Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Reflections for the 3rd Week of Lent, Part 2

Thursday – One Stronger

“When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe.” When we look around at this crazy, mixed up world we live in, we might sometimes wonder if the enemy is winning. Violence is everywhere. Disease is rampant. Faithlessness and cynicism entwine the hearts of many. Hatred and apathy seem to reign. The enemy appears to be holding tightly to his possessions in the midst of the world.

But Jesus assures us that the enemy does not and will not have the last word: “But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils.” There is one stronger than the enemy: Jesus Himself, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God-made-man, Omnipotence incarnate. Jesus has already defeated the enemy, the prince of this world. He has already overcome him by dying on the cross. He has won victory over the enemy's lies and malice. They can no longer hurt us if we stay close to Jesus. We are safe. We can enjoy the things of this world without being controlled by them if we place them in Jesus' hands and let Him distribute them to us as He pleases. We can be secure in faith, hope, and love. Even in the midst of suffering, we can find a depth of meaning and even joy, knowing that Jesus is in control and works all things for our ultimate good.

Indeed, the One stronger stands right beside us, and His strength and grace flow into us that we, too, might defeat the enemy and reign victorious with Jesus forever.

Friday – No Strange God

“There shall be no strange god among you nor shall you worship any alien god.”

No strange god. Do we worship any strange gods? Do we make money or possessions or power or fame or glory the center of our lives? Have they become idols that we set up on a pedestal? Do we bow down before them, hoping that somehow they will make us happy?

No strange god. We have but one God, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, all-wise, all-merciful, all-loving God of the universe. He calls us to worship Him alone, to give ourselves to Him completely, to surrender to His perfect will, and to embrace His perfect love.

No strange god. We don't need strange gods. We already have the One God Who stands above all else.

Saturday – Two People Praying

Two people are praying in the Temple. One is a religious leader. People look to him for guidance about the ways and laws of God. He considers himself an expert in his field, and he speaks confidently about his habits of fasting and tithing. He is quite glad that he isn't like everyone else. He sees himself as someone special.

But this man is not really praying to God. He is praying to himself. He is merely congratulating himself on his human accomplishments and reflecting on how much he stands above his fellow human beings. He is not interacting with God.

The other person, however, is a tax collector. He stands at the bottom of the social ladder, despised by his countrymen because of his profession. This man knows he is a sinner. He doesn't raise his eyes but remains humbly at a distance and strikes his breast to show his grief and repentance. “O God,” he cries, “be merciful to me a sinner.”

This man, in spite of his weakness and sin, is talking directly to God. He knows who he is and what he is, but he also realizes that God is greater than all his faults and all his trials. In his humility, he hopes that God will forgive him.

And God does. Jesus tells us that the tax collector went home justified. He left the Temple in a right relationship with God, forgiven and free.

This story of two people praying invites us to ask ourselves some questions about why we pray, how we pray, and to whom we pray. As we reflect, let us also remember Jesus' final commentary on the matter: “...for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

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