Saturday, October 6, 2007

What Do You Get Out Of This?

(27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)

One night when I was riding the subway up in Boston, during my theological studies, a man came up to me. Looking over my Franciscan habit, he asked, somewhat sarcastically I might add,

What do you get out of this?
Maybe it was because it was late and I was tired, but I responded with equal sarcasm:
I’m supposed to get something?
O.k., maybe it wasn’t my greatest moment of pastoral ministry or evangelization, but there’s some truth to it. In our consumer society, so based on individual gratification, the collecting of more and more things, thrills, pleasures, and comforts is a high value. So when the people of our time see us who try to live as disciples of the Lord, it’s natural that the first thing they should ask is, what are we ‘getting out of it?’

Even if we are supposed to get something out of this, do we deserve it? I know that in my life of trying to be a Christian, I haven’t even remotely begun to live up to the basic commandment Jesus gives, to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbor as our own self. So what do I deserve, when I can’t even call myself the “unprofitable servant” from the gospel, who only did what he was supposed to do. I haven’t even done that! And if your life is anything like mine, you know what I’m talking about. Why should God be obliged to give us anything?

But the truth is that we get a lot out of this, not because we deserve it, but out of the overflowing goodness of God. We have received the eternal life that Jesus has won for us through his obedience to the Father. We have received forgiveness of sins, giving us the opportunity to walk in freedom from shame and guilt. And we have received the assurance that God has won the battle against violence and death, and that, for all of its despair and sin, the history of the world is going somewhere very, very good.

But because the people of our time have ceased, in large part, to be interested in spiritual things, they often fail to understand these great and deep blessings.

It’s also hard for us to understand that, though we taste these great blessings in our life of prayer and sacraments now, they are also a matter of hope for the future. Our culture doesn’t know about hope; it only knows right now. But as the prophet Habakkuk proclaims in the first reading today, the vision of God, that is, God’s dream for you and me and all of history, “presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint.” And as the prophet then says, “the just one, because of his faith,” will enjoy the promises of God.

That is what it means to have faith: to believe that God is true to his Word, and that God will accomplish what he has promised to the word. Maybe sometimes we feel like we don’t have a lot of faith, and like the apostles we pray for an increase in our faith. But often when we feel this way we don’t really want faith at all, but an increase in certainty. That’s because having utter certainty about God and his promises would relieve us of having to risk anything in giving ourselves to the Lord.

But God doesn’t give us that kind of certainty. God wants our faith instead. God wants us to take the risk of faith in giving ourselves to him, with whatever imperfect understanding we have. To take that risk makes our hearts vulnerable, and God wants us to accept the challenge of this vulnerability, because it will make us humble and open to him and to our brothers and sisters in their own sufferings and struggles.

Let us take the risk of faith, of taking God at his Word. And we don’t even need a lot of faith. Jesus assures us that just the smallest amount accomplishes wonders in this world.

1 comment:

Parish Sec said...

Now that you speak of risk and certainty I realize that often I do pray for help & stronger trust and faith and what I really want is certainty. Risk takes energy, risk is work, risk is hard and I am lazy. Thanks for giving me something to meditate on this week.