Sunday, August 30, 2015

Reflections for the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Jesus' Hometown

In today's Gospel, we hear about Jesus' first trip back home after the beginning of His public ministry. He has already been teaching in the synagogues of Galilee to the delight of all, and now it's time for a visit to His hometown.

Things start out pretty well. Jesus reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah. It's one that His fellow Jews have probably heard dozens of times over the years, and it's really quite beautiful. Isaiah foretells the coming of an anointed one, a Messiah, who will walk in the Spirit of God. This person will bring great blessings to Israel. He will bless the poor, free the captives, give sight to the blind, end oppression, and introduce a new era acceptable to God.

When Jesus finishes His reading, which is probably inspiring in itself, He rolls up the scroll and sits down to offer a teaching. All eyes in the synagogue are on Him. His listeners are expecting something great, something profound. They get it. Jesus looks at His friends, relatives, and neighbors and proclaims, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Whatever they may have expected, this isn't it. Some are pleased, of course, and speak highly of Him, but perhaps they do not understand exactly what Jesus just said. Others do, and they aren't very happy about it. Jesus has just called Himself the Messiah, the one Isaiah foretold, the one who will save Israel. How can that be? They've known Jesus since He was just a little boy. They demand a sign. If Jesus is really who He claims to be, then they want to see some action, something like the great miracles He was reported to have done in other places.

Jesus declines. He knows that they don't really have hearts that are filled with faith and open to miracles. He understands that their request for a sign is really a rejection of His proclamation. He proceeds to inform His neighbors that most prophets have never been accepted in their hometowns. What's more, He continues, God doesn't even always choose Irsaelites to be the recipients of His miracles. Just look at the widow of Zaraphath or Naaman the Syrian.

Jesus is hinting here that His ministry will extend far beyond His native place and even far beyond Israel, but His hearers don't get it. In fact, they're so ticked off by His words that they would just as soon toss Jesus over a cliff as hear anymore. Jesus, however, walks through them and goes away.

There's an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. When we think we know someone or something very well, we don't expect surprises, and when we get them, we aren't pleased. Often, it's even easy to fall into a rut in our spiritual lives. We go through our routines and don't think much of them until something happens to shake us up. Then we have a choice. We can act like Jesus' neighbors and rebel against anything new, or we can look deeper and perhaps discover a wonderful message from God right in our own hometown.

Tuesday – Encourage One Another

St. Paul gives us some highly important advice in today's first reading: “...encourage one another and build one another up...” He uses these words to conclude a remarkable meditation on hope. The dead are not lost forever. We will see them again. Jesus will come back someday, and we must be ready when He does, ready to be caught up in His loving arms. God wants everyone to be saved in Jesus, Who died for us, and one day, we will all live together with Him.

There's plenty of material for encouragement in these words. But how often do we share them with others? How often do we tell someone, “Jesus loves you”? How often do we pause to reflect together on our destiny? How often do we look forward to Heaven and discuss our highest and best hopes with our fellow Christians?

God has a plan for each and every one of us, and His ultimate goal is to get us home to Heaven to be with Him forever. Use that knowledge to build someone up today. Offer some encouragement to someone who desperately needs it. Assure that person of God's love, and be sure to believe it yourself.

Wednesday – Trust, Thankfulness, and Proclamation

Today's Responsorial Psalm is only two verses long, but it is packed with joy. The psalmist declares that he is like a green olive tree in God's house. A green olive tree is full of potential. It is waiting to bear fruit, which is sure to come. Therefore, the psalmist trusts God, knowing that he, too, is filled with potential and will bear fruit under God's loving care.

The psalmist is also thankful for God's gifts, and he doesn't hesitate to express his thanks. He recognizes God's hand in his life, and he overflows with gratitude.

Finally, the psalmist knows that God is good, and he is ready and willing to proclaim God's goodness to everyone. He can't stop himself from talking about his God, and he wouldn't want to anyway.

Trust, thankfulness, and proclamation. These lead to joy, and the psalmist is filled with that. Are we?

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