8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – February 27, 2022
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Sirach 27:4-7; Psalm 92:2-3, 13-16; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45
Jesus Christ Has Saved the World…right?
“Jesus Christ has saved the world! He is victorious!” You’re not clapping, not applauding. Why aren’t you are shouting “Amens” and “Alleluias,” or, “Praise be Jesus Christ!”? Of course not. We’ve heard about how Jesus has saved the world ever since we were kids, ever since we were little. But we’re not dumb, we have two eyes, we can look around us and see, “Well…things are still pretty messed up.” Even just this past week, less than one hundred years since the end of World War II, and once again a country thinks that trying to take over the world is going to work, going to be a good idea. “Jesus Christ has saved the world? That’s nice, but look around.” That’s what we think.
But here’s the thing: Jesus saves the world by changing, by transforming the human heart; your heart, my heart. What changes the world, what changes history is what changes the human heart—and that is Christ. When your heart is changed, when your heart is transformed, the world begins to transform. And like St. Paul, we begin to cry out, “Death, where is your victory. Death, where is your sting?…Thanks be to God who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The world changes when you (when I) are firm, steadfast, fully devoted to Jesus Christ, and allow him to transform our hearts, our lives.
But as we read and watch the news, it is easy to begin to doubt this. It is easy to begin to say, “No, the world will change when we implement a better government. The world will change when we finally have the right person in the White House. The world will change once people aren’t racist. The world will change once abortion is illegal.” This is easy to slip into. But it is not the method God has chosen.
The Method: A Scandalous Particular
The method God chose to save the world, to transform the world is scandalous. Here is this one guy, in the first century, in the most insignificant colony of the greatest empire of the world, in the most insignificant part of the most insignificant colony, and his biggest fan was his mom, and his friends were pretty unreliable, and his country ended up putting him to death.
Think about that. That is an awful plan to change the world, to save the world. This guy never traveled to Rome to confront the leaders of the world, he never fought a battle, he never had any kind of political power—what was he doing?! Doesn’t he know how to change things?? Get power, get into politics, start imposing better laws, fight the battles, destroy evil and injustice on a global scale! That’s how we have decided change will happen, the world will be saved. But that’s the blind leading the blind.
It’s scandalous, the method God has chosen. Scandalous! Jesus didn’t seem to do anything. He ended up dead, then he rose from the dead, and then he ascended into heaven leaving us to keep going in this world that is apparently saved, but doesn’t look too much different. And Russia is still about to start a third world war, and people are still racist, and abortion is still legal, and so on and so on.
And yet, the “saving” Jesus does, the victory Jesus wins, isn’t a large, broad-scale social change, no. It is a victory of the human heart. And this is what we truly need. The transformation Jesus desires is when you start to love your worst enemy, the person you disagree with, the person who annoys you, the one you are indifferent about. This is the transformation. This is where you will find joy. Let your heart be transformed, and you will change the world. Follow the Lord, allow him to transform your heart, and you will change the world. This is scandalous, but this is the way.
My Temptation: Go Figure It Out and Do the Most Good I Can Do
I’ve told you before, but my original plan was not to be a priest. I wanted to be a doctor. I was going to go to med school, get into pediatric oncology, start a free clinic in Wichita. This clinic would then be the model for many others, finally allowing everyone access to the best quality healthcare. What a plan. It was going to change the world.
But then, God revealed his plan to me. He said he wanted me to be a priest. And then He said He wanted me to be the pastor in Lyons, KS. Hello! I was going to save thousands of lives, transform thousands of lives, millions of lives, change healthcare, change the world! And now I’m a priest in a small, rural Kansas town? What? “Seems like a dumb plan, God.”
What if I stood up here and said, “I’m leaving tomorrow. I’ve enlisted in the Ukrainian military and I’m going to go fight to put an end to war, to bring peace!” What if I said, “I’m leaving tomorrow to get into politics. I’ll finally be able to do some good!” Would that fix anything? No. In prayer and in my own discernment—for whatever reason, for whatever plan He is working on—the Lord has called me to be here, in this place, in these circumstances. I will change the world to the degree that I am faithful, that I allow my heart to be transformed, that I continue to follow the path He has laid out for me.
A Presence That Saves
And it’s just true. Look around, look throughout human history. Where has the world changed? Where has history changed? Where there was a person who had been transformed, when there was a witness of a new humanity, a transformed life. And when people came in contact with them, with this presence that attracted them, that provoked them—everything changed. This presence made them ask, “Who is this man? Who is this woman?” And everything changed.
St. Paul lived in a world where slavery and racism and xenophobia were fine. So did he say, “Well, things are never going to change. Can’t do anything about it.” No. Did he say, “Let’s fight! Let’s stage a revolt and overthrow Rome and finally set things right?” No. His own heart was transformed, and he lived his life calling others to this same transformation. For example, in Paul’s letter to Philemon, Paul sends Onesimus, a runaway slave, back to Philemon, back to his master and owner. But in the letter, Paul encourages Philemon to welcome him back, “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother…in the Lord” (Phm 16). In the ocean of slavery of the Roman Empire, Paul makes this simple gesture. But this simple gesture, and presumably Philemon’s change of heart—this was the beginning of the “way,” the “mind of God,” to eliminate slavery.
Paul lived in a world where abortion was fine. He never once brought it up. In a document over a hundred years after Paul, the Letter to Diognetus, we find one line about it. Actually, half a line. The Letter says, “Like others, [Christians] marry and have children, but they do not expose them.” That’s it. Nothing more. Were early Christians less pro-life? Were early Christians any less appalled by abortion and child sacrifice? No. But the way the early Christians began to change the world was not through political and legal imposition, but through living life in a new way, through remaining faithful to the transformation they had experienced.
Mother Theresa: her witness transformed the world. Why? Because Christ was at work in her, because her Faith in him was so complete. People saw this little lady, and the question was always, “Who is this woman? What happened to her that she is like this?” She never tried to change the world, only to serve the poor she found in her own neighborhood. And yet because her own heart was transformed, because of her faithfulness to the circumstances in which the Lord had placed her, she did.
St. Maximilian Kolbe. He steps out of line in at Auschwitz to take the place of a man condemned to death. The first question out of the guard’s mouth, “Who are you?” Who is this man? Why is he doing this?” Maximilian Kolbe’s heart was transformed. And it changed the world.
And we could go on and on. But look: where has the world changed? It has changed where the human heart has changed, where one heart had been transformed. It’s easy to play armchair quarterback on large global issues, but it’s harder to confront the challenges you face in your own life, your family, your circumstances—but that’s precisely the place the Lord wants to transform, the place he wants to save.
This Lent: Allow Your Heart to Be Transformed
As Lent begins this Wednesday, and as we journey toward the great celebration of Easter—the celebration that Jesus has saved the world—many of us are going to give up candy, give $5 to the guy on the street, and pray an extra “Hail Mary” when we remember. But that which changes the world is what changes the human heart: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good.”
Allow Jesus to transform your heart this Lent, and that will change the world. Spend time prayer, in adoration, in silence—listen and beg the Lord to transform your heart, to transform your life, and He will open the door, He will use you to change the world. He will use your fidelity and your love in these concrete circumstances to change the world.