Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Battle With “Self”

September 23, 2018 –– 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom  2:12, 17–20 / Psalm 54 / James 3:16–4:3 / Mark 9:30–37
The Battle With “Self”

Jesus was preparing the disciples for his coming death, and all the while they were selfishly discussing among themselves who was the greatest. We so easily get the truth about life backwards. What seems to give life only leads to death. Jesus dares us to believe that what appears to be death is the way to life. Jesus is telling us––and showing us through his sacrificial love: If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.

It’s easier to be like the disciples that day than to be like Jesus. We are too easily aware of our status with one another. We can too easily keep record of how many times we have been asked to do the dirty work. We can too easily gravitate towards those who are most like us. We can too easily use our opinions selfishly. It is popular opinion, not Jesus, that says “Take care of number one.”

More things affect our approach to life than we are usually aware of. A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, were invited to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life. Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups––porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some quite exquisite––telling them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the alumni had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: "If you noticed, all the expensive and nice looking cups were taken, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is natural for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the main source of your problems and stress. What was offered to all of you was the coffee, but you also went for the best cups…. and then some of you began eyeing each other's cups.” 

I remember John Michael Talbot telling about a little spat at the monastery. All the residents live communally, but some were quarreling with each other because there were a few favorite coffee mugs, and not everyone could have one. Maybe it’s coffee that shows our true colors!

We can say, “Well, everyone does that….” Or, we can ask the Holy Spirit to let us truly see ourselves. If we are willing to open ourselves totally to Jesus we will see self intruding far more than we would have imagined. Someone pointed out to me years ago how easy it is for most people in front of the line at a potluck dinner to take the nicer pieces of fried chicken (and for those in the back of the line to be a bit resentful). Growing up into Jesus means giving up what makes us look good on the surface––even always doing what is most convenient for us––so we can lovingly serve others. This is essentially the opposite of popular opinion.

To use the coffee illustration, God’s Life is the coffee; possessions and our position in society are the cups. The outward things are just containers for true Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of Life we can live. If we concentrate on the cup––our appearance, our status, our possessions––we will tragically take for granted the “coffee” of life that God has provided for us.

It may seem little, but this is one of the battlegrounds for our soul’s salvation. Who is going to sit on the throne of my heart? I have to ask myself this question regularly. When the little sins are allowed to grow, they can develop into the hatred and animosity described in the earlier readings. There is a voice which is at war against God speaking into the ear of our souls, I me mine, I me mine, I me mine (George Harrison got that one right). Let’s be careful about the voices we listen to and the impulses we obey.

Jesus came to save us from ourselves. As we follow him, our calling is to be his witnesses in this world by the way we give and serve and love.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

To Whom Shall We Go?

August 26, 2018 –– 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Joshua 24:1–2a, 15–17, 18b / Psalm 34 / Ephesians 5:21–32 / John 6:60–69
To Whom Shall We Go?

Christian Faith would be easy if we never faced the challenges of pain and temptation and doubt. Of course, without those things Christian Faith as we know would not exit. The essence of Christian Faith is the hope we have in spite of hard things because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There are all kinds of hard things. There are the hard things we bring on ourselves when we make choices that have bad repercussions. There are times when hard things “ricochet” on us when other people close to us make bad choices. There is also a hard side to nature; St Paul tells the Romans the creation was subjected to futility (8:20) when Adam and Eve abdicated their role in the Garden as vice-regents of God. This means we are subject to things like disease and accidents, floods and drought, hurricanes and tornadoes, earthquakes and volcanoes.

Perhaps the hardest thing of all is our difficulty with spiritual understanding. Until we are willing to lay aside the autonomy of wanting to think for ourselves (which strikes at the heart of the Original Sin), we will not be able to hear God and understand what he says.

God often says and does the opposite of what we, in our brokenness, expect. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus describes an “upside-down kingdom.” At the core of Christian Faith is the belief that we win by giving up and we live by dying. That is hard, and even in the Church it is rather easy to find some teachers who explain it all away. But if we change the essence of Christian Faith to something that is more palatable––less radical, we no longer have Christian Faith.

From the beginning Jesus, and then the Church, said hard things…. loving our enemies and being willing to lay our own lives in love for others. And then there is today’s Gospel where many of the first disciples reacted against Jesus when he said: The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives continually in me and I in him (Jn 6:56–58). John tells us they said, This saying is hard; who can accept it? Then many of his disciples turned away.

If we are honest, too often we want God to come to us on our terms rather than us continually coming to God on his terms. We come up to something hard; our weak humanity cries out and we are tempted to turn away.

So Jesus asked the Twelve, Do you also want to leave? Forever the leading spokesman, Simon Peter answered him, Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Eternal life…. The Life of God is always out to shatter death. If we choose something that leads to death (thinking it will make our lives more easy and pleasant), we will find ourselves fighting against the very Life of God. There is ultimately nothing harder than that.

We are facing some horribly hard things in the Church right now because some people, as leaders in the Church, embraced things that cause death instead of Life. So we go to the heart of our Faith and turn again and again to Jesus.

Jesus knows the pressures and discouragements we face. It with great tenderness that he asks us the same thing he asked the Twelve so long ago: Do you also want to leave?

Let’s recognize the truth of what Peter said: Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Let’s give the answer that Joshua so boldly proclaimed to all of Israel: As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

I have no idea what our many hurts are, but I know we all have them. I also know all our questions will not be answered, but out of all the options in this world none are better than what Jesus offers us.

I know that serving the Lord will not shield us from all hardships, but we follow the One who died and came back from the dead to show that this world is no match for God.

Our hope is not in anything merely human. As the Psalmist said, Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

To whom shall we go? As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. He alone has the words of eternal life.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What must I do to have eternal life?

Sunday: 12 August, 2018 –– 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:4–8 / Ephesians 4:30–5:2 / John 6:41–51
What must I do to have eternal life?

Belief in a world “beyond” this one is almost universal in human nature. Rising out of this comes a common question––and it is a question people asked Jesus again and again in one form or another: What must I do to have eternal life? Isn’t that the concern for each of us? Isn’t that why we come to church? Isn’t that what we ultimately want from a homily? What must I do to have eternal life?

There is a reason people asked Jesus this question, and it is why people still turn their attention to Jesus today. A few chapters later in John’s Gospel Jesus explicitly says: I have come that they may have life....  In the previous section of this sixth chapter––this Bread of Life Discourse––Jesus has told the people: I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. Then Jesus says, This is the will of the Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life.

The people did not understand what Jesus was saying. There were questions. There was misunderstanding. There was disagreement. There was offense and anger. If we take an honest look around today at all who claim to be listening to Jesus, it seems that not so much has changed. There are questions. There is misunderstanding. There is disagreement. Unfortunately, there is still offense and anger. And yet there is an underlying unity; we all want an answer to our deepest anxiety: What must I do to have eternal life?

In today’s Gospel reading we can find Jesus giving the answer to this question three different ways. Hear this carefully: Jesus is not giving three different answers; Jesus is giving the answer three different ways. It seems not everyone understands this. I say this because the three ways Jesus speaks of eternal life have been separated into different emphases of Christian expression, as if one is exclusive of the others.

The first is what we do. This is implied when Jesus says: Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. The natural context for this saying would be the Commandments (which Jesus quoted when questioned another time by the Rich Young Ruler). Some denounce this approach to God as “salvation by works” (as if faith and good works are opposed to each other). Perhaps a little story will provide a correction.

 A man dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates. Peter says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in."

"Okay," the man says, "I attended church every Sunday."
"That's good,” says St. Peter. "That's worth two points."

"Two points?" he says. "Well, I gave 10% of all my earnings to the church."
“Wow!” answers Peter. “Let's see, that's worth another two points. Did you do anything else?"

"Two points? Whoa! How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans."
"Fantastic, that's certainly worth a point, " responded Peter.

"Hmmm...," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for fifty years and never cheated on her...."
"That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "that's worth three points!"

"THREE POINTS!!" the man cries, "At this rate the only way I’ll get into heaven is by the grace of God!"
Peter says, “You got it…. Come on in!"

There are those who teach “faith alone.” Jesus does say: Whoever believes has eternal life. This is a major theme in John’s Gospel and St Paul’s letters. It was Paul’s answer to the Philippian jailer: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved….  So many Evangelicals say that believing is simply “accepting” that Jesus did it all for us. There is a great truth here. Christian Faith is indeed a total trust in Jesus. There is a strong personal––individual––element to saving faith. The danger, though, in emphasizing “belief” more than anything else is that Christian Faith is reduced to an abstraction––a cognitive head-trip. “Believing in Jesus” is more than a mental check list.

The third way Jesus answers the question of eternal life is familiar to Catholics, but just as puzzling to many others today as it was when Jesus first said it: I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever....  Catholic Faith, from the earliest testimony of the Church Fathers, teaches that when we come to Communion we are literally partaking of Jesus. This was one of the compelling realizations that drew me into the Catholic Church. Yet it is important to understand that eating the living bread is more than a mechanical gesture.

So, the question remains: What must I do to have eternal life? Is it by “listening and learning” so that we do right things? Is it by “believing”? Is it by “eating the living bread”? Surely when asked this way we can see that it is supposed to be all of them! “Believing” means we will “listen and learn.” As we “listen and learn” we will discover that part of Christian Faith is a mystery––a union with Jesus’ very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. These three answers, which Jesus gives to our questions about eternal life, all interface with and support each other.

The other two readings today give support to this. It was when Elijah believed, listened to and obeyed God that he was fed in a supernatural way. Then––notice what the Scripture says––he was transformed: strengthened by that food he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God....

You and I are on a journey. We want to get to the mountain of God: eternal life. How do we know that we are believing and listening and learning (which is another way of saying “obeying”)?  What results can we expect?  What should be the effect in us when we eat the living bread? We find that answer in the Epistle reading: our faith affects us in basic, tangible ways.

When we feed on Jesus––when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist (in true faith, as the Church teaches, and not holding on to unconfessed sins)––we are nurturing the life of his Spirit in us. And when the Holy Spirit of God is freely at work in us, we are being transformed into different people.... distinctive (holy) people, in the name and power of Jesus.

What does that look like? It looks like…. Jesus (that’s what eternal life is: the life of Jesus in us). What must I do to have eternal life?  Believe.... listen and learn.... eat the living bread.... expect to be transformed.  Jesus wants his eternal life to grow into its fullness in us!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Life of God in Us

August 5, 2018: 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15 / Psalm 78 / Ephesians 4:17, 20–24 / John 6:24–35
The Life of God in Us

Saint Paul tells of an old self and and a new self. We’re all too familiar with the “old” and it’s not very good. God did not intend awful things; he created us to know and obey him, but he also gave us the dignity of choice. Long ago the choice was made to disobey God and choose by ourselves what is right and wrong. That is why something is horribly wrong in the world. We were not created to live without God.

But God did not abandon us. He could have left us to self-destruct. Instead, he became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ. And when people killed Jesus in anger because his life revealed the evil of their own lives, God let it happen. Jesus took the evil, and even death itself, and absorbed it. Then he rose from the dead to show that God is bigger than evil and death, and God invites everyone to believe it.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says we are to believe in the one [the Father] sent. This is not mere mental assent––a mind game; it is an issue of spiritual ownership and control. And so Paul gives the Ephesians this exhortation: you must no longer live as the Gentiles [people who do not know God] do, in the futility of their thinking (4:17). There is a right and wrong way to live in this world. Trying to live life by our own understanding brings havoc; opening ourselves to God’s ways leads to life. We are called to live out of the truth we confess. Each week we declare together: I believe…. It’s not just words; it is something to embrace and live.

Through Jesus Christ and the regeneration of the Spirit, Christians have been given new life. Our old self––the old person we were––was crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20). Paul tells the Corinthians: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2Cor 5:17). It is because Christians have a new self that we can be exhorted to put away the practices of the old life––a life lived by ignoring the reality of God’s truth.

Christian faith understands that the old life is death. The old life is rooted in Adam and the lie our first parents believed: that disregarding God can make us happy or give lasting comfort and security. That is the futile thinking (the futility of their thinking) of Paul’s opening words.

The alternative to futile thinking is to be renewed in the spirit of your minds. Paul says this is based in righteousness and holiness of the truth. We do not know how to do this by ourselves; it takes wisdom––God’s wisdom that comes to us as Jesus lives in us.

How does this happen? First, it is a gift of God. God’s grace brings death to life. Our Faith starts there: believing that, in his love, God has chosen to do for us what could never do for ourselves. 

But life must be sustained. Life needs to grow. So we find that God provides this too, but we need to be open to God’s ongoing gifts of grace. This happens on what we might call two levels.

One is an ongoing attitude of faith. It is staying open to the Lord. It is doing disciplines like prayer, spiritual nurture, and obedience. This is what is usually called the personal part of faith.

But it’s not all up to us individually. Yes, Jesus wants us to have a personal relationship with him, but he takes us beyond ourselves with graces that go beyond what we could ever do alone.

Christian Faith is not only “a personal relationship with Jesus.” Christian Faith is being adopted into the family of God. Christian Faith is being incorporated into the life of Jesus’ Body, the Church. And in the Church we are given graces––Sacraments––that go so far beyond what we can ever do by ourselves. This is the corporate part of faith. 

Jesus nurtures us with his very self. This has been astounding people from the time Jesus first proclaimed it:
Amen, amen I say to you… the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.

The Holy Spirit brings us to new life so that we are not left to the ravages of life without God. The life of the Spirit in us helps us grow in understanding and new patterns of living. But we are not left to our own efforts––Jesus feeds us. In the Church we are given the grace of the Eucharist, the bread of heaven,  who is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Miracle of God Feeding Us

July 29, 2018: 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
2 Kings 4:24–44 / Psalm 145 / Ephesians 4:1–6 / John 6:1–15
The Miracle of God Feeding Us

Christian Faith believes in a personal God who is actively involved in our world. While God is “other” ––infinite and beyond imagination so that our minds can never fully know God nor our hearts completely grasp his ways, he is also immanent. He is here.

Because God is here and actively at work, we should expect times when God does the unexpected and the unusual. [We should also expect God to act always “in character”––as Paul wrote to Timothy (2Tim 2:13), he cannot disown himself.] As Creator, God will show himself as above and in control of creation. As Redeemer, God will always be acting for good and the salvation of the world (but again, we need to remember that with our limitations––especially in contrast to God––we will not fully understand what God does and does not do; God defines “good”, not us).

One reason that God inspired the Scriptures, a written record of things he has said and done, is to help us recognize what we otherwise would never grasp. Even as God is at work for our good, we need help to see it. When what is unusual recurs in Scripture, it’s an added emphasis to help us recognize God at work.

The first reading gives us an incident that becomes a precedent for a similar but much bigger event. God used the prophet Elisha to feed a large number of people miraculously with a small amount of food. In the Gospel we have the more familiar story of Jesus doing the same on a larger scale. It is so important that all four Gospels tell the story.

As a bit of an aside, we might wonder (and skeptics often cynically ask) why God doesn’t routinely do such “miracles” (or always do them at our request). One answer is that God will not overwhelm us in order to make us believe. He wants us to learn to trust, and in trusting, to fall in love with him. Love is never coerced.

God does enough to give us plausible reason to believe. When we open ourselves to that, we begin to “see” more and more. We are always going in a direction of being more open to God or more closed. That is why Scripture tells us to seek the Lord constantly. One of this past week’s Gospel readings has Jesus saying, To anyone who has, more will be given…. from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away (Matthew 13). When we are growing in our relationship with Jesus, we understand more and more; if we allow our faith to grow dim, even the things we have previously believed will dim in our understanding.

This is illustrated by the underlying point of Jesus feeding the multitude. The first part of chapter 6 in John’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus miraculously feeding the multitude. By the end of the chapter Jesus has said, I am myself the bread which has come down from heaven (v41) and it concludes with Jesus saying, The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives continually in me and I in him (v56–58).

This so startled those listening that they protested. When Jesus reiterated, John tells us that some who had followed Jesus turned away. Then Jesus asked the twelve if they were also leaving. Even the twelve did not yet understand, but they had an open faith. Peter (forever the spokesman) responded, To whom should we go? You have the words of eternal life.

From the beginning this was the Faith of the Church. As the Apostles came into fuller understanding, the Eucharist (“the breaking of bread”) became the mark of the common life (koinonia) of Christian community and the pinnacle of worship. Thus it was for 1500 years. When the unity of the Church was torn apart by self-appointed “reformers”, the early leaders (notably Luther and Calvin) tried to honor in some measure the Sacrament of the Eucharist. But as they turned away from the authority of the Apostolic Tradition (the one faith in the second reading), look where Christianity is today. Many faith communities say Communion is only a symbol and they reject any idea of Sacraments. Why has this happened? To get back to the earlier point, it is because the understanding of the Faith, particularly the Eucharist, was dimmed.

Some Christians argue today that it is preposterous that Jesus comes physically and totally in the Bread and the Cup. One reason is because Modernity has sowed seeds of skepticism so well that we have watered down what it means that God is actively involved in our world.

My personal Christian faith was not formed in a community that believed in the Eucharist. That came much later. I am thankful that God’s grace is bigger than our personal understanding. Yet our Lord is always wanting to expand his life within us, and that includes our understanding.

I remember how one process of thought finally broke into my consciousness. While my early faith was incomplete (in a Catholic sense), the faith I did have was solid. I believed with all my heart (and still do) that the God who created the heavens and the earth became incarnate in the Man, Jesus Christ. Think about it: The infinite God is able to “condense” himself totally and faithfully into the person of a human being! Then it hit me: If God, the Maker of heaven and earth is miraculously able to become a Man in the person of Jesus Christ, then that same God-Man Jesus is miraculously able to come physically again and again into what looks to us like simple bread.

Jesus fed the multitude that day to get their attention. Then Jesus tells them what it really means: The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

We believe in a God who is actively involved in our world. We believe in a personal God who comes to us to save us. Jesus is giving himself to us yet again today. When we truly believe that, it is eternal life. Expect God to be at work in your life.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Like Sheep Without A Shepherd

Sunday: 22 July, 2018 –– 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 23:1–6 / Ephesians 2:13–18 / Mark 6:30–34
Like Sheep Without A Shepherd (or just dumb chickens)

Jeremiah has been called “the weeping prophet” and he had plenty of reasons to weep. One of the worst was “bad shepherds” ––religious leaders who were supposed to guide the people in right ways, but instead used their position selfishly. They even turned people away from God because they were doing evil in the name of God. We can look around and see that our world isn’t really so different from Jeremiah’s. And like Jeremiah’s day we still need good spiritual leaders.

God promises to provide good shepherds. The Twenty-third Psalm affirms the Lord’s provision. Today’s Gospel has one of the most tender images of Jesus as God-with-us: his heart was moved with pity for [the people], for they were like sheep without a shepherd....

One way to express the Good News of Christian Faith is this: God wants to be your Shepherd. This is foundational. This is basic. This is the Good News.  God wants to be your Shepherd.

Many people do not see a need for God to be personally involved in their lives. It is human nature to want to be self-sufficient and independent. We live in such a comfortable and convenience-filled society that we can assume too much. Part of our sinfulness is holding to a pride that does not want to admit we need help. We want to justify ourselves; we can think “I’m as good as most people, and better than many. I do okay for myself.”

I have a friend who once had a job of taking care of chickens. One of the reasons the Bible uses sheep as a metaphor for our relationship with God is that sheep can be so helpless and, in all honesty, quite dumb. Well, chickens are worse. My friend was reflecting on this and wrote some of her observations. Listen to what she says:  

Lately I have been seeing people through the eyes of taking care of chickens. They bully each other, they pick on each other and sometimes are just not nice to each other at all. And here I am as their caretaker, wishing that they would stop their bickering and hurtfulness, knowing that they are well provided for and there is no need for the strained relations. Of course, they don't hear my thoughts and go about their meanness, and I think of how we often behave so much like chickens while God offers us something better.

When I enter the pen most of them run off nervously, assuming that I am out to do them harm. I've been with them day in and day out since last October and have not hurt any of them ever, and yet they still run or freeze in fear when I am near them.  On the other hand, if I come with a bucket in hand they automatically assume I have something tasty for them and they'll swarm over to me, but not to see me––just to get what they assume I have to offer them, grab it and run off with it.  How like chickens we are––afraid of knowing the God who only wants what is best for us, approaching him only for the gifts he bestows, and then going our own ways.  

One evening, one of the chickens I had raised from the time they were chicks was out of her chicken yard, running around, seemingly concerned about getting back to her friends but not figuring out how. It took my husband and me quite a while to get her back into her own yard. So here again was a perfect, visible example of how much we can be like chickens when it comes to trusting Jesus. All we wanted to do was to return that poor, confused, agitated chicken to where she really wanted to be, but in her fear and stubbornness, she fought us every step of the way. Our patient perseverance finally paid off and she ran in the gate to join her flock, but how much easier on all of us it would have been if she had been able to assume that we knew what we were doing and wanted the best for her. The longer I live in this role as chicken keeper, the more I am coming to know God as a parent and savior and shepherd––and seeing in us the same foolish behavior as in chickens.

Can you see that we need a Good Shepherd? In today’s Gospel Jesus has pity on us and loves us because, without him, we are sheep without a shepherd.... like chickens, running around on our own.  We need a Good Shepherd. Jesus invites us to follow him.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

When God Speaks

July 8, 2018: 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 2:2–5 / Psalm 123 / 2 Corinthians 12:7–10 / Mark 6:1–6a
When God Speaks

God has been speaking throughout eternity. John opens his Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Scripture begins with Genesis saying that God spoke all that exists into being; at the core of creation are the words, And God said…. 

God’s speech has continued coming into the world since the beginning of creation. The Psalmist affirms (19:1–4):
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

God also speaks specifically in special and explicit ways through people he chooses and inspires. The writer to the Hebrews starts his letter saying, In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets (1:1). Then the letter gives the culminating point that is the basis of our Christian Faith: in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature (1:2–3a). This is why Jesus told Philip, He who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9).

Today’s readings give us some insight into how and why God speaks. This is important because, since God is always speaking into our world––and to each one of us, we need to know what to listen for and how to understand what God is saying. One big clue is in the closing book of Scripture. Jesus says, Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20). God speaks to us so we can know him and love him and have an ongoing relationship with him!

Sometimes God says hard things. He says things we do not want to hear. He says things that we cannot understand if we are not open to what he is wanting to do. God sent Ezekiel to speak to people who had rejected him. Even though Israel had the special graces of God’s redemption and revelation, they rebelled and closed their hearts, choosing to do what seemed more pleasurable than obeying God. In spite of that––in spite of rebellion and disobedience and some awful sins–– God still speaks to them. This is to let us know that our sin is not bigger than God’s Father-heart. God always longs for us to truly know him and live under his blessings.

God spoke another way through St Paul. This time the focus is on the messenger rather than the recipients. Yet it still a hard word from a human point of view. Israel, as the recipient of Ezekiel’s words, was being rebuked for her sins; Paul, as the messenger of God’s words, was struggling with what he called a thorn in the flesh. We aren’t sure what this was, but it was something so hard and so discouraging to Paul that he confesses he asked the Lord three times to remove it from his life. All three times the prayer of St Paul, the spiritual giant, was rejected.

Why does our loving Father not take a hard thing away when we humbly, and yet in the strong name of Jesus, ask him for relief? Paul says it was so he could understand something deeper––something that only comes through weakness and suffering. God says, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

One of the most dangerous times in our spiritual lives is when things are going so well that we think we’re doing pretty good by ourselves. Paul understood that God had given him a hard thing to keep me from being too elated. When God speaks through people, it important that it is clear it is God who speaking and working, and not the self-promotion of the human messenger. So even with St Paul, the Lord chose to speak through a “wounded servant.”

This should not surprise us (but it seems to do so––continually) because God spoke his ultimate Truth through his Suffering Servant Son. We see this in today’s Gospel. After being out in ministry in neighboring towns, Jesus went back home. He was ridiculed and rejected. As I said earlier, the Lord says things that we cannot understand if we are not open to what he is wanting to do.

The rejection of Jesus in his home town was a preview of what was to come. His final rejection was the cross, and as he hung there the onlookers ridiculed his seeming helplessness. Yet God was “speaking” the ultimate Word. It was the full expression of Life through the Son’s death on the cross! This is our Faith! And it is wonderful…. but it is not easy.

God is speaking today.

To people addicted to their sins, God is saying “you know this is wrong; please let me come in.” 

To people who feel crushed with weakness and pain and stress, God is saying, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

To all of us, God is saying that being open to Jesus––having faith in Jesus––is wisdom and life and eternal salvation.

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