Paul and his companions faced some incredible difficulties as they traveled through the Mediterranean world spreading the Gospel. In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul catalogs them for us: “in everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance, in afflictions, hardships, constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils, fasts...” Now there's some opposition! Everywhere they went, Paul and the other missionaries were met by people who hated them and their message and didn't hesitate to express that animosity openly.
How did Paul and his companions handle such contempt? Paul tells us: “by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in unfeigned love, in truthful speech, in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left...” They met opposition head on...with love. They remained focused on God rather than on themselves. They trusted God to get through whatever happened, knowing that, no matter what, He would make things right in the end. Paul really believed what he wrote to the Romans: God makes all things work together for good for those who love Him.
In the Gospel, Jesus expresses a similar theme, offering a few more specific examples of how to deal with opposition: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.” In other words, meet opposition head on...with love. Trust God to make things right.
Does this mean that we should just roll over and take whatever abuse people pile on us? Absolutely not. Jesus is using some exaggeration here to make His point. We do have the responsibility to oppose evil, especially when it threatens other people, and we do not have to remain in abusive, violent situations. But we must always examine ourselves as we face opposition and determine whether we are focused on ourselves and our indignation or on God and His plan for our lives.
Tuesday – Eager Generosity
St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians is one of the earliest examples of a financial appeal to Christians to support their fellow believers. The Church in Jerusalem had fallen on some tough times; Christians there were poor and persecuted, and they desperately needed the help of their family in faith throughout the world. This posed quite a challenge to Christians in places like Corinth. Most of them were Gentiles, not Jewish Christians as were the members of the Church in Jerusalem. The differences in their cultures, languages, and histories could prove to be obstacles to their generosity.
Paul, therefore, meets the potential problem by offering an example of a Church that had already responded to the call for help with eager generosity. The Macedonians, he admits, aren't rich at all. In fact, they are also experiencing “profound poverty” and “a severe test of affliction,” but they have answered his challenge with an overflowing outpouring of both material aid and abundant joy in giving. They even begged Paul to let them serve their fellow Christian in this way.
How could they do this? Paul explains that “they gave themselves first to the Lord...” This was the key to the Macedonians' eager generosity. They placed themselves and everything they had at God's feet and let Him direct them in lovingly serving others. We must all ask ourselves if we are doing likewise.
(Sources: Navarre Bible commentary; MacLaren's Expositions)
Wednesday – Motives
Why do you pray, fast, and give alms? What are your motives? Do you do these things just to be noticed and impress others? Do you do them in order to feel good? Do you do them out of love for God and love for neighbor? Is there some blend of all three and, if so, in what proportion?
Jesus invites us to examine and honestly answer these difficult questions in today's Gospel. Are we like the hypocrites who call attention to themselves, or do we focus on God, Who sees in secret? Do we merely settle for a worldly reward, or do we hold out for the Heavenly reward that God has in store for those who live in love?