Friday, January 24, 2014

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A (Matthew 4:12-23) Repent and believe the Good News: the search for happiness

One thing that everyone has in common is the search for happiness.  Everyone wants and hopes to find happiness.  We may have very different ideas as to what happiness is, but we are all looking for it.  The biggest problem seems to be where to find it.  We will look for it in a partner, through children, through work.  When we fall in love we may think we have found it.  But if we persevere in a relationship we will realize that while it is great to have this other person with us, they won’t fulfill me completely either, because they cannot.  I am asking the impossible of someone if I expect them to completely fulfill me, because only God can do that.  Hopefully our happiness will begin in this life and we will have many happy times, but total fulfillment is in the next life.  I think that even to accept that much is a big step in the right direction.

When Jesus began his public ministry one of the first things he said was, ‘Repent and believe the good news’, or in today’s Gospel it says ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’  We usually understand the word ‘repent’ to mean, ‘ask forgiveness for sin and do some kind of penance.’  That is certainly part of what it means, but there is also more to it than that.  It can also be understood to mean, ‘change the direction in which you are seeking happiness.’  ‘Turn around and look in the right place.’  Jesus is telling us that we certainly aren’t going to find happiness if we look in the wrong place, which sounds obvious enough.  And then he also says, ‘and believe the good news.’  What is the good news?  It is the message that God is interested in us and that God has created us to be happy, but we will only find that happiness in God.

You know the way it says in many of the Gospel passages, ‘Jesus was speaking to the people when a man came up who was sick…’ or ‘Jesus was preaching the word to them, when…’  What was Jesus saying to the people all those times that He preached to them?  No doubt He was teaching them about God and about how God relates to us and explaining why God invites us to follow a certain path and what that path involves. That path is the one that leads to God, which is where we will find happiness.

Now part of that path is the need to turn from sin and to ask for forgiveness, because sin is what will come between us and God and can prevent us from finding that happiness.  That is why Jesus was so strong about the need to turn away from what is wrong.  ‘If your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off... or if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out!  It is better to enter heaven without one hand than to lose that happiness.’  This is an exaggerated way of speaking, in order to make a point, just like we say, ‘I’ll kill you if you do that again!’  Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t let anything cause you to lose the happiness that God has for you,’ because nothing is worth it.

We are up against the difficulty of the world around us telling us that we will not be happy if we don’t live a certain way, or if we don’t have a certain lifestyle, or certain material things.  And we are bombarded with these ideas day and night.  But who are we going to listen to:  the Son of God, or our society?  God is telling us to make sure we look for happiness in the right place, so that we won’t be disappointed.

They say that 96-98% of the population suffers from addiction to something.  What is addiction but the search for happiness gone badly wrong, where we become obsessed with something thinking that we will die without it, or be totally unhappy without it, be it alcohol, drugs, work, or whatever.  The interesting thing is that the only program that is known to really be effective in helping people to overcome addictions is the twelve step program.  That program is the Christian life in twelve steps.  Even just the first few steps:
  1. We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol (or sin)—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves (God) could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. (Repentance)

The truth is that all of us are addicted to sin.  We are all drawn to what we know is not good for us and will probably lead us further from God.  And what God is telling us is that this is not a problem if we continually turn to him.  He is the way out and the way forward and most importantly, it is only in him we will find full happiness.

As Jesus began his public ministry he also began calling people to follow him and become his instruments to pass on this message after he had gone back to heaven.  First he called the Apostles.  They in their turn ordained more Apostles who also enlisted priests and many lay men and women.  Why was it so important that this message be passed on?  Because this was and is the message that tells us what our life is about, why we are here, where we are going, and that we have been created for happiness.  The most complete happiness awaits us if we keep turning back to God.  As we grow closer to God in this life, things also begin to make more sense.  That is why the Apostles were willing to give up everything, even their own lives, in order to pass on this message, just as countless men and women have done throughout the centuries.  They understood that this was it, this was what everyone needed to hear and so they dedicated the rest of their lives to preaching this message of Christ so that all of us could hear it.

Today we continue to try and pass on that same message, so that all people may know what God has created us for and so that we have a sense of what our life is about.

‘Repent and believe in the good news.’ 
Change the direction in which you are seeking happiness.

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