The Word of God deals with the subject of conversion in today’s readings. Conversion is certainly not a one-sided process. God does not simply wait patiently for us to repent one day of our sins. The threats of the Old Testament prophets were delivered in order to provoke swifter conversion. God “repents,” of the evil He threatened to commit when the people repent. Fear issues from our conscience when we face the threat of punishment. There are consequences for our actions, and God does not want to us to forget that the eternal consequences are far more important than the temporal ones. Indeed, there are no discernable temporal consequences of a refusal to listen to God’s Word. Conversion is certainly the free and willing change that takes place in the mind and heart of a sinner. Conversion is more importantly a change of mind and heart about the Word of God. This Word can come to us from unexpected places, it can catch us by surprise, it can challenge us and condemn us. Most importantly, this Word can save us. The goal of conversion is salvation, healing, liberation, and illumination: all of these take place in the heart of someone who believes in the Word of God.
We could wonder why Jesus wouldn’t try to perform any miracles when He ran up against the lack of faith of the people He was teaching. Wouldn’t a miracle finally melt the hearts or open the minds of unbelievers? If the people could finally witness Jesus’ raw power over nature, wouldn’t that make them listen to what He has to say? “If they didn’t believe Moses and the Prophets, they will not believe even should someone rise from the dead.” When one’s mind or heart is closed to the Word of God – when someone refuses to believe – a miracle will not finally provoke faith. “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign.” Miracles are given to bolster our faith, to reinforce weak faith, to encourage the faithful – not to cause faith. Conversion truly happens not when we finally see something, but when we finally hear the Word of God with our hearts and welcome its divine impulse.
“Perhaps,” he thinks, “they will listen and be converted.” However, an ambiguous word like “perhaps” cannot be reconciled with the majesty of the Lord but speaks instead of our desire that human free will be served and that it not be compelled from the Lord’s foreknowledge, as though of necessity, either to act or to refrain from acting. For it is not because God knows the future that the future comes about, but it is because of what will happen that God knows it before it occurs. Nevertheless, Jeremiah knew that if the Lord warned of bad consequences and the people did penance, they would be repenting for the sake of what the Lord threatened to do to them.SIX BOOKS ON JEREMIAH 5.36.3-7. Wenthe, D. O. (Ed.). (2009). Jeremiah, Lamentations (p. 190). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
THEODORET OF CYR:
He did not use the word perhaps out of ignorance, aware as he was of their disobedience. Instead, he expressed such uncertainty to avoid their taking note of the divine sentence and despairing of salvation. It resembles also what was said by Ezekiel, “If then they hear, if then they see.” In other words, it was not a result of ignorance. It was, rather, to prevent their saying, He foretold our disobedience, and he is trustworthy, so how is it possible for us to be changed? Thus, in the present words he emphasizes that it is possible to undergo a change in behavior, if they are willing.ON JEREMIAH 6.26.3. Wenthe, D. O. (Ed.). (2009). Jeremiah, Lamentations (p. 190). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
To Ezekiel also: “Leave out not a word, if so they will hearken and be converted every one from his evil way that I may repent of the evil that I thought to do to them for the wickedness of their doings.” And by these passages it is declared that we ought not obstinately to stick to our decisions but to modify them with reason and judgment, and that better courses should always be adopted and preferred and that we should turn without any delay to that course that is considered the more profitable. For this above all that invaluable sentence teaches us, because though each person’s end is known beforehand to God before his birth, yet somehow God so orders all things by a plan and method for all, and with regard to human disposition, that he decides on everything not by the mere exercise of his power or according to the indescribable knowledge that his foreknowledge possesses but according to the people’s present actions, and he rejects or draws to himself each one, and daily he either grants or withholds his grace.CONFERENCE 2.17.25. Wenthe, D. O. (Ed.). (2009). Jeremiah, Lamentations (p. 191). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
“So that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did he get this wisdom?’ ” The one who speaks this way does not know God, from whom is wisdom and from whom are mighty works. Solomon points to that source of wisdom. While still young, he accepted the highest honor of the kingdom so he might rule the people entrusted to him with virtue and not with arrogance, with wisdom and not with pride, with his heart and not with his head. He wanted wisdom from God, earnestly asked for it and received it. “Where did he get this wisdom and these mighty works?” The mighty power that gives eyesight denied by nature, that restores hearing to those drowned in silence, that unscrambles the words of those who are mute, that enables the lame to walk again and that orders souls headed for the realm of the dead to return to their bodies is from God, unless someone envious of salvation should deny it.SERMONS 48.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 292–293). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
But having come to his own country, he is not so intent upon miracles. He does not want to inflame them into further envy or to condemn them more grievously by the aggravation of their unbelief. Yet he presents his teaching, which possesses no less wonder than his miracles. For these utterly senseless people, when they ought to have marveled and been amazed at the power of his words, instead disparaged him, because of the one thought to be his father. Yet we know they had many examples of these things in the former times, for many fathers of little note had produced illustrious children.THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 48.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 293). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
We must inquire whether the expression has the same force when applied universally to every prophet. Does it mean that every one of the prophets was dishonored only in his own country? Or does it mean that every one who was dishonored was dishonored in his country? Or does it mean that because of the expression being singular, these things were said about only one? If these words are spoken about only one, then these things that have been said make sense insofar as they refer to what is written about the Savior. But if the point is generalized to indicate all prophets, then it is harder to defend historically. For Elijah did not suffer dishonor in Tishbeth of Gilead, nor Elisha in Abetmeholah, nor Samuel in Ramathaim, nor Jeremiah in Anathoth. But, figuratively interpreted, this saying is absolutely true. For we must think of Judea as their country and that famous Israel as their kindred, and perhaps of the body as the house. All suffered dishonor in Judea from the Israel that is according to the flesh while they were yet in the body. As it is written in the Acts of the Apostles, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute, who declared beforehand the coming of the righteous One?” And Paul says similar things in the first epistle to the Thessalonians: “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus which are in Judea; for you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all people.”1COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 10.18. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 293–294). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
It seems to me that the production of miracles is similar in some ways to the case of physical things. Cultivation is not sufficient to produce a harvest of fruits unless the soil, or rather the atmosphere, cooperates to this end. And the atmosphere of itself is not sufficient to produce a harvest without cultivation. The one who providentially orders creation did not design things to spring up from the earth without cultivation. Only in the first instance did he do so when he said, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation, with the seed sowing according to its kind and according to its likeness.”
It is just this way in regard to the production of miracles. The complete work resulting in a healing is not displayed without those being healed exercising faith. Faith, of whatever quality it might be, does not produce a healing without divine power.COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 10.19. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 294). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Christ indeed came to his own country, because it was written, “He came among his own, and his own did not receive him.” In plain fact, when he says, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country,” he is teaching that it is a painful situation to have influence among his own. To stand out among the local denizens is similar to an inflammation. A near relation’s glory burns the near relations. If neighbors have to pay homage to a neighbor, they consider it servitude. “And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” Power has no effect where unbelief does not deserve it. And while Christ does not demand a reward when he heals, he becomes indignant when injustice is shown to him instead of honor.SERMONS 48.6. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 294–295). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.