Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Set Your Hopes Completely On The Grace Of Jesus Christ, Who Has Called You To "Be Holy As I Am Holy."

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Peter 1:10-16
Concerning the salvation of your souls
the prophets who prophesied
about the grace that was to be yours
searched and investigated it
investigating the time and circumstances
that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated
when it testified in advance
to the sufferings destined for Christ
and the glories to follow them.
It was revealed to them
that they were serving not themselves but you
with regard to the things
that have now been announced to you
by those who preached the Good News to you
through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven,
things into which angels longed to look.

Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly,
and set your hopes completely
on the grace to be brought to you
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Like obedient children,
do not act in compliance
with the desires of your former ignorance
but, as he who called you is holy,
be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct,
for it is written,
Be holy because I am holy.
Peter continues to speak of the “salvation” which the Christians are confident of experiencing.

We now are the possessors of the grace which the prophets of the Old Testament looked for. They spoke in advance of the very blessings which the Christians are now experiencing, without knowing or experiencing them personally. But, even at that time, they were already filled with the Spirit of Christ when they spoke of the sufferings of Christ to be followed by glory. There is a seamless unity between the Old and New Testaments as one flows into the other, as one prepares for the other.

At the same time, the way of Jesus is one which the Christians themselves will follow. Those who are united to Christ will also, after suffering, enter into glory. And so they will benefit in the midst of their present sufferings from Jesus having already entered into glory.
“They (i.e. the prophets) knew by revelation that they were providing, not for themselves but for you.” And what they were providing was what has now been communicated to the Christians by the evangelisers of the Gospel, first of all, the Apostles - the proclaimers of the Gospel, the Good News. They did so “through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven”, who came down on them at Pentecost and Jesus himself on the cross “breathed out his Spirit” (John 19:30  -- literally, "He handed over the Spirit").

These are matters of such deep interest and importance that the angels themselves “longed to look into them”. Their intense desire is highlighted by the Greek word rendered “to look into”. It means “to stoop and look intently” (It is the same word used of Peter and Mary Magdalen peering into the empty tomb at Jesus’ resurrection, John 20:5,11).
As Peter then says, our expected response is very clear. We have to move into action, “gird our loins” and put all our hope and confidence on the gift of salvation that will be ours when Christ appears. We have here the first of a long series of exhortations (actually imperatives) which end at 5:11. In the language of the 1st century the term ‘girding one’s loins’ meant that Peter’s readers were being called on to gather up their long, flowing garments and get ready for action. Jesus uses a similar image: “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning… so that [you] may open to [the bridegroom] when he comes and knocks” (Luke 12:35, 36)

Here they are to set their hopes completely on “the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Christ”. That grace is the final state of complete blessedness and deliverance from sin. Peter later indicates that a major purpose of this letter is to encourage and testify regarding the true grace of God (5:12).

We Christians have to change our whole lifestyle. We can no longer “yield to the desires that once shaped [us] in [our] ignorance”. We are to be like children, re-born into the family of God, children of our heavenly Father, able to pray, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). Believers are also described, by Paul, as being adopted into God’s family (see Romans 8:15).

Even more, we are called on, in so far as we can, to imitate the holiness of God himself. “Be holy, as I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45). The word “holy” (hagios) suggests, not a kind of piety, but being set apart from the majority. We have a vision of life and a consequent behaviour which makes us different. As Christians, that difference should clearly appear in the way we live. That is true holiness. Being ‘holy’ also implies a certain wholeness, a total harmony with ourselves, those around us, our whole environment and God.
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Psalm 98
The Lord has made known his salvation.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
The Lord has made known his salvation.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
The Lord has made known his salvation.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
The Lord has made known his salvation.
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Mark 10:28-31
Peter began to say to Jesus,
“We have given up everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up
house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more
now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions,
and eternal life in the age to come.
But many that are first will be last,
and the last will be first.”
Possibly in response to the parable of the wicked tenants which we read yesterday, a delegation comes to confront Jesus. Their composition is rather unusual but proves the saying that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It would be hard to find two groups more ideologically opposed than the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Pharisees set the highest standards in their observance of the Law. They were highly patriotic and strongly anti-Roman. The Herodians, on the other hand, were seen as rather lax and not particularly devout. And they had the reputation of being a little too cosy with the Roman colonial powers. In normal circumstances these two groups would never be seen in each other’s company. But now they had a common opponent in Jesus. For Jesus was seen, depending on how he was interpreted, as challenging the Law on the one hand and as a potential rallying point for anti-Roman sentiment.

The confrontation is carried out with a good deal of subtlety. It begins with shameless flattery. “We know you are an honest man, that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you, and that you teach the way of God in all honesty.” In fact, every word of this is absolutely true and would that it could be said of every one of us! In their book, however, it means that Jesus is a very dangerous person and, indeed, people like Jesus have run into trouble all through history, not least in our own days.

Having, as they imagined, totally disarmed Jesus by their positive approach, they smoothly slip in the knife. One can almost hear the blandness and feigned innocence with which they ask their question: “Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” It sounds to us a very straightforward question but it was, in fact, one of the most politically sensitive issues of the day. And, of course, it was a trick question of the “Have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife?” kind.
If Jesus said it was permissible, then he incurred the wrath of every Jewish patriot, most of all the powerful Pharisees, who deeply resented the presence of the Roman power on their land. If he said it was not permissible, then he could immediately be denounced by people like the Herodians to the Roman authorities for subversion. In either case, he would lose.

Jesus, of course, immediately sees through their deceit. He asks to be shown a denarius, a coin roughly equal to a day’s wage. It was a Roman coin and it carried the head of the emperor, Caesar Augustus. Pointing to the image, Jesus asks whose head it is and he is told it is that of the emperor. “In that case,” replied Jesus, “give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor and to God what belongs to God.”

His enemies were reduced to speechlessness and they had no comeback. It was an answer that said everything and said nothing. It said everything because no one could quarrel with it; it said nothing because it did not decide in any way what belonged to God and what to the emperor.
The whole scene, of course, reflects a serious problem besetting the early Church. How much allegiance did they owe, as Christians, to the temporal power, especially one where the emperor was seen as having divine prerogatives or was openly persecuting Christians? There were clearly limits to the allegiance they could give. This resulted in waves of persecutions and large numbers dying martyrs’ deaths rather than compromise their faith.

It is still a live issue for us today. It concerns the question of separation of Church and state and how that is to be interpreted. It concerns the way we - both electors and elected - vote when sensitive moral issues are at stake.

In one sense, God has a total claim on our allegiance. There is nothing which does not belong to him. Nevertheless, society, through its legitimate authorities, also has a claim on our allegiance. It can make demands on us in asking us to contribute e.g. through taxation, to promoting the overall well-being of our whole community, especially of those who are in need.

As Christians, we cannot simply isolate ourselves from the political arena, that is, the area in which the interests of the citizenry is discussed and managed. The political arena is inseparable from issues of truth and justice and there is no way that Christians, who are committed to building the Kingdom, cannot be concerned about the welfare of their fellow citizens. “The Church should not dabble in politics,” say some. No, it should not dabble; it should be deeply involved in every important moral and social issue.

Nevertheless, the words of Jesus remain our guiding principle: We give to God what belongs to him; we give to society what it has a right to ask of us, our cooperation in making it a place guided by the principles and values of the Kingdom. To do anything less is to fail to give everything to God.

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