Friday, January 16, 2009

Let Us Strive To Enter Into His Rest!

Imagine the scene in today’s gospel.

Jesus has returned to Capharnaum, where he has been staying at the home of Simon Peter, after spending some time “on the road”, preaching and teaching in the villages on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It doesn’t take long for people to find out he was there, and they came to listen to him teach.

There was a time when, reading this gospel, I wonder whether Jesus might have been irritated at this interruption of his quiet time at home. I certainly appreciated the time I spent, from Sunday afternoon to Wednesday morning on one week, and the next week from Wednesday morning to Friday morning at home, spending time with my folks. The pastor kept the same schedule on the alternate weeks. He enjoyed spending time with his sister and his nieces. Quiet time was important to us, and it must have been important to Jesus, as well.

But there is no reflection of irritation or disappointment in Jesus’ attitude. Instead, Jesus invites everyone in, and soon the place is full to overflowing, and people are standing outside the open door. At this point, the situation gets really interesting. Four men arrive, carrying a paralyzed man on a litter. They can’t get near Jesus because of the crowd, so they climb to the roof, start removing the half round clay tiles (like the ones on Spanish colonial type homes in Florida and California), and lower the man through the roof on the litter. When Jesus sees him, he says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

At this point, things get even more complicated. The ever-present scribes and Pharisees were there, to test him. “He is blaspheming!” they said to themselves. “Only God can forgive sins.” Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he spoke to them, “Why are you harboring such thoughts? Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven”, or “Pick up your mat and walk”?

But, to demonstrate that he had authority to forgive sins, he said to the man, “Get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” The man got up, picked up his mat, and went home.

This gospel is about Jesus taking a day of rest. Today’s first reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, is also about a day of rest. The writer reminds the readers that God created the heavens, the earth, and all that is in them in six days, and on the seventh day, he rested. That would have reminded the readers that the Books of Moses, the Law of Israel, established that every seventh day should be a day of rest, a day set aside for prayer and meditation on the Word of God, and a day away from ordinary labor.

But, the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us as well that we have received a promise of entering into God’s rest, when the time comes to depart from this life. That is the Good News that was first given to the ancient Hebrews, but the word they heard was not profitable for them, because they were not attentive to the real meaning of the Sabbath rest. We who are followers of Christ celebrate our day of rest on Sunday, because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday. During his life on earth, Jesus celebrated the day of rest on the seventh day, according to the Scriptures. That day, on our calendars, is Saturn’s day – Saturday. The Muslims, just to be different from both Christians and Jews, celebrate the day of rest on Friday.

I would be remiss if I did not remind myself, and you, gentle reader, that one reason for celebrating a day of rest every seventh day is not merely healthful for the mind and body, much as we appreciate that aspect of the tradition. The day is coming, and it is closer today than it was yesterday, that we will be called to enter into “eternal rest”. As school children, as teenagers, as young adults, single or married, we probably did not give much pause to the notion that the weekly day of rest is associated with eternal rest and eternal joy. But, recalling for a moment yesterday’s reflection, every day we draw one day closer to our last day in this life. Let us resolve to take some time this weekend to think about the admonition, from psalm 95 that the writer of Hebrews cited in today’s first reading, “I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest.”

Pray for those who, today, will be spending their last day in this life. Pray especially for those who have incurred the Lord’s wrath, and might not enter his rest unless they repent today, for they will not have a tomorrow in this world. Pray for those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, especially our friends and family members. May they, and all of the faithful departed, by the mercy of God, rest in peace. And may they intercede for us, that when that moment comes, as it must, we will be prepared to enter into His rest.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Father, I have just happened on your blog. I read with interest your reflection on Friday 17th although it is Saturday for me in Australia. Your reflection has given me something to reflect on, thank you. I will try to read your reflections every day as part of my spiritual reading.

Thank you father.