The readings have something in common: powerlessness.
The prophet Ezekiel in the first reading
is powerless to change the hearts of his countrymen;
Saint Paul is powerless over his “thorn in the flesh,”
whatever that might have been.
And even our Lord Jesus—who is King and Lord—
seems to be powerless to awaken faith in the hearts of his hometown.
The Gospel says: “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.”
Why was Jesus “not able”? It goes on to say:
“He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
Of course Jesus could have cured anyone he wanted.
But Jesus did not come merely to give out physical healings.
He came to awaken faith. And not everyone wants faith.
This brought to mind the complicated story of the Old Testament.
Although this is an over-simplification,
the Old Testament shows God, in effect, trying everything.
He scattered them from the city of Babel.
Noah built the ark of safety while God sent a flood.
He called Abraham to a fresh start in a new land and worked with him.
When God rescued his people from slavery,
he showed them signs of power and deliverance.
He gave them a land where they had what they needed.
When that didn’t work, he sent them into exile.
Finally, the Father sent his Son.
People wonder: why doesn’t God just give us a sign—and we’ll believe.
But he has, over and over.
Not just in the Bible, but in all the centuries since.
If, today, the sky opened up, and God showed himself to the world,
and spoke with thunder and lightning, telling us he exists and what he wanted…
And if Fox and CNN all broadcast it live—the whole world saw it—
what do you think would happen?
Things would change…for a while.
But before long, it would all be back where it was.
So in a sense, God really is powerless,
because he refuses to do the one thing he’d have to do:
and that is to coerce our free will.
None of us wants to be powerless. It’s one of the worst things.
Your children go the wrong way—and you can’t stop it.
You suddenly feel a pain, and you don’t know what it is,
or how to deal with it.
You go to the doctor, and she doesn’t have an answer.
You’re out of work, and you don’t know when you’ll get another job.
You keep making the same bad decisions – about alcohol,
or about relationships, or about the Internet or drugs – over and over.
Right now, a lot of us are feeling powerless
over the direction of our country and our world.
We recall in history
how President Roosevelt declared war on the Axis Powers,
and our parents and grandparents dug in and won the war,
and saved the world from fascism.
We fought a long Cold War, and saw the Berlin Wall come down.
But now, we wonder if we ever see the defeat of Jihadist terrorists?
Meanwhile, we’re hurt—and a lot of us are angry—
to see our government and our culture
turning against God’s plan for marriage and family;
we see our society going down a road to ruin—
and we wonder if we can do anything to stop it.
It’s awful to feel powerless.
Where does this bring us? To the Cross!
Recall what happened when Jesus told Peter and the Apostles
about his impending death.
He said he would go to Jerusalem, suffer and die.
And Peter said, “God forbid, Lord!
No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
Do you remember what happened next?
Jesus “turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!
You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Why did the Lord react so harshly?
Because Peter – without knowing it – was offering a temptation.
A temptation to power.
Our nation is often tempted to use power—more money,
throw our weight around more, more war.
In our own lives, what do we do?
We raise our voices; we threaten; we bully.
We use violence. We cut corners. How’s it working?
We have a really hard time accepting
God’s plan of the Cross, rather than power.
When Jesus was arrested, what happened?
The Apostles scattered, and Peter denied he knew Jesus.
Later, when the Apostles shared the message,
what happened when they mentioned the crucifixion?
Here’s Saint Paul’s answer, in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“Christ crucified [is] a stumbling block to Jews
and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called,
Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
In the situations you and I face, whether it’s the world around us,
our country, our family or the battle for our own soul,
I have no other answer to give you, but this.
The first of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says this:
“We admitted to ourselves that we were powerless over our addiction—
our lives had become manageable.”
The second: “We came to believe
that only a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
And the third: “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives
over the care of God as we understood him.”
Or to quote Saint Paul one more time:
“the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
There’s only one place I can point you,
only one remedy anyone can offer.
We make our way to the Cross and we fall to our knees.
“Jesus, I am powerless over my sins!
Jesus, I am powerless over my family.
I am powerless over what my government is doing.
Over what is happening in our world. My finances!
The Internet! My health! I don’t know what to do!”
Get close to the crucified Jesus—in confession—in prayer—
in the Eucharist. That’s what we do.