8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
It is not difficult to imagine the frustration with which the author of the third section of Isaiah felt as he heard the despairing, and critical, remarks of the people around him. Times were bad. They were very bad. The people long had been assured, indeed as their ancestors had been assured, that God would protect them and sustain them.
Yet, they were starving and helpless. Of course, they cried out in disgust and anguish, and they asked if God truly was their merciful and providing Father, their guardian.
Isaiah insists that God has not forgotten them, any more than a devoted mother could forget her children.
The prophet employs a literary technique not uncommon in the Hebrew Scriptures. He wrote as if God were writing, in the first person. He did not simply quote God.
For the second reading this weekend, the Church offers a passage from the First Epistle to the Corinthians. As is often the case in Paul’s epistles, the great Apostle verifies his role, identifies himself as commissioned by the Lord, and in effect as possessing authority conferred upon him by Jesus.
It is not here, nor ever, an effort in self-promotion by St. Paul. In fact, it was an act of service to any who might read the letter. It was an act of service to the Christians of Corinth. Quite clear in Paul’s writings, and elsewhere in the New Testament, is the fact that imposters, well-intentioned or not, were moving through the Christian communities and pretending to speak in the Lord’s name. They were not. Jesus had not called them. Without doubt, some, maybe many people, followed these inauthentic spiritual leaders.
To guarantee that the true Gospel was accepted, St. Paul had to demand that people listen to him.
St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the Gospel reading. In this reading, the Lord is blunt and direct. No one can serve two masters. A person must choose either to follow Jesus and submit everything in heart and soul to God, or to surrender to some other goal. There can be no compromise.
The Lord then continues to give some specifics. He encourages disciples to have trust. Do not the birds of the air enjoy the benefit of God’s care and mercy? They neither sow nor reap, but God gives them all that they need for life.
Lent is days away. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, the Church will call all its children to reinforce their faith and to strengthen the commitment of their faith. It will require more than a general willingness not to sin. It will mean a complete turning to God, in which fears are ignored, and trust in God reigns supreme.
It is good to remember that the Gospels were written when Christians already were in trouble before the authorities of the Roman Empire and certainly in the face of the prevailing culture. The Roman leadership played for keeps. Being a Christian could easily lead to terrifying consequences.
Followers of Jesus had to question themselves. Is my faith in Christ worth the price that it may cost?
Times have changed, thanks be to God. Christians in this country do not have to fear arrest, torture and execution under the most cruel of circumstances. Christians in other places in the world are not so fortunate.
Opposition to the Gospel, however, comes not just from unfriendly rulers and unjust laws. In our society, the culture that envelops us, and that drives so much of what we do and how we think, is the Gospel’s great competitor.
Loyal followers of Jesus cannot compromise. They cannot yield. They must be strong. Guiding them will be the revelation of the Lord, brought to them, as it truly is, by the Church.
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