What can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ? Nothing. Not “anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword.” Through all of these, Jesus remains at our side, wrapping us in His love. Not “death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature...” Jesus does not allow any of these to come between Him and us. He stays close to us, closer to us then we are to ourselves, through all our trials and tribulations.
We know from our observations and experiences, however, that some people seem to be far away from divine love. What, then, separates them from the love of Christ? They separate themselves. Jesus doesn't withhold his love from anyone, but sometimes people choose to turn them backs on that love. They reject God. They want nothing to do with Him. His love still surrounds them, but they refuse to acknowledge it. If they persist in this renunciation of God's love to the very end of their lives, they will find themselves in hell, where God's love still surrounds them, but they experience it only as fiery torture.
Indeed, nothing can separate us from God's love except our own free choice to reject that love, and even then that love remains although our experience of it changes. Let us open our hearts to God's love and cling to Him no matter what happens in our lives. He will never stop loving us.
Friday – Israel, God's Firstborn
Israel has been specially blessed by God for centuries. Chosen by Him as His special people, the Israelites became God's family. He revealed Himself to them and established covenants with them, those sacred bonds of kinship created by oaths. In doing so, He pledged Himself to be their God, their Father, and they in turn, swore to be God's people and to obey His laws.
God guided Israel through centuries, blessing them when they kept the covenants and punishing them when they sinned in order to teach them how to do better next time. As many times as the people sinned, God never abandoned them. In fact, He promised them a Savior Who would one day make a new covenant that would take God's family to a whole new level and even incorporate the Gentiles.
The Israelites, then, filled the role of God's firstborn. They received God's revelation, His laws, His covenants, and His promises so that one day, they could teach their younger siblings, the other nations of the world, all about the one true God. They were to help prepare the world to be part of God's universal family, which Jesus Christ, an Israelite Himself in His human lineage, established.
Israel is indeed our older brother in faith. Israel's family history is our family history, too. This is why we need to study the Old Testament. It is the heritage of the family of God.
Saturday – True Honor
In today's Gospel, Jesus relates a challenging parable that strikes at the heart of our notions of pride and honor. He tells of a wedding banquet and a guest who seated himself at a place of honor at the table. This guest thought he deserved such recognition, but he received a nasty, embarrassing shock when another, more-honorable guest arrived and their host asked his presumptuous guest to take another seat. Since all the seats were already full, the now humiliated guest shuffled down to the lowest place, probably followed by the smirks and snickers of everyone else at the table. His pride had led to his downfall and humiliation.
Jesus then goes on to explain a better approach. “When you are invited,” He instructs, “go and take the lowest place...” Our natural pride and dignity might rebel at this. We think we are better than some people and deserve more attention and distinction. But, Jesus continues, if we humble ourselves in this way, “when the host comes to you he may say, 'My friend, move up to a higher position.'” Then we may have the satisfaction of following our host to a better place while the other guests nod and smile, agreeing with the host's decision.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” Jesus concludes, “but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”