Tag Archives: Capernaum

Do you believe?

March 27, 2020

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Jesus asked Martha: “Do you believe?” (Jn 11:26), and she replied, “Yes” (Jn 11:27). That was then. This is now. The question that Jesus addressed to Martha two thousand years ago he addresses to each of us at this very moment, “Do you believe in me?”

What do you have to say to Jesus in reply? How would you put this in your own words? How firm would your statement be? What would your tone of voice be like? What would your posture be? Where would your eyes be focused?

Jesus had performed six signs or miracles up to this point in the Gospel of John, not in a prideful way to feed his ego, but to help people to believe in him. Jesus would prefer that we believe in him without seeing any miracles. He told the people of Capernaum in disappointment, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe” (Jn 4:48). Yet as a concession, Jesus acknowledged that his miracles proved that he is the Son of God, “If you do not believe in me, believe the works” (Jn 10:38).

Did Martha see any of these signs? Did the miracles that Jesus performed serve as the basis of her faith? Jesus performed four of his signs a long distance from where Martha lived. Jesus turned water into wine in Cana, cured the royal official’s son in Capernaum, fed the five thousand along the seashore, and walked on the water at the Sea of Galilee, all locations sixty to seventy miles from Martha’s home in Bethany. It is quite unlikely that she was an eyewitness.

Jesus performed two of his signs in Jerusalem. He cured a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years at the Pool of Bethesda and a blind man at the Pool of Siloam. Bethany is only two miles from Jerusalem, an easy walk, but it is rather unlikely that Martha witnessed these miracles either. She may have heard about them, but she probably did not see them.

When Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe?” it was before they had gone to the tomb and before he had raised her brother. Martha’s declaration, “Yes, Lord, I do believe,” came before the miracle, not after. She believed in the person, not the miracle. She said emphatically, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Jn 11:27). Jesus would say after his Resurrection, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29). Martha was blessed, indeed.

The question that Jesus addressed to Martha is preparation for Easter. At the Easter Vigil the catechumens will be asked, “Do you believe?” After their profession of faith, they will enter the waters of Baptism. At the Easter Masses the Creed is omitted. Instead, each person will be asked, “Do you believe?” in the renewal of baptismal promises. Every “I do” response is equivalent to saying, “Yes, Lord, I do believe,” and then all will be sprinkled with holy water.

What do you have to say in reply to Jesus today? What will you say on Easter? If your faith feels a little shaky, it is acceptable to look to the works that Jesus has done, not only the miracles that he performed two thousand years ago, but the signs and wonders that he has worked in your life in the past as well as the signs and wonders that he is doing for you now. If you look, there will be many items on your list, some small, some big, some ordinary, some incredible, all divine blessings given to you in order that you might believe.

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Repent!

January 17, 2017

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SermonOnTheMountWhat a way to begin a speech!

Jesus is not your average public speaker.  Most acclaimed orators at a major convention begin their presentation with a series of polite opening remarks.  It is customary to honor visiting dignitaries, welcome the crowd, and offer glowing compliments about the organization or the host city, all to win the attention and approval of the audience.

Jesus could have begun, “Most reverend rabbis” or “Good people of Capernaum.”  He might have said something like, “How wonderful that we have gathered together here on this gorgeous day along the scenic shores of the Sea of Galilee.”  Jesus would have no idle chatter.  He cut straight to the chase.  The first word of his preaching was, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), a brave and bold command.  What a first impression!  It might not have won the crowd’s approval, but they perked up and took notice.

Jesus was never one for being politically correct.  He was no reed swaying in the wind.  He was a prophet, the Prophet, and he embodied the truth.  A prophet can see laxity, corruption, unfaithfulness, and evildoing, and refuses to look the other way.  There is no wiggle room when it comes to the truth, goodness, and holiness.  The bar must never be lowered.  The people and their leaders had strayed.  Their plight was dismal.  Their situation was urgent.  A prophet does not mince words.  Jesus did not want the people to like him.  He wanted to save them.  Out of deep love and sincere concern for their spiritual welfare, his first word was audacious and unapologetic:  “Repent.”

Repent is not a polite, soft invitation.  It is judgmental, challenging, and confrontational.  It says, “You are in a bad place” and “You are headed in the wrong direction.”  It is a reprimand, a scolding.  It is the sort of comment that would raise the ire of his listeners.  They would have likely retorted, “Get lost!”  “Mind your own business!”  Jesus was not about to leave, and their wellbeing was his first order of business.

Jesus knew that his listeners, all sinners, would be offended.  That is why he would later say, “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (Mt 11:6).  His listeners would need to get past their initial anger, denial, defensiveness, and stubbornness.  An honest self-appraisal would reveal that Jesus was right, that sin was present, and that change was desperately needed, but change does not come easily.  Sinners regularly prefer self-destructive sinful behavior to healthy, wholesome behavior.  Jesus’ call to repent is a call to change.

Spiritual directors and counselors have a saying, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”  If we keep doing the same old things the same old ways, we will get the same old results.  Each person is a sinner, both those in Jesus’ original audience and each of us today.  If we are sinners, something has to change.  We must repent or our sins will persist.  Without change, there can be no increase in righteousness or growth in holiness.

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