Sunday, January 10, 2016

Reflections for the First Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – The Kingdom is at Hand

In today's Gospel, we hear Jesus make an important announcement at the beginning of His ministry: “This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” We have all heard these words dozens of times, but have we ever paused to study them or reflect on them? Let's do so now.

In the original Greek, the first sentence actually reads, “The time has been fulfilled.” The word for time is kairos, and it doesn't mean merely chronological time. Kairos refers to spiritual time, time that intersects with eternity, time that is packed with meaning and potential. Jesus says that this spiritual time has now been fulfilled. It has reached its capacity. Something new is about to happen, something supernatural, something divine, something the world has been long awaiting. 

He goes on to tell us what that is: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” God is about to break into the world in a new way. In fact, He already has. The Greek word for “is at hand” is eggizō, and it indicates “extreme closeness, immediate imminence – even a presence ('It is here') because the moment of this coming happened" (J. Schlosser at God has come among His people to rule in a totally new way. 

How should His people respond to this new manifestation of God? They must repent and believe. The word for “repent” is the imperative (command tense) of the verb metanoeō. This is a total change of mind and heart, right down to the very depths of one's being. It means letting go of old ways of thinking and acting and embracing new ways, God's ways, ways of love. Further, God's people must have faith in God and His plan of salvation. They must accept Jesus' message with open minds and open hearts and trust that it is true and, even more, that He is Truth. 

Indeed, Jesus is proclaiming something new, something wonderful, something amazing. Will we respond with repentance and faith?

Tuesday – Pouring Out Our Troubles

Hannah was a desperate woman. She knew her husband loved her, but that wasn't enough. Her husband's other wife, Peninnah, had children, but Hannah did not. As much as her husband reassured Hannah, Peninnah taunted her for her childlessness. Hannah was miserable. She desperately wanted a child in her arms.

But Hannah didn't give in to despair. She knew where to go and what to do. When her family traveled to Shiloh for sacrifice, Hannah placed herself before the Lord in prayer. She poured out her heart before God, weeping and promising that if He would grant her a son, she would dedicate the child back to God. As her prayer continued, words faded away, and Hannah swayed silently, her lips moving but no sound coming out. 

The priest Eli, who was sitting nearby, was watching Hannah, bewildered by her intensity. In fact, he thought she was drunk and scolded her accordingly. Hannah was quick to reassure him that she hadn't been drinking. “I was only pouring out my troubles to the Lord,” she explained. In her sorrow and misery, she had turned to God with trust and passionate prayer, and her request was granted. Hannah gave birth to baby boy, whom she dedicated to God just as she had promised.

What do we do when we are sorrowful and miserable? What do we do when we are on the verge of despair? What do we do when everything seems to be falling down around our ears and we don't understand why? Do we pour out our troubles to the Lord? Do we pray with the intensity and trust of Hannah? Do we seek intimacy with God instead of relying on our own strength? Do we open our hearts to His grace and love? 

Wednesday – Speak, Lord!

Have you ever noticed that the Bible can be quite humorous in places? Today's first reading is a good example. Samuel, Hannah's son, was serving the Lord under the instruction of the priest Eli. The young man was sleeping in the temple one night when he heard someone call his name. Assuming that Eli was calling him, he immediately answered, “Here I am,” and hurried to Eli's side. Eli, probably thinking that Samuel had been dreaming, told the boy to go back to sleep.

But sleep was not in the cards for Samuel that night. Once again, Samuel heard someone call his name. Once again, he rushed to Eli, who, perhaps a bit annoyed by this time, told him to go back to sleep. Samuel obeyed, but soon he heard his name yet again. Not knowing what else to do, Samuel got up and went to Eli, probably expecting a good scolding.

By this time, though, Eli was starting to get wise to what was going on. He realized that God was the one calling young Samuel's name, and he told the boy, “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’”

Samuel obeyed, and sure enough, pretty soon he heard someone call his name. He responded in the words Eli had told him to use: “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.”

Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening. When God calls our names, when He whispers in our hearts, when He uses another person to send us a message, when He touches us in some way, we, too, must respond with these words. We must be open to God's call and allow ourselves to be led. We must listen to His words and accept His guidance. We must be ready to drop everything and follow the Lord in whatever He may have planned for our lives.

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