Do you wish to change the world?

My freshmen had completed their career assignments. I picked up the essay of a young man who chose to be a boxer. The first third of the essay was the “do my best in high school so as to get into college.” It was phrased and toned just as kids do when they are reciting what they believe you wish them to say. The remainder was a foray into a world foreign to me. I recognized the rebellion. More than that though, I recognized a mind beginning to analyze and decide for itself.

I smiled as I remembered one of my 10-page college papers. After nine pages of thoroughly detailing all themes covered in class, I added one paragraph with my opinion. The professor tanked my grade. 

Cognizant that I wished to encourage exploration and analysis, I examined the essay. He had thoroughly researched his topic, documented what was needed, and had planned the work. I learned from what he had researched and written. I knew from his essay and from class discussions his understanding of college was equal to that of his classmates. I gave him an A. Good thing I documented all of that. His mother came to see me. She demanded he receive an F for his college paper on boxing. 

Human nature seems to be that the more we are engaged, the more deeply we activate our emotions. Events or ideas contrary to what we expect can then promote deep negative emotions followed sometimes by irrational actions. 

In Jesus’ earthly ministry, His call is understood first as a challenge to each weary heart. It resonates deeply with the hope of what might be. In the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Lk 4:18-19). “All present were deeply amazed” (Lk 4:22). Each man immediately felt he too wanted to help change the world. 

Doubt and fear crept in as people compared this carpenter to their expectations of the Messiah. They asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” (Lk 4:22). Strangers and family shared in doubting. In Mark’s Gospel we hear that amidst His Galilean ministry, Jesus’ family set out to seize Him thinking, “He is out of His mind” (Mk 3:21). 

This was much more than a healthy skepticism of ideas presented. Rather than work to change the world, the men from the synagogue irrationally sought to kill Jesus. They drove Jesus out to the brow of a hill meaning to hurl Jesus to His death (Lk 4:29). 

Quite often analysis of this Gospel sequence is left at some, for example the disciples, will accept, whereas many others will reject Jesus’ teachings. The true meaning though lies a bit deeper. 

Jesus passes peacefully and quietly through their midst (Lk 4:30). However, that image is truly a snapshot from the beginning not the end of the story. This entire sequence is one of the most stunning examples of Jesus’ call to believers followed by His patience in awaiting their sorting it all out. The secret is that awaiting our yes was and will always be Jesus’ style.

Jesus’ call will stir up deep emotions that make us re-examine priorities and beliefs. It is only after reflection and analysis, when we have freely chosen to say yes, that we have quieted or disarmed our heart. Only then are we open to receive the gifts being offered by God. 

Jesuit priest Father John Dear says, “We begin to realize that the revolution of the world begins not out there somewhere but within ourselves — where we live faithful to God’s vision and understanding of who we are” (“Jesus the Rebel: Bearer of God’s Peace and Justice”).

Though the later reflections or actions of the men at the synagogue that day are not chronicled, we do have the example of Nicodemus who worked to move past initial doubts. Nicodemus visited Jesus at night. He listened to Jesus’ answers to his questions (Jn 3:1-21). Nicodemus left with much to ponder. Much later, at Jesus’ death, Nicodemus is there to provide the burial myrrh and aloes (Jn 19:39). 

I checked in with that student two years later when he had begun his college search. He told me it had been quite some time before his mother forgave me regarding that essay. It was my turn to smile. The entire story was an example of God’s plan revealed in God’s time. 

Do you remember Jesus’ revelation of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:3-10)? Aren’t more people living in that way what our world so desperately needs? How will you work with God to change the world?

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer.


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