"Will you be exalted to heaven?" (Matt 11:23).
One of the inescapable questions in the gospels is what happens to those who ignore God's invitation to life. Human freedom is always a factor in the encounter initiated by divine revelation. Last Sunday's reading from Deuteronomy reminded us that God's plan is not inscrutable or distant but "already in your mouths and in your hearts" (Deut 30:14). But we must respond.
Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee, an outpouring of miracles and preaching. The Epiphany, celebrated after Christmas, quotes the Prophet Isaiah proclaiming that "a people who lived in darkness and in the shadow of death have seen a great light." Today's gospel expresses Jesus' disappointment that all the signs and wonders performed in the towns and villages of Galilee have had little effect. He compares the towns to Sodom, the ancient city destroyed by fire and brimstone for its failure to know God's visitation.
Yet, from this apparent failure, Jesus turns south to Jerusalem, where the invitation to life will be revealed not in signs of power but by his death. Jesus will demonstrate God's unconditional and limitless love by becoming the victim of the people's indifference and rejection. This paradoxical self-sacrifice out of love for sinners will constitute the ultimate sign of mercy. But, again, it will ask for a response, an openness to conversion to experience the grace God is offering through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
We ponder this mystery within the realm of our own conscious freedom. Freedom is essential in the relationship God seeks with each of us. If we cannot say no, our yes is meaningless. But to say no to God is to say no to life, so this choice is indeed a matter of life and death. If we choose to live in the shadow of death, even God's mercy cannot override our choice. Only the logic of love, the innate invitation to step into the light, to live fully rather than accept half-existence or non-participation in the web of life all around us can draw us beyond ourselves into God's plan. Choose life, our hearts say. Choose life. Step out into the light.