Sunday, September 20, 2015

Reflections for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – One

God wants all of His people to be one. He calls us to unity in the Holy Spirit, to be one Body in the one Spirit. He reminds us that we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one hope. He is our one God, the Father of all. 

Who are we to break the unity that God so longs for us to possess? Yet we have done just that. Through our pride and stubbornness, we have shattered the oneness we were supposed to preserve. We've driven wedges and built walls. We squabble and bicker and get so caught up in our debates that God fades into the background. 

But, as St. Paul reminds us, each of us has been given the gift of grace to build up the Body of Christ. Some are teachers, others pastors, others prophets, and others evangelists. Some have other gifts according to God's generous plan. All of us, no matter what our talents and duties, are all called to strive for “the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God.” 

We must pray together for unity, asking God for an outpouring of His Holy Spirit upon His people. We must talk to each other and learn about each other so that we may recognize our similarities and work toward minimizing our differences. We must encounter each other with open minds and open hearts and really listen to each other. We must work together to serve the poorest among us and lift them up. We must truly love each other.

God will restore our unity in His own time, but we must keep praying, talking, listening, working, and loving to prepare for that day when we will all be one.

Tuesday – Restoration

They had been in exile for nearly 70 years. For decades they had dreamed of Jerusalem, remembering how they and their ancestors had entered into the Temple of God to offer Him sacrifice and worship. They had done all right in Babylon. They had raised their families and lived fairly normal lives, but at the heart of every Jew beat a desire to go home.

Finally the day arrived. King Darius had given permission for the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the house of their God. He even gave them money to start out.

It wasn't easy. Not everyone chose to return, at least not right away. They were comfortable where they were, comfortable enough to ignore the desire to go home and to refuse to take the risk. Those who did set out for the Promised Land faced a multitude of challenges. The people who had settled in their place didn't want to give back the territory. Supplies ran low. Rebuilding proved to be much more difficult than they had envisioned.

The leaders and prophets did their best to encourage the returnees. Haggai and Zechariah received prophetic words from God to guide them and, indeed, to chastise them when they put their personal rebuilding ahead of the reconstruction of the Temple. They soon learned that God wanted to be at the very center of the lives and their community. When they turned their focus to God's house, they quickly discovered that their restoration process went much more smoothly.

Finally, they finished. The new Temple was complete. It wasn't as grand as Solomon's Temple, but it was still God's house. God was again in the midst of His people. 

The people celebrated the dedication of the Temple with great joy, and they gratefully kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. It was so good to partake of the feast, so good to listen to the Law, so good to worship God, so good to be home. 

Wednesday – Remedial Punishment

God is the best of fathers. He loves His children without end, and He longs for them to reach their full potential and to share intimately in His divine life.

God's children, however, fall often. We are weak and sinful, selfish and greedy, materialistic and power-hungry. We break our promises. We fail to love our neighbors. We fail to love God.

All good fathers discipline their children, and God is no exception. Today's Psalm proclaims that God “scourges and then has mercy; He casts down to the depths of the nether world, and He brings up from the great abyss.”

God doesn't want to hurt us, but He needs to teach us a lesson. We must learn that sin has consequences, and we must experience those consequences so we learn to avoid sin in the future. So God, good Father that He is, disciplines us. He allows us to feel pain but only to heal us in a deeper way. He casts us down for a while but only to raise us up to a higher level. God is never vindictive. He takes no pleasure in punishing us. All He wants is to help us grow and to get rid of all the obstacles of our own making that stand between us and Him.

This is why the Psalmist praises God even in the midst of exile, fear, and pain. He realizes that in the end, God's discipline, accepted and even embraced, will help us let go of our sins and grow into God's love.

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