Monday, August 31, 2009

Today, This Text Is Being Fulfilled In Your Presence.

In today’s First Reading (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), Paul addresses himself to the Christians in Thessalonica who believed that Jesus would come again someday, and when he came, his disciples on earth would be called to join with him in Heaven. But they had the notion that he would return during their lifetime, so when members of the community died, they were concerned, wondering whether or not they would enjoy the same blessing on the day Jesus returned as those who were still alive. In this passage from 1 Thessalonians, Paul seeks to reassure them that those who have died before the coming of the Lord would have the same benefits as those who are alive when he returns.

This teaching of Paul is based, as he says, on Jesus’ own teaching. Those who are alive at the Lord’s coming will have no advantage over those who have died. When that moment comes, the trumpet shall sound, and the voice of the archangel will call out the command, the LORD himself will come down from heaven. Then, those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then those who are still alive will be taken up into the clouds together with them, to meet the LORD in the heavens.

The conclusion of Paul’s teaching is directed not only to the people of Thessalonica to whom he addressed this epistle, but to all of the LORD’s disciples, and in particular, today, to those who read these words (and first, to him who is writing them). We should not be fearful at the thought that the Lord Jesus will be coming in his glory to judge the living and the dead. Rather, we should have faith in the teaching of Jesus (and that of Paul), and have hope in the resurrection that he promised. We should live every day of our life as if it were our last day in this world, since one of these days it will be, and look forward to that day with confidence, not in ourselves, but in God’s grace and mercy.

In today’s gospel (Luke 4:16-30) Jesus returns to Nazareth, were he was brought up, and went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom. At the time set for the reading of the Scripture, Jesus stood up, and was handing the scroll containing the proper reading of the day. He unrolled the scroll, and began to read: The spirit of the LORD has been given to me. He has anointed me and sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for captives, to give sight to the blind, to set the downtrodden free, and to proclaim a year of favor for the Lord.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the sexton, and sat down. All eyes were trained on him as he began to speak again: “Today, this text is being fulfilled as you listen.”

The listeners were astonished by the eloquence of this carpenter’s son. They knew his father, Joseph. His mother, Mary, had family not only in Nazareth but throughout Galilee. And they were so taken aback by what they knew – or thought they knew – about Jesus, that they could not accept that what Isaiah had prophesied was being fulfilled before their very eyes.

Place yourself in the pews as the preacher is giving his homily. The readings, whether from the Old Testament, the Epistles, or the Gospels, speak to us about events long past. Quite often – and it could be case today, with the reading from Thessalonians, the preacher will focus on the future – on the Second Coming of Christ, or, perhaps more pertinently, on the moment we see the Lord face-to-face, the moment of our death, and encourage us – or perhaps, warn us, to be prepared for the judgment.

What about the present? That depends, I suppose, on who you are, and what is on your mind as you are sitting in the pew. A mother may be thinking about what she’s going to put on the table for today’s dinner. A working man may be worried whether his wages will be sufficient to furnish food for that table, considering the state of the economy. A teenager may be reminiscing about Saturday night’s date (and those thoughts might be very different whether the teen in question is a boy or a girl).

Focus now on the gospel of the day: Jesus says “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. For people whose focus is on the things of this world, the present is an ever-changing reality. For Jesus, and for those whose awareness is focused on God’s will, the present, like “the world” in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “is charged with the grandeur of God"  -- and His goodness! 

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