The Thunderbirds Are Cool, but They Don’t Change Everything

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – September 9, 2018

Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS

Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146:6-10; James 2:1-5; Mark 7:31-37

I think we all have had those moments in life where we feel the need to run off and tell people all about what happened, tell people about the cool thing we just saw or amazing thing that happened to us. Easy example for this weekend is the Air Show at McConnell. I mean, come on, it is pretty easy to tell people about the Thunderbirds—they’re freaking amazing. This week they were practicing and kept buzzing the church, and I found myself, over and over again, telling people about it, asking them if they were going to go to the Air Show, or if they were going to pull up some chairs outside and watch. And some people said, “Oh yeah! I’m going!” And others couldn’t care less. And some others were just genuinely excited for me, because I was so excited about it, and said, “Cool! Wish I could have been there.” Either way, people’s lives were not altered, their lives didn’t change because I told them about something really cool going on.

This past week I also ran into a friend from seminary who now teaches history at Kapaun. And during the course of our conversation he mentioned just how bored his kids get in class, which he understands! Because if history isn’t your thing, it can be pretty boring. And to top that off, when I was visiting our students at Bishop Carroll the next day, several of them were mentioning just how boring history was. Their question was, “Why should we care about things that happened a long time ago and don’t even affect us?” Which, even though there is a bit of a misunderstanding about why we study history, they’re right: even though the actions or thought of a lot of people from history may be incredibly important and even still have an effect today—those people don’t directly affect us, they don’t determine how we live our lives. Even though we can tell people all about the important events of history, they can still respond: “Cool! Wish I could have been there,” or, “Yeah, I’m not really into that sort of thing.”

So here we go. Another day, and Jesus is working more miracles. The people bring Jesus a deaf man who also has a speech impediment and they beg him to heal this man. And so Jesus takes him off, and gets real hands-on with this healing: hands in his ears, spitting, touching his tongue, groaning. The man is healed. The people are astonished, they’re going crazy! This is amazing! They want to run off and tell people! But then Jesus orders them not to tell anyone. Why? Well, think about it. When you heard this Gospel today, when you heard that Jesus has healed another person, what went through your head? Were you astonished? Did you head for the door to tell people about how Jesus healed a guy? No. If you allow me a guess, you probably thought, pretty nonchalantly, “Oh yeah, healing deaf people. That’s cool. Wish I could have been there.” And then you sat down.

And this is why Jesus ordered people not to tell people! Imagine someone running up to you and saying, “There is this guy, and he walks around with some guys he found, and he can heal deaf people!” You would look at them and say, “Cool! Wish I could have seen it.” Or, you couldn’t care less. Or, maybe some of you would say, “Where at? I want to see for myself.” The point being: Jesus’ purpose isn’t to perform some cool miracles that people talk about. Yes, the miracles are incredibly important, but not because of their “wow factor.” But over and over again, that’s all people are interested in; they are merely interested in the surface level, on what it looks like.

But really, what Jesus is doing is so much deeper. Listen to our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, who is speaking about the restoration of Israel, the salvation of Israel by the Lord. How will the people of Israel know that the time of restoration and salvation have come? Well, when the Lord is here, then eyes of the blind will be opened, then the ears of the deaf will be cleared, the lame will leap like stags, and the mute will sing. The miracles of Jesus aren’t cool party tricks meant to dazzle us. No, the miracles are signs of the presence of God, of the time of restoration, of the Kingdom of God breaking into the world here and now. As Isaiah says in the reading, “Here is your God.” Here. Not out there, not back then, not in the future, not somedays but not others. No, here is your God! Think of his other prophecy that we’re probably a bit more familiar with: “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When the Lord is here, then he will perform his saving and restorative work. Only something that is here, here and now, can change us, can affect us, can save us.

What am I driving at? Precisely this: we don’t just have a nice memory of Jesus, a nice history book we read each Sunday, a story about some guy that walked the earth two-thousand years ago. No, we have a real, living, ongoing memory and awareness of his presence. One which changes our lives and opens us to a new horizon, a new way of living, a new way of seeing the world (c.f., Archbishop Pierre). The Gospel didn’t spread all the way to Spain and India in the first century because people liked hearing about some guy who worked a couple miracles in Palestine. Men and women and children were not literally laying down their lives for some guy they heard a cool story about. People don’t continue to give up their lives for some guy who did a few miracles. That’s not how it works.

It is Jesus Christ risen from the dead, his living and abiding presence here and now, even to this day, which gives our lives new meaning, new purpose, new hope. It is the Resurrection. “Ever since the day Peter and John ran to the empty tomb and saw him risen…everything can change. From then on and forever, a person can change, can live, can live anew” (Giussani).

Jesus ordered those people to keep quiet because they had not yet realized this, they had not yet seen why he had become man, he had not yet risen from the dead. People see amazing things all the time that don’t give new purpose, meaning, and hope to their lives; one more miracle isn’t going to change that. But the Resurrection does.

What will change us is the real, living, and abiding presence of the Lord, here and now, in our lives even to this day. That is what we hold in living memory at each and every mass: his death and resurrection, the new life he offers, his Presence here among us. Because he is present, because he isn’t just someone who lived two-thousand years ago, because He is the Lord present among us, everything can change…everything does change. Life has a new horizon, and our lives can be lived anew.

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