Sunday, February 7, 2016

Reflections for the 5th Week in Ordinary Time and the Week of Ash Wednesday, Part 1

Monday – God's Dwelling Place

In today's first reading, King Solomon is thrilled to be dedicating the new Temple that he had built for God. He wanted to make sure everything was just right. The priests carried the Ark of the Covenant up from its temporary home and placed it in the Holy of Holies. They also put the sacred vessels in place and sacrificed large numbers of oxen and sheep. It was a very special day.

And then something amazing happened. A cloud descended. Dark and light at the same time, the cloud spread through the whole Temple. As the priests dashed to safety, Solomon watched open-mouthed. He recognized this cloud. He had never seen it, but he had heard of it. It was the shekinah, the same cloud that had led the Israelites out of Egypt, the same cloud that settled on the meeting tent Moses had built in the desert, the same cloud that both concealed and revealed God's presence so long ago. 

Now Solomon called out, “The Lord intends to dwell in the dark cloud; I have truly built You a princely house, a dwelling where You may abide forever.” 

But Solomon missed the point. Yes, God was present in the cloud. Yes, God would dwell in the Temple. Yes, God would remain with His people Israel. But God would not be limited to one place or one time. Solomon had no way of knowing what the future would hold, but one day the Almighty Power that he witnessed in the shekinah would dwell incarnate in human flesh, God-made-Man, Jesus Christ. He would one day dwell under the appearance of bread and wine as food for those who love Him. He would one day dwell in the souls of His people, closer to them then they would be to themselves, filling them with love as He once filled the Temple with that dark cloud.

Tuesday – You Hypocrites

The Pharisees longed for purity, to be set apart for God, to do everything just right in order to please Him and teach others to be holy. So they kept up their appearances. They created more and more rituals, more and more traditions, more and more rules, all with the hope of satisfying God.

They didn't realize what was really happening. Their rituals and traditions and rules started taking on a life of their own. The desire to get things just right externally overshadowed the reason for all the regulations and practices. God faded into the background as the Pharisees sought to perfectly control their own lives and the lives of their fellow Jews.

Then Jesus stepped onto the scene. “You hypocrites,” He called the Pharisees, who were busy criticizing His disciples for failing to wash their hands before a meal. “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites,” He exclaimed, “as it is written:

This people honors Me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from Me;
In vain do they worship Me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.

The Pharisees no longer cared about God. All they cared about was their pride, which was fed as they raised their rules higher and higher, confusing divine law with human standards. This was not worship, at least not worship of God. 

Jesus continued with a specific example of the Pharisees' hypocrisy. God's law, He reminded them, commanded all to honor their fathers and mothers. But the Pharisees thought they had found a loophole. All they had to do was call qorban, and they no longer had to support their aging parents. The money that would have gone to that duty was now “dedicated” to God. 

God, Jesus implied, certainly didn't want the Pharisees' money. He wanted obedience; He wanted love; and He wanted His people to love each other. 

The Pharisees had descended far from the purity they claimed to desire. They were all about show and power, and Jesus made it quite clear that He had no time for such hypocrisy. 

Wednesday – Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

Yesterday we listened in as Jesus chastised the Pharisees for concentrating so much on external practices and rules that they neglected God. Today as we begin Lent, Jesus warns us to avoid getting caught up in the same pattern even as He invites us to increase our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. 

Our external Lenten disciplines are designed to reflect and help us deepen internal realities, especially our relationship with God. He must be at the center of everything we do. All our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving must be firmly focused on Him and on our love for Him and for others. 

That being said, Lent is a good time to try something new. Start a prayer journal. Pray a Rosary every day. Listen to more Christian music. Give up something pleasant but unnecessary. Give up some time to a good cause by volunteering at a local charity. Donate to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a homeless shelter, or another organization that provides direct assistance to the poor. The possibilities are endless. Just make sure that God remains front and center no matter what.

No comments:

Post a Comment