Jesus really knew how to draw a crowd. Wherever He went, people would come by the hundreds and thousands from the surrounding towns to hear Him speak. Everyone who came had a different reason for seeking Him out. Some had heard about Him from their neighbors and wanted to see Him for themselves. Many sick people would seek Him out, sometimes carried in the arms of their loved ones, in hopes that He would cure them. Many wanted to see what miracles He might perform. Others were hungry for the word of God and sought Jesus out because, as today’s gospel tells us, he spoke with authority. Whatever their reason, everyone who encountered Him had the same reaction - amazement. Jesus was unlike anyone they had ever met and He never failed to make a life-changing impression on everyone He came in contact with.
Though it has been two thousand years since He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, Jesus continues to draw a crowd. On this day, throughout the entire world, over a billion Christians are gathering to worship. Like us, they are listening to His word and are continuing to have their hearts moved by His teaching. Like us, they will have a personal encounter with the Risen Lord through Holy Communion. In parishes all over the globe, Jesus continues to reach out to the lonely, the broken hearted, the sick and the anguished with His life-changing message.
As in Jesus time, there are many different reasons why we gather here today. Some of us are here out of a sense of obligation. Others of us want to make our parents or spouses happy. Many of us are searching for meaning and are looking to Jesus for answers. Some of us are looking for the life that can only come from receiving the Eucharist.
Whenever we come to Mass - indeed, whenever we pray - we should ask ourselves what it is we are looking for. What is the longing of our heart that only Jesus can satisfy? And what are my expectations for this hour that I will spend gathered with God’s people, listening to His word and receiving His Body and Blood? Do I expect to meet the Risen Jesus here and do I expect my life to be forever changed because of it?
When people came out to see Jesus, they were expecting miracles. In today’s gospel, He expelled a demon from a possessed man. Other times, He opened the eyes of the blind, made the lame walk and even raised the dead back to life. That will probably not happen here today, but I know that other miracles will take place. During this Mass, someone who is dead inside because of bitterness and sin will be raised to new life by asking Jesus into his or her heart. In this hour, someone who is blind to the needs of his or her neighbors will begin to feel compassion and sympathy for others. Someone who has been tormented by the demons of anxiety or depression will find peace by learning to trust that God will provide. These may not seem like great miracles, but they will make a world of difference to those who are touched by them. We may not be able to see it. Nonetheless, Jesus is here and is working in a powerful if hidden way among us.
Jesus drew crowds for one simple reason. The people whose lives He changed told other people about Him and they came to see for themselves. As today’s gospel tells us, “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.” Rather than keep His mighty deeds to themselves, they witnessed to others about what Jesus did for them.
The same is true today. If Jesus has changed your heart, if He has made a difference in your life, then tell someone about it. Do not keep it to yourself. Let others know how your burden has been lifted, how your eyes have been opened, and how your fears have been relieved. It could be that someone in your family or someone you work with is suffering in the same way you did. They cannot find the peace and joy that only comes in Jesus if we keep what He has done for us to ourselves.
In today’s world, we want to be careful when speaking about religion. We do not want to offend people, start arguments or cause hard feelings. However, when we talk about our personal experiences, the conversation takes on a softer tone. If I tell someone that I used to suffer from anxiety but have found peace by spending time every day in prayer, no one will find that offensive. If I tell a coworker that I used to have bitterness in my heart but that ever since I have been going to Mass I have found the power to forgive, how can anyone argue with that? Rather, it just might get our family and friends thinking about how they can have that joy, peace and strength for themselves. They might just pull us aside one day and ask to hear more. That will be our opportunity to point them to Jesus and invite them to find out for themselves what miracles he wants to work in their lives.
Whenever we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we should expect miracles to take place. All of us are in need of something from Jesus. Let us pray for one another that the Risen Lord will touch all of our hearts with the peace that only He can give. Let us also pray that we will find the opportunity and the courage to witness to others what Jesus has done for us so that His fame will spread throughout our families, schools and places of business. Then, like the people of Jesus’ day, we will leave this holy place amazed at the wonders that God performs in the midst of His people.