Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – January 23, 2022
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19:8-10, 15; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
Captive, Enslaved, Poor
Last Sunday we were talking about the incredible importance of Ordinary Time—how it gives us time to grow in Faith. And again, not just “believing God exists,” or that “Jesus is real” (that’s not “faith”), but beginning to entrust our lives to Him, to God, to the Father. Ordinary Time is this time of growing is a real relationship with the living Jesus Christ—living and present among us!—of entrusting our life to him, making him the center of our lives, the number one factor in all of our decisions, the person our life revolves around.
And so we talked about how marriage is the perfect metaphor for this. The person you marry is the one you have entrusted your life to, the person that your life revolves around. It took a while to reach a point where you were willing to entrust your life to them, to marry them. And even once you’re married, it wasn’t automatic: it takes work to maintain that relationship; it takes a lot of intentionality to place them at the center of your life, always factoring them into your decisions (because sometimes you just want to do what you want to do). But you know how much happier and fulfilled you are when you both live this life of going all in on this relationship, instead of holding back, and always fighting about who is going to get their way.
And it’s the same with Jesus Christ, with God: we believe He exists, but it’s another thing to reach a point that we’re willing to entrust our life to Him, our entire life; it’s one thing to go to Mass, but it’s another thing to very intentionally place Him at the center of our life, of every decision we make. How do we reach a point where we can do that? How do we get to the point where we know Jesus can be trusted and that we are not only begrudgingly doing what he asks us, but we find new life and joy and happiness by giving him everything?
Jesus’ Mission: Healing, Freedom, and Rest
This is what the Gospels are constantly trying to lay out for us, Luke’s Gospel in particular. Luke sets out to write this “orderly account” of what happened with Jesus. Why? So that we can have certainty about him. Luke gets it: we aren’t about to entrust our lives willy-nilly to some random guy. We need to know he can be trusted, that we can entrust our lives to him, and that by entrusting our lives to him the truest and deepest desires of our heart will be fulfilled.
And so after giving the story about Jesus birth and his baptism and his temptations in the wilderness, Luke picks up the story at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry: this famous scene where Jesus walks into the synagogue of his home town of Nazareth. He picks up the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and reads the prophecy about the anointed figure God would send, how this person is going to bring “good news.” And what’s the “good news”? That he brings rest. And not just any rest, but the ultimate rest that has evaded us for forever. Rest from our work, our work of constantly trying to give ourselves everything, provide for ourselves, make ourselves happy, fulfill ourselves. The good news is that this strange captivity we have found ourselves in, this captivity to constant work, is coming to an end—but will come to an end through our relationship with this Jesus, by entrusting our lives to him.
The Great Deception & Our Constant Captivity
A couple years ago I flew to Chicago to visit some of my classmates from seminary. And as I was on the plane, this young, very well-dressed man, probably about thirty-five years old, sat down next to me. And I was just wearing normal clothes, so he didn’t know I was a priest. And if you know me, I’m not real chatty on airplanes—but he sat down next to me and just immediately started talking. He was very excited, just incredibly happy! You know, like when something really great happens and you just want to tell people? Well, lucky for me, he sat down next to me. He was a news broadcaster, and he had just received a big promotion, going to Chicago.
After he had shared his news, he asked me, “So, what do you do?” And I said, “I’m a Catholic priest.” And, as usual, people really don’t know what to say to that—I looked even younger back then, so I think “Catholic priest” was about the last thing he expected me to say. But he was a professional, works on camera, so he recovered quickly. And he asked, “That seems like it would be tough. Are you happy?” And I said, “Yeah.” And a little confused he said, “Huh. Why?” And so quickly I turned it around on him. I asked, “Well, are you happy?” And he said, “Well, yeah!” And I asked, “Why?” And he said, “I have a beautiful girlfriend, I have a nice house, a nice car. I just got a great new job up in Chicago, and a huge raise.” And so I asked again, “So you’re happy and fulfilled?” And then, he just got really quiet, and tears started to well-up in his eyes…and then for the rest of the flight he told me about how miserable he was. He told me about all the ways that (even though he had a woman, money, fame—even though he had all of this)—he told me about all of the ways that he felt like his life had no meaning, that he felt like something was missing, and he couldn’t explain it; he worked so hard and had accomplished so much, but felt empty and unfulfilled.
From time immemorial, from Adam and Eve themselves, we have fallen for the great lie, a great deception; there in the beginning, humanity fell for a simple but powerful lie. The great strategy of the Devil isn’t to try to possess you like some exorcist movie. His great strategy is to deceive you, and to turn you against God. And the lie goes something like this: “God is not a father, or at least not a good father. And you can’t trust Him. And He’s holding out on you. And He does’t really love you. And if you would just be done with Him, you could finally find happiness.” That’s not just what he did with Adam and Eve, but that’s what he does with you and me, in every temptation: he casts God in suspicion, and tells us that God is not to be trusted. And he tells us instead to trust in ourselves, to work hard, to provide for ourselves—that we can give ourselves everything.
Rest from the Ancient Servitude that Hold Us Bound
St. John Vianney famously spent hours each day hearing confessions (5, 10, 15 hours a day!). And once he was asked about what he learned from his many years of listening to confessions. And all he said was, “People are much sadder than they seem.” That’s all he said: “People are much sadder than they seem.” Why? Because people are held bound and caught in this great deception—what we call the Condition of Sin. From time immemorial we have fallen for this great lie, and it continues to play out even to this day.
This lie is what stands behind what that guy on the plane felt: he had everything he ever wanted, but was left feeling that life had no meaning, feeling miserable and unfulfilled. And that’s what St. John Vianney meant. We can live our lives according to this lie, and have a lot of happiness, a lot of success, a beautiful house and family and whatever—we can have a great life! But we’re left with that nagging feeling that there could be so much more—and we’re left weary and sad.
“Sins” aren’t just bad things we do; sins are just symptoms of this problem. Our sins are all the ways, all the evidence for us falling for that great lie—for us saying, “Yeah, I believe God exists, but I’m not going to entrust my life to him.” Sins are all the ways we seek fulfillment in all the wrong ways. And that’s what St. John Vianney meant: in their confessions, people continued to admit to him all the ways they tried to prove that the lie they fell for wasn’t a lie—but were only left broken, unfulfilled, and tired. They came looking for rest from all of this.
So when Jesus arrives on the scene, the first thing he does is read the great prophecy, announce that he brings Good News: God’s great promise to send someone to give us this rest, to heal us and set us free from this ancient servitude—this Scripture passage is fulfilled. He is here. And the rest and healing and freedom we seek is found in our relationship with Him, by entrusting our lives to Him. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
All of this means entrusting our lives to him, though. We can believe all we want about Jesus—but until we act on it, we’re no better off. And one of the biggest acts of faith we can make? Sunday rest. We live in the busiest times. Everything is vying for our attention. There are so many things to do, so many activities our kids are involved in, so much. I get it. But oftentimes the first thing we sacrifice is Sunday—a day of rest. I think one very concrete and practical way of entrusting your life to Jesus, and giving him the opportunity to prove himself to you, is by giving him this one day each week. Making each and every week, and then each and every Sunday, revolve around and center on the Mass. It seems like a random thing, but everything in your life begins to change when your life revolves around this day, and this hour.
Here is this day where the Church teaches us to rest. And why? Because it is on this day that the Lord will begin to heal us, to fulfill us, and to give us the rest we can’t seem to give ourselves. It is on this day that Jesus rose from the dead, the day he begins to give us a newness of life that we cannot give to ourselves. But the questions is will we center our lives on this day and this Mass, or just make it one more “thing” we try to squeeze in each week?
Coming to Mass on Sunday isn’t just an obligation, something that we have to do, another “job” we have to do each week just to try to keep ourselves out of hell, no. The Mass is the time when Christ begins to recreate us, to renew us, and to give us rest. Here in this Eucharist, Jesus comes to heal us, to renew us, and to give us rest. When we entrust ourselves to Him in this small way, everything else begins to change too.