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Spiritual Reflections

All belongs to God

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Our second reading, the opening of Paul's letter to the Thessalonians sets up our consideration of today's Scriptures. Paul invites us to listen to his letter as though we were the community originally addressed, to bask in his description of us, and nod in agreement with the members of that early community of Greek-speaking Christians.

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A motley crew

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In the sacred texts we hear today, Isaiah and the Matthean evangelist offer their understanding of the kingdom of God -- or, as Matthew preferred, the kingdom of heaven. Both of the sacred authors thought of the kingdom in terms of a banquet of rich food and choice wines, prepared by God.

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Your story and mine

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When the eighth-century prophet Isaiah had a harsh truth to communicate to his contemporaries, he wrapped his message in a ballad -- a love song that told of God's love and Israel's repeated infidelity. He warned of judgment and well-deserved punishment, but he sang of these realities, and thereby created an opening in the hearts of those who might otherwise have turned a deaf ear.

Wrestling with God

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Not everyone's happy with God's forgiveness.

When I preached on these three readings years ago while in residence at our cathedral, I got lots of feedback -- little of it positive. One man, for instance, came up after the Eucharist and angrily informed me, "I didn't like that sermon about forgiveness at all." Then, whirling around as he was going out the door, he yelled, "Thank God my two teenage boys didn't hear that [expletive]! If they had, I'd never be able to control them again!"

The ways of the kingdom

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I have to be honest: I think this selection from Isaiah is one of the most disagreeable readings in either Testament. Who wants to be reminded that God does not share our opinions? In some way, this teaching seems to trump even the command to love our enemies because "God's ways" question enmity itself.

Sign of our salvation

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Have you seen the movie "Spartacus"? There have been several versions of the story of this Thracian gladiator and slave (109-71 B.C.) who united his fellow slaves in a revolt against the Roman empire. Historians estimate that the slave army grew to between 90,000 to 125,000 people at its peak. After several successful onslaughts on Rome, Spartacus and his army were defeated. Although his body was never found, some 6,000 slaves were crucified all along the road from Rome to Capua. This cruel punishment was intended to warn others against any further insurrection.

Owning our sins

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Today, the sacred texts put us in touch with the truth that we are not yet holy as God is holy or perfect as God is perfect. We fall short of our goals; we miss the mark; we sin. But we are not without hope, because the God who created us in the divine image loves us and wants us to be the best reflection of the Godhead that we can be. The God who loves us also wants to enter into a relationship with us from which we will draw life, true happiness and deep fulfillment.

God's word is never easy

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To understand why Jeremiah is so despondent in today's first reading, it's essential to appreciate the role of biblical prophets in the history of salvation.

Contrary to popular opinion, they normally don't predict the future, certainly not the coming of Jesus. Unfortunately this false notion of their ministry is often reinforced in our liturgies. The Second Advent Preface, in the old translation, stated, "(Jesus') future coming was proclaimed by all the prophets." In the revised translation, it still says, "For all the oracles of the prophets foretold him."

Our testimony of Jesus

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Scripture is never simple. Even before we begin to read, we must know who is speaking, and why, and to whom, and with what agenda. To make matters even harder, the events and teachings we read about took place millennia ago in a language, culture and context different from our own. Despite this, we return to the Scriptures again and again to understand what God wants of us. We need to know what God's love is asking of us here and now in our own culture, language and circumstances.

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In This Issue

October 10-23, 2014

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