Father David's Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent
Disciples in Action
Why is there so much suffering in the world? Do the bad things that follow from sin only hit the people who are guilty of sin, or does everybody suffer from them? What is the Christian response to the sin and suffering of the world?
The Entrance Antiphon calls us to believe that God can and will free us from whatever diminishes human life on earth: "My eyes are ever fixed on the Lord, for he releases my feet from the snare." God will do this, not by some thunder- bolt of power from the sky, but by working through the ground level human actions of those who are the body of Christ on earth. - through us who act "through Christ, with him and in him." God says (in the alternative Entrance Antiphon), "I will prove my holiness through you."
How will he do it? First, by "gathering you from the ends of the earth." We have to act as a community of faith, "in the unity of the Holy Spirit." We have to live by the power of our Baptism: by the water which, like Noah's flood, destroyed all that was evil and left a new world in its wake; by the water which, like the Jordan river for the Jews, was for us a passage from the slavery of human culture into freedom of the children of God: "I will pour clean water on you and wash away all your sins."
If we act as the risen body of Christ on earth, reborn "by water and the Spirit," then we will give "all honor and glory" to the Father. "I will give you a new spirit within you." This is the hope and commitment we proclaim in every Mass: "Through him, with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen!"
This requires something of us. In the Opening Prayer we say, "You have taught us to overcome our sins by prayer, fasting and works of mercy." We need to pray - but not just to "say prayers." The prayer to which we are called is prayer that changes us, changes our minds (the meaning of "repentance," metanoia), changes our behavior. This is what fasting expresses: a willingness to go against our merely natural appetites (and even more so against artificial desires programmed into us by our culture) to fix our desires on God and spiritual things.
".and works of mercy" - The proof our prayer is authentic is that it leads to love; not just love of God, but love of others. When we look up to God, God directs us to look out to the world; to see the suffering sin is causing in the world and to do something about it. True discipleship involves both reflection, so that we might see with the eyes of God, and response, to respond with the love of God to what we see with our human eyes.
“What is his name?”
The reading from Exodus 3: 1-15 is summarized in the Responsorial Psalm "The Lord is kind and merciful" (Psalm 103). God says to Moses, "I have seen the miserable state of my people.. I am well aware of their sufferings. I mean to deliver them."
He is not going to do it, however, by a simple act of power from on high. That is not God's way. He wants to deliver people from the consequences of human sin by counteracting them through human acts of virtue - but human acts made divine through union with God in grace. He says to Moses, "So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt."
Moses is not stupid. He knows how this idea is going to go down with his people. So he tells God he needs some accreditation: "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?"
To have credibility as a messenger of God one has to know God - and be able to prove it. At the time of Moses, to reveal one's name was something special. To know God's name meant that you didn't just know something generic about him, but that God had revealed himself to you as the Person that he is. In our day we would call this the difference between "religion" and "spirituality." My "religion" can tell me a lot about God - what to believe, what rules and practices God wants me to observe - but without really bringing me into personal familiarity with God. My religion develops into "spirituality" when I begin to interact with God in ways that are personal, unique to myself, "outside the box" of set patterns and procedures. Then I begin to know God.
When my religion becomes my spirituality I don't stop interacting with God in the standard ways. I still say the common prayers, participate in communal worship and liturgy, and receive the sacraments. But I do it with a personal involvement, an attention, an investment of myself that makes it more than just routine. We can say that my religion becomes my spirituality from the moment I realize that something is going on between myself and God, and I decide to get involved in it.
If I want God to use me to counteract the work of sin in the world, I have to "seek his face" in a way that lets me know him. I have to "listen to his voice" as addressing me personally, and with the intention of responding to what I hear. When I begin to interact with God this way, I start getting to know him personally. Then I begin to "know his name."
One for All, All for One
In Luke 13: 1-9 Jesus says two things that seem contradictory. First he says that bad things don't happen to people just because they are "greater sinners than any others." It is not just the guilty who suffer from the consequences of sin in the world; everybody does. Nevertheless, he then says, "But unless you repent you will all perish. If our suffering is not caused by our own sins, why do we have to repent?
The answer is that people who sin mess up the world for everybody; but to fix what is wrong we have to do more than just not sin ourselves. We have to let Jesus act with us, in us and through us in positive ways as Savior to bring healing to other people and to the world. This requires of us a "change of mind," a metanoia or "repentance" that is more than just a turning away from sin. It requires us to convert our "religion" into "spirituality"; to go beyond being just "followers" of Jesus and become his disciples. A "disciple" is a "student." The "repentance" or "conversion" asked of us is the decision to become committed students of Christ's mind and heart.
When Jesus, like Yahweh speaking to Moses, looked out and saw "the miserable state of his people" he "had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." And he did what Yahweh did: he decided to "send out laborers" to help them.
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.1
But notice that it was his "disciples" he sent out. It is only to those who know him that he gives the power to heal. His promise was and is: "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it." To act with the healing power of Jesus on earth, we have to "know his name." To do this we have to do whatever it takes to make his word bear fruit in our lives - dig around it and manure it - read, reflect and respond to what God reveals to us, whether through Scripture or in other ways. We have to be actively disciples.
Each one of us has to work to save all from the effects of sin. All of us have to work for (and as) the One who is the only Savior of the world. One for all; all for One.
In 1Corinthians 10: 1-12 Paul makes it clear that it is not enough just to be a member of the Church "in good standing." Not everyone who followed Moses out of Egypt, who "ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink" made it to the Promised Land. "So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall." Just "standing around" in the "state of grace" is not enough. God calls for forward motion. We need to read, reflect and respond as disciples; students of the mind and heart of God.
1 Matthew 9:36 to 10:1
2 John 14:13-14
Do I "know" God as a person? Do we know each other's names?
Decide to read, reflect and respond to God's word systematically.