21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first section of the Book of Isaiah provides this weekend with its first reading.
The author of this section of Isaiah lived when the southern Hebrew kingdom, or the kingdom of Judah, still existed. Only later was this kingdom, and the other Hebrew kingdom, the kingdom of Israel, overwhelmed by outside invaders.
As has been, and is so often the case of national rulers, the king of Judah governed the country with the assistance of aides and subordinates. The principal assistant wore a distinctive badge to indicate to any and all that he acted in the king’s behalf. This distinctive badge was a key.
In this reading, God, speaking through the prophet, stated that a chief minister would be selected to serve the king and to carry out the royal will. This official would wear the key.
An important point in this reading is that God very much intervenes in human lives and uses human agents to accomplish the divine will and to communicate God’s words to people.
The prophet, the king and the chief minister all were in the roles of human agents commissioned to bring God to the people, and the people to God.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans again is the source of the Church’s second reading. Romans has been read for the past several weekends.
It is a great testimony to the majesty of God. As such, it is a great profession of Paul’s own faith. The Epistle used an interesting phrase to describe God. He is the “counselor” of the faithful, to quote this reading. To counsel necessarily implies communication. God communicates with people. People communicate with God.
For its third reading this weekend, the Church offers us a passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel. It is an especially descriptive and enlightening reading.
The occasion occurs at Caesarea Philippi, a place northeast of Capernaum. At the time of Jesus, this place was a resort. The River Jordan forms here from springs and small creeks flow from it. Still picturesque, it is a modern, popular place for relaxation and for delighting in nature.
Central to the reading is Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus. The Lord asked Peter, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Jesus, identified with the “Son of Man,” of the Old Testament, who was God’s special agent, unfailingly was true to God.
Peter replied that the people are confused. Some saw Jesus as a prophet, such as John the Baptist, or even Elijah.
Jesus pressed the question, and Peter declared that he himself sees Jesus as the “Son of the living God,” a profound proclamation of the Lord’s own divinity. Peter had faith, and faith gave him insight and wisdom.
Before accepting Christianity, two steps are necessary. The first is to realize that God exists. The second is to believe that God communicates with people, and people may communicate with God. Neither is easy in our culture.
God is not boisterous. He does not shout divine Revelation at us. He does not thunder divine decrees. Indeed, humans cannot comprehend the divine message unless they have faith. Otherwise, it is puzzling or even nonsense.
These readings build upon the basic thought that God exists, a Supreme, eternal Being, great and unique in power, wisdom and mercy. Such was the testimony of Paul in the Epistle to the Romans, read this weekend.
The readings from Isaiah and Matthew clearly indicate that God speaks through human instruments, such as Isaiah, such as the king and his servant.
What about Peter? His great faith gave him extraordinary wisdom. In his faith, he saw genuine reality. Jesus is God. What does our faith allow us to see? Are we confused? Or, are we secure in our knowledge of God?
Reflection for August 31, 2014
In the Lord is genuine, everlasting reward
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Jeremiah provides this weekend’s first reading. Jeremiah was the son of a priest, Hilkiah, and therefore of the priestly caste. He was active as a prophet for two generations. Critics denounced him as disloyal to his people and race. He was so blunt and controversial that angry listeners at times went so far as to threaten his life. Once he was thrown into a cistern and left to die, but he survived.
He withstood these criticisms, but he did not abide the outrages without protest. He devoutly believed that his role as a prophet resulted from his acceptance of God’s call. He complained to God that this divine call led him into the abuse and rejection that he experienced. Nevertheless, he never renounced his calling.
As firm as his sense that he was called to be a prophet was his firm belief that the people’s sinfulness would send the entire society to doom.
This weekend’s reading includes Jeremiah’s protestation about being a prophet as well as a warning that disaster awaited the people’s continued sinning.
Jeremiah was eloquent. He describes his vocation as a “fire burning” in his heart.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the source of the second reading. In this reading, Paul pleaded with his readers, the Christian Romans, “to offer” their bodies “as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God.” All around these Christians in the great imperial capital lived in a culture utterly at odds with the Gospel of Jesus. Integral in this culture were hedonism and gross sexual license.
Paul urged the Christian Romans to resist this culture at all costs, even the loss of their earthly lives.
This admonition implied true consequences. On the horizon was a political and legal antagonism against Christianity. Many surely knew dark days were coming. Christians would be abused, tormented and executed under terrifying circumstances. (Paul himself would be executed.)
For its last reading, the Church this weekend presents a passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel. It is a continuation of the reading from Matthew last week.
The Apostles still were with the Lord at Caesarea Philippi, where the Jordan River still forms north of the Sea of Galilee. In the reading last weekend, Peter had proclaimed Jesus the “Son of the living God.” It was a glorious proclamation, and it raised the image of glory and triumph. Easily following this image was the thought of victory over evil and oppressive forces, and vindication after suffering.
Instead of assuring the Apostles that they themselves would be the instruments whereby vindication quickly and automatically would come, Jesus warned and indeed insisted that true followers of the Gospel must themselves endure much in this life. They would have to carry their crosses in the footprints of Christ the crucified. His kingdom is not of this world.
Many centuries have passed since Jeremiah wrote. Indeed, almost 20 centuries have elapsed since the preaching of Jesus. Much has been constant through the ages, however, and much today is exactly the same as what pertained during the time of Jeremiah or the time of Jesus.
Persecution from hostile governments and philosophies endures today, but in this country real persecution comes more subtly, albeit intensely, from the conventions of life around believers and from temptations besetting them.
Christians must live amid rebuke and rejection, at times quite direct. They always find sin attractive.
Doom and gloom are not the final points in this message. Rather, the lesson is that God does not forsake us. He offers us the way to salvation. Jesus is the Savior. He strengthens us. He is God. In the Lord is genuine, everlasting reward.
In the miracle of grace, and in their bond with Christ, Christians will be victorious, over all, forever!
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