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Romans 9: Children of the Promise – Part II

Monday, March 27, 2017

Adapted from a reflection written on June 3, 2010.

Controversy, rumors, secrecy. In our public and private lives, gossip and partisanship divide us to stir up chaos and confusion. Paul examines the story of Exodus to open our hearts to the divisions of our age.

Conspiracy, collusion, deceit. In our public and private lives, complicity and trickery fog our vision and obstruct our hearing. Paul presents a view of Jesus’ world so that we might draw parallels with our own times.

Paul reminds us of how God uses the harshness of Pharaoh to show his power and compassion for the people he has selected to be his own.  He tells us that we must engage God in conversation, even to the point of argument: You will say to me then . . . “who indeed are you, a human being, to talk back to God?” (19-20) Paul tells us that God has infinite patience and mercy to use as he shepherds humans toward the truth; and he can choose his followers from among the Jews as well as the Gentile nations.  Citing the prophet Hosea, Paul repeats that God has the power, and the prerogative, to do as God likes.  He gives thanks that God is a good and gracious being who loves creation dearly; and he reminds us that we best find our true selves and we best fulfill God’s hope in us when we stumble over the obstacles in our way.  Our troubles and sorrows bring us closer to God. Each time we hurdle over an obstacle, we open ourselves to divinity. Each time we admit that our views might be less narrow, we offer our hearts to God for conversion.

Paul tells us today that it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendents (9:8).  Our birth and heritage do not guarantee us a place with God, nor do our traditions and customs make us holy; rather it is those who respond to God’s call and act according to God’s plan who find themselves in union with God . . . and this can be anyone, even the least expected.

Hosea tells us and Paul re-states: Those who were not my people I will call my people, and her who was not beloved I will call beloved (9:25) This is the promise we are given, and God will always fulfill his promises for he is faithful.

We can take this lesson and apply it to the relationships in which we find ourselves.  When a loved one knows a truth but still turns to darkness, we ask God to intervene with patience.  When one we hold dear refuses to see what everyone else sees, we ask God to act in kindness.  And when our world is out of focus and upside down, we ask God to transform evil into goodness for this is God’s promise, this is God’s assurance, this is God’s guarantee . . . that the faithful are rewarded . . . the repentant are transformed . . . and the rejected cornerstones will form strong foundations for the promised new life.

Let us give thanks that we are the children of this promise.


Romans 9: Children of the Promise – Part I

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 26, 2017

Adapted from a reflection written on June 3, 2010.

In this chapter of Romans, Paul puzzles over the lack of faith in the Christ story among the Jewish people.  They are clearly chosen by God to convey the message of freedom and salvation to the world and in fact, one of their own is the Messiah; yet they reject the message of hope and promise that Jesus offers. This is also the message that Paul proclaims anew.

In the previous chapter (Romans 8), Paul reminds us that faith is the belief in things not seen; hope is the exercise of expecting something that is greater and better than we think likely (8:24-25).  He reminds all of us that the Holy Spirit is at work in and among us, and that we must be open to God’s plan rather than forwarding our own.  Now he puzzles over the lack of expectation and fidelity in those who have had the advantage of the special status; he finds it strange that the very people and tradition that have engendered the message now turn against it.

Do we see this same contradiction in our own age? Do we see it in ourselves? If not, we might be content to muddle forward as always. If so, we have a clear choice before us. Do we blame God for the failings and lacks in society? Or do we examine ourselves, and then rely on God as we take action?

Paul answers some of his, and our, questions in verses 14 to 16: What then are we to say?  Is there injustice on the part of God?  Of course not . . . it depends not upon a person’s will or exertion, but upon God, who shows mercy. 

We are part of God’s great design and are called to take part in the redemption of the world.

Shall we say, then, that God is unjust? Not at all . . . So then, everything depends, not on what we humans want or do, but only on God’s mercy. (GNT)

We are God’s precious children, and are asked to demonstrate the same mercy that God shows us.

What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! . . .  So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (NASB)

We are the receivers of God’s great promise. Let us accept this gift graciously, and act with God’s justice for all.

Tomorrow, more of Paul’s thinking. How does it affect all that we do?



Titus 3:4-7:In Partnership with God

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Michelangelo: Creation of Eve

From the Letter of Paul to Titus: It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. (MSG)

Father Alfred Delp, S.. was hanged for high treason against Hitler’s Nazi Reich just a few months before the end of WW II. Hitler hoped to erase Delp from history by ordering that his body be cremated and his ashes scattered; but despite this effort, Delp and his words are remembered today. We might take them in as part of our Lenten journey. From Prison Writings,

Toil, heat, and grief express fundamental conditions of human nature which always make themselves felt as long as one is on one’s journey through life. They are not always so abnormally prevalent as they are today but they are nevertheless an indispensable part of our existence. And only when we fail to go through life in partnership with God do these things get the upper hand, bursting all bounds and overwhelming us with trouble of all kinds.

Can we imagine ourselves in partnership with God? What is it like to have an intimate relationship with one who is capable of great authority and great love?

Paul to Titus: But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, God saved us from all that. It was all God’s doing; we had nothing to do with it. God gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit.

How might we use these verses in our Lenten journey toward Easter peace?

Michelangelo: Creation of Adam – Detail

More from Delp: I am not concerned here with the material needs of humankind but with our own degeneration, our blunted faculties and spiritual poverty – all the burdens in fact which the kind of existence one leads have introduced into one’s life and which have now become characteristic of one’s nature. Just as there are virtues that can be acquired so also there are faults that result from repetition such as habitual unawareness of individuality, perpetual relinquishment of powers of decision, permanent weakening of the sense of reality, and so on. Faced with these shortcomings we find ourselves under a terrible strain and utterly helpless.

Do we see Delp’s description of his society reflected in our own? Are there any parallels to discern or lessons to learn? What do we do when we feel helpless or under great strain? Whose counsel do we seek? What transformation do we hope to experience?

Delp: One must accept responsibility for the misuse of one’s free will. Being prone to such errors of judgment the only thing one can do is to turn again and again to God praying earnestly that the Holy Spirit may take pity on one’s failings and let the healing current flow freely through one’s life.

Where do we turn when we are overwhelmed by our own shortcomings or those of others? What are the prayers we offer to God? How often do we allow the Spirit’s healing current to flow freely through our lives?

Both Delp and Paul remind us of the great partnership we are offered, and the consequences of this gift.

Paul to Titus: God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this.

Partnership with God is the eternal transformation we seek. It is the gift we already hold. We are even now beloved children in God’s kingdom of mercy, forgiveness, redemption and love. Let us move forward in our Lenten journey, and forward into the world, transformed in this belief. Let us behave as if we hold these truths in our hearts. And let us be eager to share with others the promise and goodness of God’s love.

Delp, Alfred. Prison Writings. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 2004. To learn more about Delp, visit: http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/642/article/martyr-nazis  

For more on Michelangelo, the Italian Renaissance, and his paintings in the Sistine Chapel, click: http://www.italianrenaissance.org/a-closer-look-michelangelos-painting-of-the-sistine-chapel-ceiling/ 

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 17.3 (2017): 260-261. Print.  


Psalm 80: Prayer for a Persecuted People

Friday, March 24, 2017

Restore us, O LORD of hosts; let your face shine upon us, and we will be saved.

Persecution often follows us when we answer God’s call to act as God’s disciples, when we carry truth to people who do not want to see it. When we witness to an injustice, we want to rely on God’s wisdom, strengthen our resolve with Scripture – a manifestation of Christ among us, and rest in prayer with the Spirit.

Several years ago when I struggled with a particularly challenging set of circumstances, I left the student dining hall to go to my classroom where I might find some quiet. I had to prepare a report I knew would displease our leaders in that it spoke to a truth they did not want to hear. In the hush of that noontime, I flipped open the Bible that always lies near my desk and the pages fell open to Psalm 80, a prayer for those living through persecution. Had I come across an immediate answer to my prayer?

The opening lines call for help and restoration, and are followed by an image of the vine brought out of Egypt, an allegory familiar to the prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea and Micah. Jesus uses this symbolic tale to describe his relationship with us: he is the vine, we are the branches (John 15:1-17). He sustains and nourishes; we are the fruit of Christ’s labor and love in us.

Anyone familiar with vineyard work knows that each winter the vines are cut back drastically in order that the plant become stronger and the fruit more dense and fine. Father Richard Veras writes that our hearts are encrusted and that Jesus must break through that crust in order to soften our hearts. “This crust is a barrier between him and the heart, and he will never respect or politely tolerate any such barriers”. Veras uses the examples of the Samaritan Woman at the well and Pontius Pilate to make his point. “The Samaritan woman’s barrier was doubt that true love and friendship could exist. Pilate’s barrier was power and position”. Jesus prunes their hearts and gives them the opportunity to do what is right. They have the option to choose.

And so do we. Each day. In every encounter with each person we encounter. DO we withdraw to hide within a structure of deceit and authority, or do we call for help and pruning? DO we turn away from the Creator, Savior, and Keeper, or do we ask for redemption?

Restore us, O LORD of hosts; let your face shine upon us, and we will be saved.

If we spend time with this psalm today, we might find our own prayer for the times when we are persecuted in Christ’s name.

Adapted from a reflection written on March 13, 2007.

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 3.13 (2007). Print.  

 


Jeremiah 17:5-10: In Every Season

Thursday, March 23, 2017

We are blessed with a God-given identity and we take our concerns to God the Creator. With gratitude, we trust in God.

I will bless the person
who puts his trust in me.
He is like a tree growing near a stream
and sending out roots to the water.
It is not afraid when hot weather comes,
because its leaves stay green;
it has no worries when there is no rain;
it keeps on bearing fruit. (GNT)

We are accompanied by our brother Jesus and we follow the clearly marked Way our brother Christ sets out for us. In hope, we follow the signs of Christ’s love.

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
    sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
    and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
    and it does not cease to bear fruit. (NRSV)

We are consoled by the Spirit who lives within us and we allow the presence of God to mend all that is broken. With love, we rest in this Spirit.

Blessed is the man who trusts in Adonai;
Adonai will be his security.
He will be like a tree planted near water;
it spreads out its roots by the river;
it does not notice when heat comes;
and its foliage is luxuriant;
it is not anxious in a year of drought
but keeps on yielding fruit. (CJB)

Can we imagine a life when all that we say and all we do is measured in the loving ways of God? Can we envision a kingdom in which the poor take precedence and the marginalized rise up? Can we foresee the effects of God’s compassion, power and tenderness?

After a long drought, the desert blooms in Arizona, U.S.A.

Blessed is the man who trusts me, God,
    the woman who sticks with God.
They’re like trees replanted in Eden,
    putting down roots near the rivers—
Never a worry through the hottest of summers,
    never dropping a leaf,
Serene and calm through droughts,
    bearing fresh fruit every season. (MSG)

Can we believe that we are part of God’s great plan? Can we rely on God’s wisdom, grace and peace? Can we be certain that we are loved and behave as if we accept this truth?

When we compare various translations of these verses, we begin to discover that we are blessed, that we are loved, and that we are created to bear fruit in every season – even in the deserts of our lives.


Romans 12:2-16: Into the World

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.

Today Paul gives us specific guidelines for how to live the Beatitudes, what we are to do with our concerns, how we are to handle our negative emotions, and where we might take our worries and fears. Our God-given identity calls us to reflect Christ in the world; but how are we to do this? Paul reminds us of God’s gracious gift of faith . . . and how we might carry it into a world that will likely be surprised by this message.

And because of God’s gracious gift to me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking, and judge yourself according to the amount of faith that God has given you. 

Paul reminds us that humility and love serve us much more than revenge.

Love must be completely sincere. Hold on to what is good.

God turns all harm to goodness. We have proof of this and we can rely on this.

Love one another warmly, and be eager to show respect for one another.

Paul addresses Christians, but we might extend this openness and respect to all.

Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion.

Fidelity and responsibility. Prudence and authenticity. These are our hallmarks of behavior.

Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times.

Hope and patience. Prayer and petition. These are foundations on which we stand.

Share your belongings with your needy fellows, and open your homes to strangers.

Community versus individuality. The common good versus the singular gain. These are values we must weigh.

Ask God to bless those who persecute you—yes, ask him to bless, not to curse.

This is perhaps the most difficult of all Jesus’ messages. Loving those who harm us is a challenge we want to ignore; but with Christ as our guide and refuge, we cannot lose.

Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep.

Our brother Jesus celebrates and mourns. We are invited to do the same.

Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise.

We are reminded that human wisdom cannot reach the heights of God’s wisdom. We remember that God does not abandon or betray us. We have before us a clear guideline for living as Jesus does, for living as we all might, for living as a builder in God’s kingdom. Today we have a striking description of our own God-given identity. Let us go into the world as if we believe.

When we use the scripture link and drop-down menus to compare varying versions of these words, we discover the blessings and gifts of God.


Luke 6:36-38: Our God-Created Identity

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Why must we be cautious in judging others?

Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. (GNT)

Who is our model in this difficult challenge?

Show compassion, just as your Father shows compassion. (CJB)

What do we gain by refraining from judging?

I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. (MSG)

Is the promise of union with Christ in his love of enemies enough for us? Does kindness hold the same allure as power, fame and wealth?

As we compare varying versions of Jesus’ words, we continue to consider where we put our concerns and how we act on them; and we reflect on how we live out our God-created identity.

Pierre Subleyras: Christ at the House of Simon the Pharisee


1 Corinthians 4:3-5: Our Concern

Monday, March 20, 2017

Now, I am not at all concerned about being judged by you or by any human standard; I don’t even pass judgment on myself.

How, then, do we view ourselves if not through our own eyes or the eyes of others? Has Christ called us to another standard? And is this standard higher or lower than the one we have cleverly laid out for ourselves?

My conscience is clear, but that does not prove that I am really innocent.

Why do we bother to measure ourselves at all? Is measuring necessary? What do we gain or lose by pulling out a yardstick to compare ourselves with others?

The Lord is the one who passes judgment on me.

Can we say this about ourselves? Does God’s view matter more or less than the view of the world? We believe we know the answer to these questions, but does our life reflect our belief in the simple idea that God’s view matters more than the views of the world?

So you should not pass judgment on anyone before the right time comes.

Do we have the openness to consider the views and perspectives of other peoples, cultures and societies? Do we have the honesty to see our concerns as at least equal to the concerns of others?

Final judgment must wait until the Lord comes; he will bring to light the dark secrets and expose the hidden purposes of people’s minds.

Do we have the patience, the persistence, and the honesty to allow God’s judgment to guide our lives?

And then all will receive from God the praise they deserve. (GNT)

Do we have the hope to live in the Creator’s plan, the fidelity to act in Christ’s body, and the love to live in the Spirit of God?

Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God. (NABRE)

Do we pretend that our own power and resources can handle our concerns, or do we place all our concerns in the hands of God?

When we compare varying translations of these verses, we have the opportunity to explore how we form and how we act on our own concerns.

For more reflections on measuring ourselves, enter the words God’s Yardstick into the blog search bar and explore. 


Tobit 3:24-25: The Mystery of Trusting Wisdom

The Third Sunday of Lent, March 19, 2017

school of Titian Rafael

The School of Titian: Tobias and the Archangel Rafael 

We recall the lessons we learned with these verses yesterday: God is good, we are good, life is brutal and unpredictable but also good because it brings us to God; the faithful need not fight, they only need to stand and refuse to do anything that causes them to abandon their God.

There is nothing more important to hear, to learn or to repeat to others than the lessons Tobit teaches us today.  All human suffering can be quenched by these precepts.  All human understanding is capable of taking in these ideas; but not all humans have the will to enact what they hear.  That is why we cannot read this story too often.

Wisdom is sometimes defined as patience in the waiting to hear God’s voice.  One definition puts wisdom in its proper place  as coming from God over time – in God’s time and not in our time.  When we think of the wise people we know, we discover that they share a few characteristics in common.

  • Wise people do not often react instantly to an emotional moment; they pause to allow God to speak through them.
  • Wise people declare their thoughts with the wisdom of ages; they have spent a good portion of their lives with and in scripture.
  • Wise people display a certain amount of serenity; they know that all that surrounds them is not real, the justice of the next world, not this.
  • Wise people do not regularly become impatient; they understand that we are here to practice for that which is real, the love of the next world, not this.
  • Wise people display and embody empathy; they have suffered a great deal, and they have allowed themselves to be transformed by this suffering.
  • Wise people do not think first of saving themselves; they have made their suffering salvific, and freely give themselves as co-redeemers with Christ.

The wisdom of the book of Tobit is just this kind of wisdom.  In this story, wisdom maintains her mystery; she is seen as the ultimate act of stepping into the abyss with God. The ultimate act of suffering for and through God. The ultimate act of trust in God.

Wisdom rises from suffering, endures in fidelity, heals in love, restores in hope, and lives in trust.  We can never hear this story too often.

Adapted from a reflection written on March 10, 2008.

 

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