January 24, 2018

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 28, 2018, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

(Click here for today’s readings)

At the end of this Gospel passage it would appear that Jesus is now poised to embark on a great career. He is rapidly becoming a celebrity.

There are lots and lots of famous people in the world, from the international to the local scene, in every field you can imagine. A few, commonly called “personalities,” may simply be “famous for being famous.” Most have caught people’s attention by doing something never (or rarely) done before (like medical miracles, sports records, technology, etc.), or by doing something in a totally new, interesting or exciting way (as in literature, music, and the arts in general).

It also helps to be in the right place at the right time and to be noticed by the right people. But you still have to be the “right person” with the “right stuff.” Then you can make a big impression, and have people “astonished” and “amazed,” as we read in the Gospel.

Fame, of course, comes and goes. Persons and things popular in one generation are ignored or even mocked in the next. Yesterday’s stars are often today’s has-beens; how many child actors, for example, have a great career in their adult life? We are more likely to see them on a “Where are They Now?” segment on the news.

Jesus, then, is poised to become a Superstar. You may remember the controversy surrounding the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, sparked in particular by a comment attributed to lyricist Tim Rice: "It happens that we don't see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place.” Therein, precisely, lies the problem of seeing Jesus as a Superstar.

What’s missing? Faith.

No one in today’s Gospel story expresses faith in Jesus. People express astonishment at the authority with which he teaches. They are amazed at his power to cast out an unclean spirit. But that’s all, so far at least. Not even the unclean spirit has faith; it already knows who Jesus is.

Fame and faith are very different things. I may be astonished and amazed at a magician’s tricks, but the only faith I place in him is in his ability to trick people. I may be astonished and amazed at a politician’s oratorical skills, but I might have faith only in his ability to persuade.

But only faith makes sense of the whole life and ministry of Jesus. Only faith makes sense of St. Paul’s recommendation that it would be better not to marry, just as only faith makes sense of the vow of celibacy in Religious Life and Priesthood. Otherwise, why would anyone make such an astonishing choice?

Only faith recognizes the prophet not only as an astonishing speaker and amazing wonder-worker, but also as an astonishing and amazing man of God.

Look at the saints. Some were astonishing and amazing nuns and monks hidden away in their cloisters, with a vow of silence. Others were astonishing and amazing advocates and servants of the poor, speaking out in the cause of justice and peace.

Many such contrasts could be drawn. They have only one thing in common, and that is faith. Everything else in a saint’s life flows from that relationship with the Lord.

Fame is not a bad start. The danger of fame, however, is that it can lead us to place our faith in ourselves, and that is a kind of hardening of the heart. Once we have people’s attention, it can be really hard to remember that it’s not about us!

In another place Jesus tells us to let our light shine. The challenge is to help people see where that light really comes from, that it isn’t really our light at all.

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