Sunday, September 13, 2015

Reflections for the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – A Type of the Cross

The Israelites were first-rate complainers. As they traveled through the desert on the way to the Promised Land, they kept up a steady stream of whining that was enough to get on anyone's nerves. Even though God miraculously provided everything they needed (manna for food and water flowing from a rock), they always wanted more. 

Their complaining quickly reached the level of sinful mistrust and ungratefulness, and God sent serpents among the people as punishment. After a few Israelites had died from snakebites, the people finally got the message and repented of their sin. They asked Moses to intercede for them and to beg God to take away the serpents.

God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten would only have to look at the bronze serpent in order to survive.

This seems a bit strange, doesn't it? First off, notice that God didn't take away the serpents completely. Sin has consequences, and sometimes, like a good father, God has to let His people experience those consequences. He did, however, provide a remedy and, at the same time, a type of the cross.

A type is a foreshadow or prefiguration. The Bible is filled with types. Old Testament events and people foreshadow the events and people of the New Testament. Moreover, both Testaments have elements that prefigure the Church and the Christian life. 

The bronze serpent on a pole, then, prefigures, foreshadows, and is a type of the cross of Jesus Christ. God invested healing power in that metal serpent, which served as a symbolic representative of the people's sin and punishment, but the people who had been bitten had to turn and look at it to access that power. 

Reflect for a moment on Jesus as He hung on the cross. He took upon Himself all of our sins and their punishment. He died in our place, and God invested Him with healing power. By His death on the cross, Jesus merited forgiveness for our sins. He healed our relationship with God. He opened the gates of Heaven. Of course, the reality of Jesus on the cross far outshines the shadowy type of the bronze serpent on a pole, but God dropped many hints throughout salvation history to guide us closer and closer to the ultimate Truth He revealed in His Son Jesus Christ. 

Tuesday – Integrity

“I will persevere in the way of integrity...” The Psalmist makes this promise to God in today's Psalm. A little later, he makes another pledge: to bring only people of integrity into his service and companionship.

What is integrity? In English, the word typically refers to wholeness. Someone with integrity is sound in character, morally upright, and sincere. The Hebrew word, tâmı̂ym, goes even further. A person with tâmı̂ym is perfect in the sense of being complete and innocent. He or she lives according to the truth and strives to possess a blameless heart. 

Are we people of integrity? Do we, like the Psalmist, endeavor to live our lives to the fullest? Do we seek to be complete human beings as God designed us to be? Do we value innocence and truth? Do we aim to follow God's moral law? When we fail and fall to pieces, do we seek God's forgiveness and allow Him to put us back together? Do we pray to God for the gift of integrity, knowing that He is the One Who can make us whole in Him if only we allow Him to do so?

Wednesday – Never Satisfied

In today's Gospel, Jesus observes that the people of His day are just never satisfied. First, He says, they look at John the Baptist and think he's a nut because he fasts and abstains from wine. But then, they look at Jesus and complain because He does eat and drink and hangs around with sinners and tax collectors at that. 

What do these people really want? They can't seem to make up their minds. Perhaps they simply want to be comfortable. They don't appreciate being challenged by asceticism when they enjoy their creature comforts. Yet their religious sensibilities are offended when a teacher (as they labeled Jesus) doesn't seem to discipline himself properly. They certainly don't want to associate with individuals they feel are beneath them, and they don't want others to do so either. 

Doesn't that sound familiar? Modern people aren't really much different from Jesus' fellow Israelites. We, too, are never satisfied. We, too, want to be comfortable, so we bristle at challenges. We have certain standards for others even though we don't care to meet them ourselves, and there are people we simply want nothing to do with. 

But this isn't Jesus' way. Christianity is both uncomfortable and challenging. Jesus actually wants us to be never satisfied...but with ourselves rather than with others. He calls us out, prods us to change, leads us into new situations, and introduces us to new people. He nudges us into self-denial, pushes us to adopt new habits, and opens up perspectives we never could have imagined. In the process, He draws us closer and closer to Himself, making sure that we are never satisfied until we are at home in Heaven.

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