Wednesday, June 2, 2010

God said to Moses: I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is not the God of the dead, but of the Living.

Wednesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
2 Timothy 1:1-3, 6-12
Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God
for the promise of life in Christ Jesus,
to Timothy, my dear child:
grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father
and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God,
whom I worship with a clear conscience
as my ancestors did,
as I remember you constantly in my prayers,
night and day.

For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have
through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel
with the strength that comes from God.

He saved us and called us to a holy life,
not according to our works
but according to his own design
and the grace bestowed on us
in Christ Jesus before time began,
but now made manifest
through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus,
who destroyed death and brought life and immortality
to light through the Gospel,
for which I was appointed preacher and Apostle and teacher.

On this account I am suffering these things;
but I am not ashamed,
for I know him in whom I have believed
and am confident that he is able to guard
what has been entrusted to me until that day.
For the remaining four days of this week we will be reading from the Second Letter to Timothy, one of the so-called “Pastoral Letters”. (The First Letter of Timothy is read during Weeks 23 and 24 in Cycle I of the First Readings.)

There are questions about the letter’s real authorship but it is presented as a letter from the apostle Paul to one of his most faithful assistants and companions, Timothy, who came from the Roman province of Galatia in what is part of Turkey today. In the opening of today’s letter Paul refers to Timothy as “my dear child, whom I love”. There was, indeed, a large age gap between them.

Paul calls himself an ‘apostle’, one specially commissioned by Christ, putting him on the same level as the Twelve who accompanied Jesus in his public life. And his mission is for “the promise of life in Christ Jesus”. As an apostle he is being sent out to preach and explain that the Good News of that unending life with God is available to all those who open themselves to it.
There then follows a prayer of thanksgiving as Paul remembers and prays for his companion, Timothy.

The main part of the letter now begins, starting with exhortations to Timothy. Paul begins by urging Timothy to “stir into flame” the gift of the Spirit which had been given to him when Paul laid his hands on him. The gift of the Spirit can lie dormant in us unless we exercise it regularly and make it an active element in our lives. It is something we are all in constant danger of doing. Probably few of us effectively use the special gifts that God has given each one of us for service and benefit of others.

And that Spirit, Paul emphasises, is not a “cowardly” one. On the contrary, it makes us strong, loving and wise. We need strength and courage, coupled with wisdom, if we are to be effective in sharing the Gospel with others. It is possible that a certain lack of confidence in him by Paul was a problem for Timothy. This may have arisen because of Timothy’s relative youth. What the Spirit gives is “power and love and self-control”. That power is an inner strength and not the kind of power that dominates others. The love is the great desire to work for the well-being of others, especially to bring them to become aware of and to respond to the love of God that comes to them through Jesus Christ. Self-control is not the suppression of desires but rather a passion to do what is good and right.

And, for that reason, Paul tells Timothy neither to be ashamed of the witness he is called to give nor of his companion Paul, who is now languishing in prison for the sake of the Gospel. In fact, he is to expect some measure of hardship in preaching the Gospel. That is something we all need to be prepared for. The threat of death hangs over every Christian who proclaims the Gospel but Jesus has brought us life and immortality, which no one can take away.

At the same time, Paul says, we have this huge gift of having been called to a life of holiness. We have not merited this in any way; it is pure gift. It is part of God’s plan from the very beginning but now made visible through the life of Jesus, the Word of God among us. “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Ephesians 1:4)

It is in the service of this Gospel that Paul was called as preacher, apostle and teacher and it is precisely because of this service that he now suffers imprisonment. Clearly he is not ashamed of this and has no regrets. “I am not ashamed,” he says and adds the lovely, much-quoted saying, “I know him in whom I have believed”. This is his total confidence in his Lord. It is a person-to-person friendship which nothing can shake. Paul is sure that his Lord will protect him to the very end.
Would that we had that confidence in Jesus that Paul had! Would that we were ready to suffer any hardship so that the Gospel might be heard and accepted by more of those around us! As G K Chesterton said, “Christianity has not failed; it has not even been tried.”
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 123
To you, O Lord, I lift up my eyes.
To you I lift up my eyes
who are enthroned in heaven.
Behold, as the eyes of servants
are on the hands of their masters.
To you, O Lord, I lift up my eyes.
As the eyes of a maid
are on the hands of her mistress,
So are our eyes on the LORD, our God,
till he have pity on us.
To you, O Lord, I lift up my eyes.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Mark 12:18-27
Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection,
came to Jesus and put this question to him, saying,
“Teacher, Moses wrote for us,
If someone’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child,
his brother must take the wife
and raise up descendants for his brother.

Now there were seven brothers.
The first married a woman and died,
leaving no descendants.
So the second brother married her and died,
leaving no descendants,
and the third likewise.
And the seven left no descendants.
Last of all the woman also died.
At the resurrection when they arise whose wife will she be?
For all seven had been married to her.”
Jesus said to them, “Are you not misled
because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?
When they rise from the dead,
they neither marry nor are given in marriage,
but they are like the angels in heaven.
As for the dead being raised,
have you not read in the Book of Moses,
in the passage about the bush, how God told him,
I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac,
and the God of Jacob?
He is not God of the dead but of the living.
You are greatly misled.”
Jesus faces another confrontation today, this time with Sadducees. The Sadducees were a group which did not accept many of the beliefs held by the Pharisees. They confined their beliefs to the Pentateuch, the so-called books of Moses, the first five books of our Bible.

Among the beliefs they rejected was that of life after death. Armed with this conviction, they approached Jesus with a hypothetical case which they felt could not be answered by him.

A woman married a man but he died before they could have children. In order that her late husband, the eldest son in his family, would have heirs, she followed a law (known as the Levirate law) which said she had to marry her husband’s brother. She did so but he also died and, in the end, she married seven brothers, all of whom died before a child could be conceived.

The Sadducees’ question to Jesus was that, if there is life after death, which of the seven men would be her real husband in the next life? For them, of course, there was no problem but, for Jesus and all those who believed in an after-life, they thought it created an insoluble situation.

Jesus answers them on two fronts. First, he says that in the next life marriage will no longer exist. People will all be related equally in a common relationship with God. Second, he astutely quotes from the book of the Exodus, a book of the Bible which the Sadducees acknowledge as divine revelation. Jesus reminds them that God spoke to Moses from out of the burning bush and said, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). So Jesus adds: “He is God, not of the dead but of the living.” God did not say to Moses: “I was the God of Abraham”, or “I used to be the God of Abraham’” but “I AM here and now the God of Abraham”.

Perhaps we might not be altogether swayed by this argument but, faced with a text from a part of the Bible they accepted as divine revelation, it was a statement the Sadducees could not question. And they had no comeback.

It is useful for us to be able to handle distortions of our faith which can sometimes be thrown at us. It is essential that we are familiar with our Bible in order to do so. But we might also say that we do not bring people to Christ simply by besting them in arguments. The real way to bring people to Christ is by the compelling example of our words, our actions and our attitudes reflecting his love and tolerance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You can’t help but be drawn back to the words of today’s Psalm.

Being (or hoping to become) servants (of God), our eyes are to be on the hands of the master. Why on the hands? When a master/mistress summoned the servant, it wasn’t verbally but rather, they would clap their hands. The servant would then look to the gesture following the summons (the clapping) to know what the master/mistress wanted them to do. Nothing had to be said out loud. Quite a relationship.

All too often we hear the clapping but don’t give enough attention to the Master’s many gestures that surround us each and every moment of our lives (and there goes the opportunities for those compelling examples of our words, actions and attitudes)…too busy talking I suppose…