Sunday, October 16, 2011

18th Sunday after Pentecost

I Corinthians 1:4-8 / Matthew 9:1-8

What is it that we want from God? When we pray for ourselves and for those we love, or indeed when we pray for those who oppose us and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, what do we seek? There may be those among us who, affecting a seeming piety, assert that they ask for nothing at all. Thinking making requests of God something altogether too mercenary, they insist that they hope for nothing in return for their love and service of the Almighty. Of course, such persons deceive themselves, for our Lord Jesus himself told us to ask for what we desire, to seek after what we long for. To refuse to do so would be culpable lack of love, either for God, ourselves, or our neighbor.

So, others may, again piously, assert that what they want is eternal life and happiness with God in the life to come, seeking nothing here and now. Now, in this case, what is desired is at least both desirable and rightly to be desired. We ought to want to dwell eternally with God and in the company of those whom God loves. Even so, there is something pusillanimous in being willing to seek from God only a reward for the end of life and nothing for the journey. Do we imagine God to be so poor in gifts that, having blessed us here and now, we will find an eternity with our Lord Jesus Christ by that same degree diminished?

While there is something admirable in loving and serving God simply because he is worthy of our love and service, and while there is something right in keeping our eyes fixed on the crown that never fades, the Scriptures assure us that we ought to give thanks to our God ... that in all things we be made rich in Him. In other words, following St Paul, in light of the mercy we have received in Jesus Christ, being attentive to the confirmation we have received in being his witnesses, we are not merely to wait around until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, but to ask gifts for ourselves and our brothers and sisters in the faith, so that nothing is wanting to us in any grace.

Yet, here is where the Scriptures may provide a surprise, indeed perhaps a disappointment. What are the graces we ought to ask for? To be made rich in all utterance and in all knowledge, as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you. What are we told by the Lord Jesus himself about the healing of the many bodily ills that we might so want to have removed from us? Whether is easier to say: Thy sins are forgiven thee, or to say: Arise and walk? We would certainly expect that the Corinthians, already commended for their fidelity, might expect some gift other than eloquence in proclaiming the Gospel and depth of understanding the Good News. We might well imagine that the paralytic, as well as those who brought him to Jesus, were rather expecting the miraculous healing that followed and not the gift which Jesus gave at first: Be of good heart, son, thy sins are forgiven thee.

Part of our challenge as Christians, not only in the face of the world's rejection of the Gospel but also in the face of our own desires, is that we can value so little the great gifts Jesus wants us to enjoy here and now. Had we the kingdom in our hands, we might arrange things otherwise, and provide comfort, support, food, shelter, health, and education as the most and best distributed gifts, leaving enough faith for us to make it through the day. We might not imagine that the gifts of true teaching, right understanding, and the forgiveness of sins would be what we need most, what most answers the trials we face in this vale of tears.

In this, however, we are mistaken. After all, should we seek to end the earthly needs of ourselves and our neighbor, what is there to stop us? Can we truly and without reservation affirm before God and the world that we have done what is in our power to lighten the burdens of our neighbor, fed the hungry and clothed the naked, instructed the ignorant or comforted the sorrowful? At the same time, do we imagine that our own best words in testimony to Jesus Christ are worthy of his Good News without a gift from God? Do we suppose our knowledge of God's revelation is just fine, sufficient for the dignity of our minds, without a gracious infusion of divine light? And do we really believe that the world has enough charity of itself that it can survive even one day without the forgiveness that comes from the Blood of Christ alone?

Brothers and sisters, in our witness to the Gospel, by word and understanding, and most of all by our living out of a new life free from the slavery of sin, we can show to the world the glory of God who has given such power to men. The best gifts are open to us, and with them we are powerful beyond measure. Do we love enough to desire them, to ask them from our Lord and God?

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