Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Time of Fulfillment

There was a boy named Billy who had trouble fitting in with the other children at his school. Because he was constantly called names and being picked on, he learned to spend much of his time alone. One day, Billy was riding his bike in the park when he noticed one of his classmates sitting on a bench crying. He asked the boy what was wrong, and he told Billy how some older kids had ganged up on him and roughed him up. It left him feeling shaken and hurt. Billy told the boy that he knew how much it hurt to be picked on. And so, the two boys spent the rest of the afternoon in the park playing together. Billy was happy that he finally had a friend.

The next day at school, Billy was excited to see his new friend again. However, when he ran up to him in the bus line, the boy started to make fun of him along with his other classmates. Billy became upset and ran away crying. The boy ran after him and asked Billy, "Why are you crying? You never cried when I made fun of you before." Billy, wiping his face and holding back his sobs replied, "Yeah, but you were never my friend before!"

Each of us had a moment in our lives when Jesus went from being an historical figure or a character in a book to being a living person who knows us and loves us. At that moment, Jesus became our friend. And, like the boys in the story, being friends with Jesus meant we had to change. We could not go on living the way we had before.

Today's gospel reading from Saint Mark gives us the first words that Jesus ever preached: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." These three sentences give us in a nutshell what the life and ministry of Jesus is all about. First of all, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises of the Old Testament. Secondly, Jesus ushers in the kingdom of God which is God's victory over sin and death. And, finally, if we are going to be a part of this marvelous work of the Father in our midst, we must repent. We must change.

The first examples of the change required to follow Jesus comes in this same gospel reading when Jesus approaches Peter, Andrew, James and John as they are working on their nets along the banks of the Sea of Galilee. He challenges them to be his disciples: "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men." The four men are faced with a decision. It is clear to them that they cannot become friends and followers of Jesus and continue to live the way they had up to that point. They could either be disciples of Jesus or continue to be fishermen; but they could not be both. Following Jesus required a change. And so, they dropped everything to follow him.

In the first reading from the Old Testament, we find a similar situation. The prophet Jonah is sent by God to the pagan city of Nineveh. Their wickedness had set them on a path to certain destruction. Yet God wanted to show mercy to them. Jonah makes it clear that if they do not repent of their evil ways, they will soon meet catastrophe. The people take Jonah's words to heart and change their behavior. God could then begin to show mercy to them.

Following Jesus and believing in him changes us. When we realize that God created each of us in his image and likeness, then we begin to treat all people with love and respect. When we realize the depth of God's love for each person, we can no longer turn our backs on people when they need us. When we realize how much we have been forgiven by a merciful God, we begin to forgive those who hurt us no matter how great the offense. Friendship with Jesus transforms us from selfish, narrow-minded individuals into people who love truly from our hearts after the example of our Savior.

There is one thing that our friendship with Jesus cannot do, however. It cannot keep us from being sinners. No matter how close we grow to Jesus we will always be tempted to turn our backs on him in one way or another. No matter how long we may have followed him, we will always fall back into sin. But Jesus our friend is forgiving. He will always take us back no matter how we have offended him if we show him that we are sorry and are committed to changing. Though we can and do abandon him, he will never abandon us. Jesus is the most faithful of friends.

Jesus is always there for us to turn to in our time of need. When the bad choices we have made in our lives start catching up to us, Jesus is there to listen and to guide us back on the right path. If any of us wishes to know what life is like with Jesus as a friend, it is as simple as asking him to come into our hearts and our lives. Going to the sacrament of confession and laying out before God all the ways we have chosen the wrong path is an important place to start. Then the regret can give way to peace, the fear can give way to joy, and the hostility can give way to love. And we can say with so many others before us - What a friend we have in Jesus!

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