Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A warning to religious folk

Read I Corinthians 10:1-12

Jesus was certainly compassionate and merciful with the poor, the sick and the marginalized. Yet he could be demanding and unyielding with those who were well-off, healthy and respectable. While being kind and welcoming for sinners, he could be hard and threatening for those who were considered very religious.

Why this difference of attitude and behaviour? It’s because Jesus came to invite us to change our hearts and welcome a God who turns out to be quite different from what we expect. The poor and the sinners are ready to welcome such an invitation, they are glad to receive it. On the other hand, those are were comfortable with their social situation and satisfied with their religious habits see no reason to change. An invitation to conversion for them is an invitation to let go of a position they enjoy. Their pride is hurt, their convictions questioned. Their personal security is shaken and their social status threatened. They close themselves to Jesus’ invitation. So Jesus has to be quite forceful with them.

Such a death-dealing comfort is a temptation for all of us. We all tend to shape for ourselves a life-style that gives us comfort, whether that comfort be material, psychological or spiritual.

In this Sunday’s second reading, Saint Paul echoes for the Corinthians the challenge that Jesus presents to his listeners in the Gospels. He speaks particularly to those who consider themselves “strong” in the faith. He calls them to humility and ongoing conversion. The fact of knowing Christ and being part of the Church is no guarantee: they must continually return to the Lord to implore his grace and his love.

Paul gives as an example the story of the Israelites as they journeyed towards the promised land. They had all sorts of advantages on their side: the great prophet Moses, the tables of the Law, the gifts of manna falling from heaven and of water springing from a rock, the presence of God both day and night. And yet, many of them resisted Moses. They continued worshipping idols. They ended up wandering in the desert and dying there.

In Christ, the fullness of salvation is offered to each of us. In the Church, Christ comes to us to offer his gifts: his Word and his wisdom, his sacraments, his community and ministers, his very Spirit. We are like Israel on its way to the promised land: everything is given to us, and even more. The question remains: will we know how to respond to this generosity?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

God's anger

Read Romans 10:8-13

On the hall of an old abandoned house was scrawled some graffiti: “Jesus is the answer.” Written underneath, in a very different handwriting, was the quip: “What’s the question?”

We sometimes speak in religious clichés, without thinking about the deeper meaning of our expressions. Today’s excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Romans contains a very well-known line: “If you believe, then you will be saved.” Someone could well ask: “Saved from what?”

Many would answer: “From hell, obviously.” Yet, this answer isn’t all that obvious. Read Paul’s letter to the Romans: you won’t find a single instance of the word “hell.” So what does Paul believe we are being saved from?

Sticking with his letter to the Romans, we find his answer: “From God’s anger.” But then, another question arises: “What do you mean by God’s anger?”

Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. According to Paul, God’s anger has two dimensions. An eternal dimension, which corresponds to God’s will to banish evil from creation so that only love will abide. This eternal dimension will be fulfilled at the end of time in what we call the last judgment.

God’s anger also has a temporal dimension, one which affects us here and now. This is God allowing our evil choices to bear their consequences in our lives. This is God respecting our freedom, standing back as we suffer from the wrongs that we have chosen. Think of global warming. We have abused creation for decades, even centuries. We are only starting to understand the consequences of these evil choices. God’s anger is God allowing these consequences to happen.

What hurts us more immediately is the fruit of the evil we choose on a daily basis. If I choose to be selfish, should I be surprised to find myself abandoned by all, alone in my loneliness? If I choose to give in to every sexual whim of my imagination, should I be astounded never to know the deep joy that comes from a stable, faithful relationship? If I continually choose to be lazy, should I be angry that I never seem to accomplish anything? My sin leads to my own suffering, as well as to the suffering of others.

This is what we need to be saved from. In Jesus, the power of evil can be overcome. We can be freed from our own sinful inclination. We can finally live out of love and come to know true joy, deep peace. Faith in Christ saves us from the hell we are building ourselves day by day. Faith in Christ helps us discover heaven, in the here and now.