In our reading from the Book of Sirach, we are encouraged to
seek humility, knowing that it is not the judgment of the world that ultimately
matters so much as the approbation of God in our lives, and the generosity of
heart God’s love engenders: Humble yourself the more, Sirach says, and you will find favor with God. We are to act humbly as God acts, on God’s
behalf, in all that we do, comfortable where we are and ready to live out God’s
Likewise, when, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of
the invited guests and hosts, he reminds his disciples that it is God’s prerogative
to decide where we rank in the grand
scheme of things; we human beings don’t decide our own greatness, we simply
need to embrace the path God set for us:
Go and take the lowest place, Jesus admonishes his disciples, so that any
elevation they experience is not a product of their actions, but a revelation
of the judgment of God: For everyone who
exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be
exalted… It is in this way that we can attain the spiritual Zion of which the Letter to the Hebrews
speaks, the city of the living God,
wherein God cares for all, where God’s mercy reaches out to all people, the bountiful rain referenced in Psalm 68.
We are defined, in sum, by God’s love that perfects us; we
hope to be counted among the spirits of
the just made perfect, an identity offered to us all by a God who saves,
who judges all, yet who repays the righteous, recognizing the humility
of those who understand that theirs is the
lowest place. Our identity in Christ
is one of humble acceptance, a place wherein we acknowledge that God has made a home for us, the poor, that we
might know Jesus, the mediator of a new
covenant, and rejoice in the identity that God represents for us, among the
humble and forsaken. Such is the identity God has given each of us; such is
the identity we are called to embrace in all humility, a gift of the goodness of God, a blessing.
What is the burden of
the Bible if not a sense of the
mutuality of influence, rising out of an essential unity, among soul and body
and community and world? These are all
the works of God, and it is therefore
the work of virtue to make or restore harmony among them. The world is certainly thought of as a place
of spiritual trial, but it is also the confluence of soul and body, word and
flesh, where thoughts must become deeds, where goodness must be enacted. This is the great meeting place, the narrow
passage where spirit and flesh, word and world, pass into each other.
The Bible’s aim, as I
read it, is not the freeing of the spirit from the world. It is the handbook of their interaction. It says that they cannot be divided; that
their mutuality, their unity, is inescapable; that they are not reconciled in
division, but in harmony. What else can
be meant by the resurrection of the body?
The body should be filled with light, perfected in understanding. And
so everywhere there is a sense of consequence, fear and desire, grief and
joy. What is desirable is repeatedly
defined in the tensions of the sense of consequence.
--Wendell Berry, The
Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian
We must all be saved
together! Reach God together! Appear before Him together! We must return to our Father’s house
together… What would He think if we arrived without the others, without the
others returning, too?
At the end of the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear God’s
universal call to worship: I come to gather nations of every language;
they shall come and see my glory. In
a turn that may well have been shocking to the people of Israel, all brothers and sisters from all the
nations are invited into covenant relationship with God. But true worship is necessary. It’s not enough to follow a set of rules; we
have to enter into a real life with God, a lived relationship, and,
as Psalm 117 instructs us, praise the
Lord for his covenant with us,recognizing
God’s kindness and fidelity.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus similarly reminds those he teaches
that salvation is for all: people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of
God. Yet we Christians can’t take our covenant
relationship with God for granted; we have to live it, to focus on the
direction God gives us, with an eye to that all important relationship, the
most important one we have. And, as the
Letter to the Hebrews indicates, we have to live with the expectation that our
spiritual life will involve change and transformation, enduring our trials and
not losing heart when God sees fit to discipline
us, as a father disciplines his
child. But the promise is real: all must strive
to enter through the narrow gate, Jesus says, constantly attentive to
relationship with the Lord, ever aware that some
who are last will be first, and will enjoy the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
It's also post number 1000 for the OLMC blog -- thanks for reading!