By Benedict Augustine
“At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place.
The crowds went looking for him, and when they came to him,
they tried to prevent him from leaving them.”
Despite the apparent shrinking of the earth through quickly evolving communication technologies, most human beings, even the most technologically savvy, have a hard time thinking outside their own immediate circumstances. Even in those moments of inspired internet activism, where people’s hearts (and not much else) go out to child soldiers of Kony, or the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, or Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe illegally poached, people can hardly imagine what life must be like in these other parts of the world. Indeed, this failure to connect with the real problems of other cultures always leads to quiet fizzle of all such concerns soon after they appear.
For the rest of their time, people will live their lives, utterly oblivious to the rest of the world. In the customized world of today, they pick their friends, their jobs, their spouses, their houses, and their worldviews. Instead of right and wrong forming the criteria of such a decision, most simply pick what suits them at the moment, not what the world needs. Accordingly, most things in a customizable life are not only determined by a person’s whims, but it also has a timetable. Relationships do not last; jobs change continually; values change with the wind; homes do not exist; and life goals always shift.
Life moves quickly in the customized and connected world. It gives the impression of making great progress and building a great network of human connection. Never mind the fact that it changes course in contrary directions, often leading people in circles or in downward spirals; and never mind the fact that a spider’s cobweb has more strength and substance than the worldwide human variety. Beguiled by the illusion of improvement and sharing, so many people fail to realize that they have remained unchanged and shared nothing.
When confronted with the miracles of Jesus, the people of Capernaum cannot stand to have Him go. In a sense, they want to fit Him into their customized lives. He could be their local hero, start a local cult, and be that source of community and goodwill they always desired. Though healed by Christ, they do not learn from Him. They want to possess Him for themselves at the cost of denying the whole world a savior. Unlike Peter’s mother-in-law who immediately serves Christ, this community wants Christ to serve them in perpetuity.
While such thinking might be understandable, it is not excusable. God’s grace does not enter men’s lives so that they can resume their old habits. God wants to create new sons and daughters that serve, as His Firstborn did. He wants them to have the eyes of Jesus, eyes that see beyond time and place and look upon strangers as neighbors. Only this could allow His Church to grow beyond the troubled land of Palestine and span the reaches of the globe.
The people of Capernaum simply demonstrated a common failing that appears in all times, particularly today. They lacked the eyes that could see beyond themselves. While not as well-equipped as the typical modern teenager with a smartphone, they also wanted the customizable life, at least for their community. Little does anyone seem to expect that Jesus wants to customize all men and women’s lives to His Father instead. Indeed, for a true conversion, the disciple must conform his entire life to Jesus’, which means subordinating all concerns to Him.
Jesus must move on with His mission, not only for practical reasons but for spiritual ones as well. He must leave this people so that they may fill the hole He has created. Unfortunately, aside from the apostles who eventually leave that area to follow Him, the town itself does precisely nothing. Because of this, He condemns the town soon afterward: “Will you [Capernaum] be exalted? You will go down to the netherworld” (Mt 11:23).
If they could not have Him for themselves, on their own terms, they would not have Him at all. Christians could have known Capernaum like they now know Antioch, a famous center for the earliest Christian disciples; but they now know it as a desolate backwater filled with a bunch of idiotic yokels who merited one of Christ’s rare curses in the gospels.
What must Christ think of people today, living in a time replete with blessings, doing the same thing?