Sunday Scriptures

Christ Must Be First and Foremost

by Father Caleb Buchanan,

SOME OF THE MOST beautiful sermons, homilies and reflections on the Scriptures were written by the Fathers of the Church. Their sermons would make mincemeat out of a lot of the mega-church, “feel-good,” “prosperity Gospel preaching” that floods T.V. on Sundays and brings billions of dollars into expanding Christian multimedia empires.

St. Augustine, one of the four great Doctors of the early Roman Church, raised preachments to heaven that radiate the fullness of the mystery of Christ exposing the incompleteness of much of this non-Catholic preaching.

He once wrote a magnificent prayer celebrating the stellar teaching rendered by Jesus to His disciples as they were distressed by their boat being tossed upon the waves as recounted in the Gospel: “Though we toss upon the waves, thou dost steer, thou who standeth at the helm of all things thou hast made!”

In all things, God remains in the infinite depths of His most generous and compassionate being, the “Providentissimus Deus,” the Most Provident God. As the Most Provident God who orders all things, numbers the days, and ordains that “all things” are “to work together for those who love God,” He calls us to cherish His vision for our lives, discipleship and Christian service as the extension of His perfect providence in the world.

Until this realization consumes our lives, our acts of faith will never be fully robust, our discipleship will never be consistently fervent, and our service will never reach the heights of what the late Hans Urs Cardinal Von Balthasar called “saving performance” in the “theo-drama” of our soul’s journey in the history of salvation.

Full Throttle Belief
In today’s first reading from the Book of Jonah, the prophet Jonah fails to appreciate the perfection of God’s providential vision and initiative in sending him to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. Jonah does not believe that his prophetic preaching will turn the hearts of his listeners to a spirit of repentance. But the Lord does use Jonah’s preaching to move the Ninevites to repentance. How unfulfilling it must be to accept work from God believing that it is a waste of time! Optimal Christian living and service begins with full throttle belief in the power of God’s Providence at work in sacred assignments laid before us.

The Psalmist in Psalm 25 sees the providence of God with a much more optimistic outlook. The author understands that though he is a sinner, the Lord can move through him as he praises Him. The Lord can and does bestow His kindness and mercy on us who call on Him. The Psalmist understands that He can depend on the Lord to achieve healing in his life because God’s forgiveness and compassion is always providentially at work for those who fully and truly believe in Him.

The Lord Jesus Christ, in His humanity and earthly ministry, identifies, chooses and calls His disciples and Apostles with the authority of the absoluteness of God’s Providence in their lives. They, as we see in today’s Gospel from St. Mark, gave up everything to follow Him. Wow!

How far have the “hearers of God” come from the half-hearted and small-minded response of Jonah before Nineveh’s repentance! To understand the marvel of the first disciples’ and Apostles’ affirmative faith response to the invitation of Jesus, we have to fast-forward from these early days in the building of the Kingdom to the empty tomb: “They saw and they believed!”

We know the disciples and the Apostles were not perfect. We know they struggled with Jesus’ Gospel preaching at key, pivotal and transitional moments. We know that they even would question and block Him from moving to the sacrificial pilgrimage to and from Jerusalem. But we also know that the God of Jesus Christ is the God of Divine Election, Divine Sovereignty, Divine Appointment and Divine Assignment. We know that in His Providence, He knew these first followers and Apostles more than they knew themselves and anyone else knew them. He knew they all had one thing in common: They were seized by His “Mysterium, Tremens et Fascinans!”

Seized by the Mystery of God
These fishermen and the others who immediately said “yes” and followed Jesus Christ of Nazareth, giving up everything to follow Him, were seized by the fact that in Him was the human embodiment and perfect expression of “Mysterium,” the Mystery of God, who made us and fulfills us perfectly as we discover that He is the One who is far too much to understand fully and yet lives in us!

They were overshadowed by Him as the “Tremens” of the heavens, “The Holy Roar of the Heart of God,” whose mere presence moves you to repentance, terrorizes demons and works miracles beyond miracles. They were summoned by Him as the “Fascinans” of the angels whose highest choir burns endlessly out of love for Him and His glory.

In all of this they understand, like St. Paul in today’s second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, that in a changing world waiting for Christ to come again, for us Christ must be first and foremost. And for us, life must be Christ![hr] Readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time:
    Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
    Psalm 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
    1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
    Mark 1: 14-20[hr] Father Caleb Buchanan is the parochial vicar of St. Martin de Porres, Bedford-Stuyvesant; coordinator of the Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns, the diocesan West Indian and African-American Apostolates; and chaplain of Medgar Evers College.