Wednesday, March 19, 2014

St. Joseph

Husband, Guardian, and Man After God's Own Heart



St. Joseph was of the house of David, and even more than was his father David, Joseph was a man after God’s own heart-- for like the Lord His God Himself, he chose mercy over justice. His betrothed Mary's virtue seemed lost when she was found to be with child apart from him, but Joseph chose to spare her life and dignity rather than subject her to the tenets of the Law—under which he would have had the right to demand that Mary be stoned, when the life of the pre-born Jesus would have also been lost.

When God asked even more of Joseph, that he not only let Mary and her baby live, but based on the word of the Lord alone, that he consent to live as husband and father to them, like a true son of Abraham, he gave the Lord his fiat without a word; without hesitation. St. Joseph was not silent; he was unquestionably obedient.

St. Joseph was more like Jesus’ Heavenly Father than any other man born of woman. While many may argue that no spoken word of Joseph is recorded in the Bible, such is not the case. Like Jesus’ Heavenly Father, it was Joseph’s works which spoke for him—the greatest of which was preserving and caring for the life of the Son of God as though He were his own.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Abraham's Sacrifice: Rendering to God What is God's

Rembrandt van Rijn, Abraham's Sacrifice, 1655
A Reflection on Genesis 22:1-19

This passage represents the culmination of a series of events in the life of Abraham and in his relationship with God.  As that series of events seems to show, Abraham has now received everything God promised him:  the blessing of many possessions, land, God’s protection (as secured in Abraham’s covenant with Abimelech, the Philistine king), and the long-awaited promised son Isaac. Now God is going to test Abraham, but why? God’s covenant with Abraham is everlasting, but what about Abraham’s covenant with God? Has Abraham obeyed God thus far only in order that God would fulfill what He had been promising?  And now that Abraham has everything he desired, will he continue to obey God in all things?

But how can this be?  God is actually commanding Abraham to take his son, his one and only son, and offer him as a sacrifice!  That Isaac was finally born to Abraham was the fulfillment of the seemingly impossible. That God would ask Abraham to slay his son seems completely contrary to the nature of God and His own commandments; and that Abraham would obey such a command from God seems completely contrary to who Abraham is.  It broke his heart to have to send his son Ishmael out into the wilderness, to disown him and completely trust him to the care of God.  But this!

Yet Abraham does not question; he does not protest; he does not weep. He obeys without hesitation.  It would seem that God’s fulfillment of His covenant with Abraham has in turn brought about Abraham’s fulfillment of his covenant with God.  It took many years and many journeys and many lessons, but now his conversion is complete.  Abraham has become a saint!

In our own lives, in our own covenant relationship with God, He asks nothing less than everything from us.  But only because He has – in His Son, His One and Only Son—already given us nothing less than everything of Himself!  We say we will trust God in all we do, but then, like Abraham, we end up forgetting that God is with us, so we end up doing instead what we think best—because we think, after all, we have to look out for ourselves.  If only we would instead give Him our all and trust Him for all—because everything we have is, after all, a gift to us from Him; and when God asks for it all back, He is then only asking us to empty ourselves of ourselves, so that He may instead fill us with Himself!

Because Abraham was willing to give the gift of Isaac back to God as a sacrifice, God not only instead Himself provided the ram for Abraham’s sacrifice, but promised provision, peace and blessing for Abraham’s descendants to come, who would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the shore. If we then put all of our faith and trust in God and in the Ram He has provided as the One Sacrifice pleasing to Himself, we will have, as His promised reward, nothing less than eternal life.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Take Courage, it is I; Do not be Afraid!

For All Caregivers Everywhere
Matthew 14:22-33


Jesus saves Peter from drowning (Matthew 14:30-31)
Lord, what words of consolation can You give
To those of us who must helplessly look on,
As mind and body of loved ones crumble;
wash away before our eyes?
We know no comfort;
No comfort can we give them.
Our boat is a long distance from land,
Battered by waves of tears, anxiety, sinking in despair,
Our hearts torn and tattered like sails in the storm.
Yet in the midst of this terror,
It is then You come, unexpectedly,
Appearing like a ghost,
Looking like the very ones who are vanishing from our sight.
For where do we see You, Lord?
Not in a heavenly vision,
But there! in the same faces of those who no longer know us!
It is then that we hear You speak to us,
Seemingly out of mouths that can no longer form words,
Saying gently, yet ever so clearly,
"Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid!"

Saturday, July 23, 2011

On Sinners, Saints, and the Mercy of God

The Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30)

 

"Parable of the Enemy Sowing Tares." Unknown, 1894.
 24He put another parable before them, saying, (A) "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds[a] among the wheat and went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27And the servants[b] of the master of the house came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?' 28He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' So the servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' 29But he said,(B) 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers,(C) Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

Footnotes:
  1. Matthew 13:25 Probably darnel, a wheat-like weed
  2. Matthew 13:27 Greek bondservants; also verse 28
Cross references:
  1. Matthew 13:24 : Matthew 13:37-42; Mark 4:26-29
  2. Matthew 13:29 : 1 Cor 4:5
  3. Matthew 13:30 : Matthew 3:12
Even the name by which this story has come to be known could color the way we understand this particular parable of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven.  But the focus of the story doesn't have to be the weeds which have grown up among the wheat in the field.  The appearance of the weeds certainly upsets the servants of the master of the house, who offer to immediately go out into the field and pull them all up as a service to their master.  But we notice that the master himself is not upset, nor does he even seem surprised.  He also apparently knows the source of the weed seed, and in his wisdom, is content to let the weeds grow up among the wheat until harvest time.

We note that the enemy mentioned had come and sowed weeds among the wheat while the master's servants were sleeping. We also note that the master does not chide his servants for sleeping.  It was not as though they had been "sleeping on the job". By contrast, perhaps the master's own lack of surprise, and in fact, what would seem to be his full knowledge of how the weeds came to be there, would indicate that he himself had witnessed exactly what had taken place; that the master in this parable is none other than "He who watches over Israel" and the One who "will neither slumber nor sleep" (Ps. 121:4). Could this mean that the master then knowingly allowed the weeds to be sown amidst his wheat? Perhaps the master of the house has a plan of which no one else knows.

What do the wheat and the weeds then represent in this parable about the Kingdom of Heaven? Are we to understand them simply as sinners and saints, who at the time of the harvest will either be punished or rewarded for their deeds? Yet, if the weeds definitively represent sinners and the wheat saints, then doesn't that seem to say that sinners cannot repent and become saints, and saints cannot before the end of their lives turn into unrepentant sinners, ultimately rejecting the Lord? Such an interpretation would seem to simultaneously favor two Calvinist doctrines:  first, of predetermination; that is, that God only desires the salvation of the elect, and then, of "once saved always saved." But rightly knowing that we are each endowed by our God with free will, we clearly see the error in these doctrines.  Each soul is free to ultimately either choose or reject salvation.  Sanctification is also a process worked over time by grace with our cooperation, not an immediately complete, once-and-for-all event performed by God alone and apart from our will.

Clearly, the master of the house knows that in trying to pull up the weeds from among the wheat, some of the wheat might be pulled up as well before it has matured. If heaven were to rain down judgment upon the sinner while he yet lives, such judgment could also take the life of his neighbor the just man. Perhaps, then, there is much more to the wisdom of the master than meets the eye. Letting both the weeds and the wheat grow up together until harvest time is a decision that he alone has made, and which no one else seems to understand or appreciate. Perhaps, then, only the master knows, understands and can see that it will only be at harvest time-- at the time of judgment-- when it will be ultimately known which plants bear grains of wheat and which are truly weeds; which are saints and which are sinners; whether a soul has finally persevered or has at the moment of death despaired and rejected God, in spite of his continual call to repentance and offer of mercy. The parable then seems to serve as a reminder to us that the Lord God is the only just judge.

The focus and purpose of this parable then, would seem to be, not to remind us once again of the four last things-- death, judgment, heaven and hell-- but rather to reveal to us in a new way the great merciful heart of our Heavenly Father. While others would judge our eternal destinies still in the midst of our lives, the Father is infinitely patient with us.  Further, if we are sinners, he gives us the gift of saints to live among us, to serve as living examples of what we can be if we would only turn to Him. If we are humble and obedient, we might be living holy lives, perhaps with apparent sinners living among us, for whom we should constantly pray as well as remember that we are only what we are ultimately by the grace of God.

Finally, how are we to understand what happens at the time of harvest, where the weeds are bound into bundles to be burned, with the wheat gathered into the master's barn? When something is burned, all of the moisture, all of the life and potential life, is removed from it, and ultimately, it is reduced to dust, and therefore worthless. It is also no longer recognizable as what it was before it was burned.  When one burns a plant after it is harvested, the ultimate intention is to kill its seeds, so that it might not further spread or reproduce. But as for the wheat, which the master will gather into his barn, the grain will either be ground into flour or it will be sown in the ground again.

This parable of the weeds-- that might yet be wheat-- seems to echo the beautiful words of Isaiah 55, of God's free offer of mercy, calling the sinner to repentance, so that he might yet know the wonderful compassion of the Lord-- and live.

9“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
         So are My ways higher than your ways
         And My thoughts than your thoughts.

10“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
         And do not return there without watering the earth
         And making it bear and sprout,
         And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;

11So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
         It will not return to Me empty,
         Without accomplishing what I desire,
         And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

12“For you will go out with joy
         And be led forth with peace;
         The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you,
         And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

13“Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up,
         And instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up,
         And it will be a memorial to the LORD,
         For an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.”