of that city would have repented had Jesus visited them.
Back to the angel’s survey. Where would my city fit into the picture? We have hundreds of churches in our city—the Word of God is preached every Sunday and sometimes during weekdays. Is the seed finding enough rich soil to produce fruit? Does God feel like he’s wasting his time with us? Would our cities fall into the Chorazin-Bethsaida-Capernaum category?
Though we don’t like the idea, Jesus, periodically, does an evaluation of our lives. He has blessed us with seed in abundance and is checking out the harvest. Is he consoled with what he finds? Are we keeping our soil rich so that every Word that comes forth from God finds a home in us?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being reproached. I’d rather get my act together now, so that when Jesus starts doling out “woes,” none of them come my way. The grace of repentance is always available to me. God’s mercy cannot be contained and is always searching for a heart humble and contrite to receive it.
“Jesus, today I repent. By your grace change that part of me that lets God’s Word bounce off me like seed on a hardened path.”
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps 95:8).