Father David's Reflection for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
A Way Of Life
Bottom line question: what is life all about? What do you want out of living? Are you getting it? Is it enough for
you? Are you in control? Actually directing your life toward what you really desire?
The Entrance Antiphon presumes we know by now that we can’t really get what we want out of life without God’s assistance: “God, come to my help!” Most of us have realized this by the time we are adults. If we haven’t, then the saying applies to us: “If you’re not confused (or concerned), you don’t understand the situation!”
The Entrance Antiphon gets more specific: “You are the one who sets me free.” If we think we can acquire true freedom by changing something in our environment, or in our relationship to someone else, we do not understand ourselves. Enslavement is always an inside job. It is an interior problem of attitude and will. Jesus said, ”If you… are truly my disciples, you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free… Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin…. [But] if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”1
And that is the only way we will be. Anyone who does not understand this is still naïve. Or in unrecognized despair.
In the Opening Prayer(s) we turn to God for help. First we recognize him for what he is: “Father of everlasting goodness.” Our “origin” — and therefore our end. The Alpha and Omega. Our “guide” — the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Then we ask for the help that only he can give: “Be close to us… forgive our sins… restore us to life… keep us safe…. bring us your peace.”
Bottom line answer: “Our life is your gift. Guide our life’s journey, for only your love makes us whole.”
That is the truth of our existence. The Responsorial Psalm tells us what to do about it: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95).
In Ecclesiastes 1:1 to 2:23 the Teacher basically despairs of everything life has to offer. And without Christ, without everlasting life, without grace that makes eternally “blessed the fruit of our lives,” all indeed is “vanity,” emptiness.
We may enjoy ourselves for a time; even do some good in the world, though it wont last. But ultimately — if we are willing to ask the hard questions — if we do not believe that Jesus has chosen us to “bear fruit, fruit that will last,” what is it all worth? Why spend energy painting a ship that is about to sink? Or enhancing life in a world that is about to end? Without what Jesus came to do, everything is a short-term investment for a short-term reward. “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” 2
If we stop with this passage of Ecclesiastes, we end on a note of despair. But in the total picture of things, if we are open to God’s revelation, it is an act of life-giving despair.
It is the despair that makes us receptive to the message of Jesus.
And so —“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
Let’s get rich
In Luke 12: 13-21 When Jesus is addressed as Teacher, he picks up on the theme of Qoheleth above. Jesus was, after all, the Teacher above all teachers; in fact, the only teacher “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” He told his disciples (students) not to call anyone among them rabbi (teacher), “for you have one teacher, and you are all students.” 3
Jesus refused to get involved in a dispute about money. Instead he taught, “Avoid greed in all its forms…. Possessions do not guarantee life.”
Then he told a story about a man who thought his possessions made him secure. He was looking forward to a life of enjoyment – “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”
These are almost the same words Qoheleth uses: “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil.” But for Qoheleth this is just making the best of a bad deal; he knows it is ultimately empty: “vanity of vanities.”
Jesus, however, offers an alternative: it is to “grow rich in the sight of God.” Jesus came that we might “have life and have it to the full” — eternal life. But we don’t find it through acquiring the riches of this world. “Eternal life is this that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The only thing that is not ultimately empty — vanity of vanities — is to spend our lives focusing on knowing, loving and serving God — especially in ministering to others.
Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift…. The gifts he gave were… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 4
This is not vanity. Paul calls it “fruitful labor.” If we “present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God,” so that wherever our live bodies are, we are “sacrificed” to letting Jesus express his truth, his love in our flesh, through our physical words and actions, then we hear addressed to us the words Mary heard when she first gave flesh to the Word: “Blessed are you… and blessed is the fruit of your life.” 5
We hear these words, not from a messenger of God, but from Jesus himself: “I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” This is the call to ministry. It is addressed to every one of us. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.”
In Colossians 3: 1-11 Paul puts all of this into a mystical context — the mystery of our identification with Christ as his risen body on earth. We do not minister for Christ, or just “in his name,” as if we represented him. We minister as Christ. We have “become Christ,” and in us he has become what we are. “There is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, foreigner, Scythian, slave or free; but Christ is all and in all!”
This is the mystery of our redemption, the mystery of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” of the gift of God’s divine life in us. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and is continuing his presence and ministry on earth in us who are his living body on earth.
We have died. We went down into the grave at Baptism — not just in symbol, but in a reality more real than what is visible to our eyes. Our real life is not what appears; “our life is hidden now with Christ in God.” And “when Christ our life appears, then we shall appear with him in glory.” Then we shall be seen as what we are. Then we will know ourselves as God knows us, who already “sees and loves in us what he sees and loves in Christ.”6
This is the mystery of our life, but it is a mystery we are called to live. This means we need to make it our chosen, our conscious, our intentional way of life. Paul exhorts us to this:
Since you have been raised up in company with Christ, set your heart on what pertains to higher realms, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand. Be intent on things above rather than on things of earth.
Be intent! Paul is talking about intentionality, about an intentional way of life.
You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
We are not just human beings any more. We do not live for the things or concerns of this earth. We have become a “new self.” We “have died, and our life is hidden now with Christ in God.” It is “no longer we who live, but it is Christ who lives in us.”7
We need to let him live! To let him act with us, in us and through us in everything we do. We need to dedicate ourselves as lifelong students of his mind and will and heart. We need to “give flesh to his words” in action, embodying his truth and values in our lifestyle, living in prophetic witness to the message of the Gospel. And we need to let him express his love through us, ministering to every person we deal with, offering our bodies, our “flesh for the life of the world,” by giving physical expression to the faith, the hope, the love that are God’s invisible, divine life within us. Finally, we need to take responsibility, as stewards of his kingship, for establishing the reign of God’s life-giving love over every area and activity of human life on earth until he “comes again.”
This is what it means to live the Christian life, to adopt Christianity as our way of life, without which we have not adopted Christianity. This is what God is calling us to. Now. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.”
Insight: What are you living for? Are you directing your life to this end?
Initiative: Make a rule of life for yourself.
1 John 8:31-33.
2 John 15:16.
3 Colossians 2:3; Matthew 23:8.
4 Ephesians 4:7-13
5 Philippians 1:22; Romans 12:1; Luke 1:42.
6 See Preface VII for Sundays.
7 Galatians 2:20.
1John 8:31-33. 2John 15:16. 3Colossians 2:3; Matthew 23:8. 4Ephesians 4:7-13 5Philippians 1:22; Romans 12:1; Luke 1:42. 6See Preface VII for Sundays. 7Galatians 2:20.