Commission or Omission? – Tuesday, 15th week in ordinary time – Mt 11:20-24
The mission discourse is now behind us and the next two chapters before the next discourse, the ‘parable discourse’, comprise of a series of incidences where Jesus is rejected. All through chapters eleven and twelve, we will constantly encounter the rejection of Jesus by His generation.
A reading of verses 16-19 gives us a clear understanding of the rejection Jesus faced. Nothing He does seems to make the people happy. They won’t dance when the flute is played, they won’t mourn when the dirge is sung. For that matter, the life of John the Baptist was too austere for them and the life of Jesus was too debaucherous. It seemed like they wanted an omelette but did not want to break eggs.
So, early into the ‘rejection passages’, Jesus decides to set the record straight and He intends to do it first with His own. His condemnation is not without justification. It is within the walls of these three contemporary cities, situated on the northwest shore of Galilee, that He worked some amazing miracles.
Not only did He work great miracles here but verse twenty tells us that He had worked ‘most of His deeds of power here’. These are cities that Jesus and His disciples were familiar with. Capernaum was Jesus’ ministerial base. Peter came from Capernaum and Jesus worked as many as seven great miracles here. Bethsaida was the home of Andrew and Philip, to say nothing of the great miracle where Jesus had fed thousands. Yet belief is hard to come by and so condemnation from Jesus is swift and harsh.
Jesus compares three contemporary cities to three notorious cities in Israel’s memory. These Gentile cities of Phoenicia were considered sinful and doomed by the prophets. Here lies the irony that these ancient and notorious cities will shine out in better light than the contemporary cities in which Jesus worked so many miracles.
So what exactly is the fault of Bethsaida, Capernaum and Chorazin? To help me illustrate the answer in verse twenty three let me narrate a discussion I once initiated with a senior clergyman on the performance of clergymen. I asked him, would he consider the transfer of a hardworking and effective priest from a parish before his tenure could end? Pat came the answer, “no”. What if then, the minister was disruptive? “Well then, for the good of all he would be moved.” Which led me to my actual question, namely, what if the minister does nothing at all during his tenure?
I think you can guess the answer. We don’t see non-performers in the same light as disruptive ministers. To the mind of Jesus, they are worse because they have experienced goodness and seen the Lord’s working and still do nothing at all! This was the fault of the contemporary cities. Their failing was not merely that they did not believe in the miracles; surely they did. The issue was that they did not act in taking it further.
Jesus says, if a town as wicked as Sodom had seen the same miracles, it would have transformed and repented, and the city would still be standing. Sodom was never given the chance that Capernaum had. Sodom did not have the Messiah walk their streets or see seven spectacular miracles; but Capernaum did, and Capernaum did nothing.
The sin of omission, ‘what I have failed to do’ stands larger than the sin of commission, ‘what I have done’!
Fr Warner D’Souza
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