One Heck of a Story – Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A

Mark Link, SJ

Fr. Mark Link, SJ

There were many newsworthy events this past week
and there are many more going on this weekend;
but there’s one event that happened this past Wednesday
that you probably didn’t hear about:
one of the world’s best-selling authors passed away at the age of 92.

They say that if a book sells more than 20,000 copies in a year,
then it’s in the top one percent of all book sales.
This author sold over 10 million copies of his books.
And yet, despite being so successful,
you probably didn’t hear about it on the nightly news,
or see his obituary on Facebook or Twitter.
And that’s because Fr. Mark Link was a quiet, unassuming priest
who was more interested in sharing the good news
than in sharing the limelight.

Fr. Mark wrote over 75 books in his lifetime,
most of them about praying with scripture.
And when he turned 80, he didn’t stop writing,
but instead talked his nephew
into helping him set up his own inspirational website
called StayGreat.com.
The website’s theme is,
“God made you great. Stay great.”

Fr. Mark continued writing even up until his last days.
When he was asked what motivated him to keep writing, he said,
“Writing…is one of the greatest ministries…
As Christians we’ve got one heck of a story to tell.
That’s what I’m trying to do.”

In today’s gospel,
Matthew continues telling this “one heck of a story.”
He cites the prophet Isaiah,
the very reading we heard first today,
saying that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy:
“the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light.”
This is good news!
In Fr. Mark’s words, this is “one heck of a story.”

We’re at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
Today we start our continuous reading of Matthew.
From now until the end of November
we’ll read the Gospel According to Matthew straight through,
interrupted only by the seasons of Lent and Easter.

Today’s gospel lays the foundation for the entire year.
In fact, we get the entire gospel in a nutshell.
In this passage from Matthew we hear the core of Jesus’ message,
a message that he will explore, and explain
throughout his ministry:
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

That is a sentence worth committing to memory,
worth meditating on,
worth sharing with our family and friends.

All that Jesus does, all that Jesus says,
is contained in that one concise sentence,
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

When Jesus says, “Repent,”
he is talking about a change of heart, a change of mind.
A transformation.
Repentance is turning away from sin
and turning toward the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Kingdom of Heaven is God acting in our lives, here and now.

Each and every time we hear from Matthew on the Sundays of the year,
Jesus will either be telling us how to change our hearts,
or he will be describing what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.

One time Jesus will say that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for the vineyard.
Another time he’ll say
the Kingdom of Heaven is like a king that gave a wedding feast.
And still another time, he’ll say
the Kingdom of Heaven is like ten virgins who took their lamps
and went out to meet the bridegroom.

But the core of Jesus’ message is that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
God is not some distant power who set up the universe and left it alone.
“God is acting now—this is the hour when God is showing himself in history
as its Lord, as its living God,
in a way that goes beyond anything seen before.”
Something new takes place,
and is continuing to take place in our own time.
When we hear that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,
it’s just as true today as it was when Jesus first spoke those words.

This is the gift that Jesus will continually preach and teach about,
this is the gift that Jesus will demonstrate by healing the sick.

And this gift requires a response from us: conversion.
Repentance.

It can be difficult to admit the need to change our lives.
It can be difficult to get ourselves motivated to be transformed.
We may feel that we are already converted,
that we have no need to repent.

But it was St. Bernard of Clairvaux who said,
“There are more people converted from mortal sin to grace,
than there are [people] converted from good to better.”

Both types of people are in need of conversion,
those who have drifted far away from God,
and those who are comfortably content with their relationship to God.

The second part of the gospel shows us good men doing good work.
From what we can tell from scripture,
Peter, Andrew, James and John,
were living good, productive lives.
They were faithful Jews and hard workers.

They weren’t bad men, godless men.
And yet Jesus sought them out and said, “Come after me.”
Peter, Andrew, James, and John respond immediately.
And Jesus helps them to move from good to better.

The same is true for us.
In today’s gospel God is speaking to each one of us.
Jesus says, “Come after me.”
“I know you’re good, I know you’re productive,
but there is so much more in store for you,
more than you can imagine.
That’s why I’m here.”
In other words,
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Today Matthew sets the stage for us
to be more deeply converted.
As the gospel unfolds throughout the weeks ahead of us,
Jesus will teach us by his words and actions
how to come after him and be transformed.

Conversion isn’t always the sudden and powerful experience
we see in today’s gospel,
or like St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.
More often it’s slow and gradual,
like water dripping in a cavern,
forming stalactites and stalagmites over decades.
But it does take a conscious effort and decision.

The invitation today is to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask,
“What is keeping me from deeper conversion?”
“What is preventing me from leaving all and following Jesus?”

One possible answer comes from Fr. Mark Link,
the 92-year-old author that hardly anyone has heard of.
In his book Vision he offers this reflection on today’s gospel:

Psychologist Abraham Maslow
had an interesting response
to the question of why so few people
leave all to follow a dream—
or to pursue a noble goal.
He said they are afraid to become
what they are capable of becoming.
They thrill at the possibility,
but they also shudder at it.

How do I respond to the thought
of stepping out in faith
and following Jesus more closely?

How do I react to the idea
of embarking on a noble goal with Jesus?

These are the questions to pray about this week:
“How do I respond to the thought of stepping out in faith?”
“How do I react to the idea of embarking on a noble goal with Jesus?”

Next week, Jesus will go up on the mountain,
and we disciples will gather here again and listen
as he begins his Sermon on the Mount.

What we heard in a nutshell today,
Jesus begins to break open next week.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Deacon Nick

Nick Senger is a husband, a father of four, and a Catholic school teacher, vice principal and technology coordinator. He taught junior high literature and writing for over 25 years, and has been a Catholic school educator since 1990. In 2001 he was named a Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the National Catholic Education Association.

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