Accepting evangelization

Anthony Zimmerman
For Catholicmind
March 13, 2005
Reproduced with Permission

Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you.

And you, Caphernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than you (Matt 11:29-24).

Sodom had been a very wicked city that God had seen fit to destroy, yet Christ states here that had its people seen the miracles that He was working day after day during His three years of public life, Sodom would not have been destroyed. This implies that the people would have converted. Does this appear difficult to believe? Was Christ speaking in exaggerated terms to thus express His frustration with His own city of Capharnaum, whose people saw so many miracles, yet did not convert? Let us rather take Him at His words literally, for He is indeed the One who will judge the living and the dead on the Day of Judgment.

Sodom was a city whose male population was so besot with the practice of homo-sexual actions that the Lord could not find even ten innocent people in the entire city. They scorned intercourse with women, and lusted for men. When Lot received two angels in the guise of male guests into his house, the whole city sought to "know" them. The story is related in Genesis chapter 25:

But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them." Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, "I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof."

But they replied, "Stand back!" And they said, "This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them." Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. But the men inside reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door.

The story continues that the two angels then struck the attackers blind so that they could not carry out their plan. The angels then instructed Lot that God was about to destroy the wicked city. He should inform his two son-in-laws to flee the city with him. They refused, saying it was all a joke. In the end Lot fled the city of Sodom with his wife and two daughters.

Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

Jesus warned the people of Capharnaum that their lot, at the Judgment, would be worse than having fire and brimstone rained down upon them from heaven. It is not a pleasant future to think about. Saint John Chrysostom spoke forebodingly: "That is, having failed to persuade them, He now doth but lament over them; which is more than terrifying" (Sermon 37 on Matthew, No. 6). Once in eternity, the time for conversion is past. "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" wrote Dante over the gate of the entrance into hell.

Jesus was also disappointed in the lack of reception given to Him at Chorazin and at Bethsaida. They were towns near Capharnaum, where Jesus was carrying out His mission of teaching and working miracles with special intensity. Jesus was giving them a severe warning, to convert or else! Their failure to convert was worse in the judgment of Jesus than was the notorious arrogance of the people of the ancient wealthy cities of Tyre and Sidon, cities that had been destroyed (see e.g. Isaiah 23). We note that the Jesus, who came all the way from heaven to be our Savior, fully expects his listeners to accept Him and His message. At the Last Judgment He will judge those who turn their backs on Him with the terminal command: "Depart from me." The effect will be eternal.

The stern warning to Capharnaum may have had good results. Tourists today can see that the house which is thought to have been that of St. Peter was once rebuilt to be a church, a house of Catholic worship. An archeologist who was specializing in finding objects that dated back to the early days of Christianity, a Franciscan priest, told me that Christian relics were found mingled together others, indicating that a Christian population must have lived there. Perhaps some of the relics once belonged to early Christians who converted when Jesus spoke these severe words to them. Matthew continues:

At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will (Matt 11:25-26).

Chrysostom in Sermon 38:on Matthew judged that Jesus was referring to the Scribes and Pharisees, who were the rabbis of the synagogue and teachers of the people. Christ branded them here as the "wise and intelligent." These had social and economic stakes in preserving the status quo, who stubbornly refused to follow the novel teachings of Christ. Chrysostom follows up noting that Jesus thereby gave to His disciples instructions to be free from pride, and to follow after simplicity. For this cause Paul also expressed it with more exceeding earnestness, writing on this wise: "If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise." For thus is God's grace manifested." Chrysostom adds that this was also a reminder to His faithful disciples that their new wisdom came to them as a gift of divine revelation, not as a product of their own ingenuity. He adds: "Wherefore also the scribes, and the wise men, thinking to be intelligent for themselves, fell away through their own vanity."

Here we are reminded of some catechism texts that use the method of asking students what they think and feel, as though their natural abilities would be able to construct the truths by which they should live in order to gain eternal salvation. That is a total and disastrous mistake, unfair to the children. The natural truths that even the best of minds can conceive are not the message of the Gospel revealed to us by Christ. Children will never, on their own, compose the Sermon on the Mount. Neither will they produce the revealed wisdom that Jesus taught namely that "He who does not take up His cross and follow me is not worthy of me."

Christ sent His apostles into the world to teach all the things that He had commanded them. He did not send them to learn what children and adults think and feel by using natural gifts of mind and heart. Just as Christ rejoiced with the Father that the humble were receiving His message, so today He is pleased when teachers train the children systematically in the faith as He revealed it to His disciples in Galilee and in Judea, and as is today carried in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Every true catechism text must teach more than the wisdom that humans can know with their natural powers of intelligence. Catechisms must teach what God has revealed as the way of life for those who are disciples of Christ. We must, one and all, receive the teachings with the humble attitude of little children who are learning from others what they cannot know by themselves.

Why was this wisdom hidden from the wise and intelligent leaders asks Chrysostom again. He responds: "It was not their own doing that made them wiser than the scribes and Pharisees, but their child-like humble acceptance of the teachings of Jesus."

Finally, let us share the joy of Jesus who was glad that many received His message humbly when He first revealed it, and that humble believers all over the world receive it today.