Friday, September 10, 2010

How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place, LORD, Mighty God! Blessed Are They That Dwell In Your House.

Friday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22b-27
Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the Gospel,
this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!
If I do so willingly,
I have a recompense,
but if unwillingly,
then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.
What then is my recompense?
That, when I preach,
I offer the Gospel free of charge
so as not to make full use
of my right in the Gospel.

Although I am free in regard to all,
I have made myself a slave to all
so as to win over as many as possible.
I have become all things to all,
to save at least some.
All this I do for the sake of the Gospel,
so that I too may have a share in it.

Do you not know that the runners in the stadium
all run in the race, but only one wins the prize?
Run so as to win.
Every athlete exercises discipline in every way.
They do it to win a perishable crown,
but we an imperishable one.
Thus I do not run aimlessly;
I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing.
No, I drive my body and train it,
for fear that, after having preached to others,
I myself should be disqualified.
Paul speaks today of his calling to be an apostle of the Gospel. It is not a privileged position he boasts about because it is a commission he has received from the Lord. “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel!” It is not a task which he has taken up of his own accord in order to get some personal gain; rather it is a responsibility that has been given to him. It is a call to serve, not to dominate.

Is there no reward then? “It is this: in my preaching, to be able to offer the Good News (Gospel) free, and not insist on the rights which the Gospel gives me.” Paul’s reward in preaching is not material gain of any kind but the claim that he has preached to the Corinthians without charge and has not taken advantage of the rights he deserves as a missionary.

Those rights were understood to include food and drink, shelter and some monetary recompense for bringing the Gospel message. But he does not see his reward in these things and foregoes them. Earlier he had argued eloquently for the right as an apostle to be supported by the community and, even like Peter and other apostles, to have a wife accompanying him. But he has set aside all these rights and supported himself by working with his own hands. (We know he was a tent maker.)

So, while on the one hand, he is not beholden to anyone, on the other, “I have made myself the slave of everyone” so as to win as many as possible over to the Gospel. Not only did Paul not use his right to material support in preaching the Gospel but he also deprived himself - curtailing his personal privileges and social and religious rights - in dealing with different kinds of people. He had only one goal in mind - to bring people to the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ and to hear the Good News.

In a famous phrase he says, “I have made myself all things to all in order to save some at any cost.” Immediately before this [but omitted in our reading] he had said, “To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.” By ‘weak’ he meant those who were religiously and morally weak. Hence, as we saw yesterday, he declined to eat meat offered to idols so as not to upset or scandalise those still immature in their Christian faith.

And his only motive for doing this is “for the sake of the Gospel”, so that by sharing it with as many people as possible, he himself might also share in its promises - the fullness of life promised by Jesus.

In the final paragraph, Paul uses images from contemporary athletics to describe his work as an apostle. The Corinthians were very familiar with the athletics in the local Isthmian games, which were held in Corinth every second year and were second only to the Olympic games.

So Paul compares himself to a runner going all out to be the winner in a race where only one can win the wreath of victory. Athletes go into strict training and make all kinds of sacrifices just to win a laurel wreath which will wither in a few days; the prize the Christian pursues lasts for ever. He does not mean to imply that in the Christian race there is only one winner but that one should go all out as if that were the case. He has a definite goal - he does not beat the air aimlessly but severely disciplines himself so that his bodily self will serve the goals he wants.

It would be tragic, he says, if having been a proclaimer of the Good News, he did not live up to its requirements himself and so be disqualified at the end.

We, too, each in our own way, have been called to proclaim the Gospel through our station in life. It is an inbuilt element of our being Christian, not something that is an optional accessory. We do it both by word and action and we do it all the time wherever we are, with whomever we find ourselves to be.

We do not do it for monetary gain or for some other motive of personal profit. The only reward - and that is what makes it worthwhile - is to become more like Christ every day. There is nothing else in life that will bring greater satisfaction, peace and joy.

Paul had this experience; let us pray to have it too.*
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Psalm 84
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh
cry out for the living God.
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest
in which she puts her young  —
Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my king and my God!
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
Blessed they who dwell in your house!
continually they praise you.
Blessed the men whose strength you are!
their hearts are set upon the pilgrimage.
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
For a sun and a shield is the LORD God;
grace and glory he bestows;
The LORD withholds no good thing
from those who walk in sincerity.
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!
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Luke 6:39-42
Jesus told his disciples a parable:
"Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?
How can you say to your brother,
'Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,'
when you do not even notice
the wooden beam in your own eye?
You hypocrite!
Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother's eye."
In Matthew the parallel passage today is addressed to the Pharisees but in Luke it is addressed to the disciples.
Jesus makes two points:

a. The blind cannot lead the blind. The disciple, left to himself, does not know very much and depends on his teacher. But, once he is fully trained and has learnt everything he can from his teacher, then he becomes an extension of his teacher. He shares the knowledge and wisdom of his teacher and can, in turn, be a guide to others.

This is something we all have to do: to listen carefully to what Jesus tells us and make it part of our own lives. Only then can we effectively lead others to him.

b. We have to be very careful about sitting in judgement on others. Jesus uses a graphic image of someone trying to remove a speck of dust from another person’s eye while there is a large splinter of wood in their own. How can we see properly to correct the vision of our brother when our own vision is so distorted?

The faults we so easily see in others are often trivial in comparison with our own shortcomings. Of course, much of the energy we exert in putting down others (the main staple of our gossiping sessions!) is sub-consciously to compensate for the shortcomings we are all too aware of in ourselves. Instead of lifting ourselves up by changing our ways, we try to drag others down.

And, so often our judgements are based purely on external behaviour. We usually have no idea of the inner motives or intentions of other people or an awareness of their inability to behave otherwise than they do.

And, while we can be very ready with criticism behind people’s backs, we do not dare to say these things to their face. Yet, there may be times when we will be asked to give - as far as is possible - an objective evaluation of a person’s behaviour or their fitness for some responsibility. And, not infrequently, we will shy away from this responsibility.*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'Can a blind person guide a blind person?'

When I was at university, the leader of the students' union was blind. When he put his right hand on the left shoulder of a colleague, he was able to move around as confidently as any sighted person. It was quite amazing to see them charging about the campus! He was also an effective leader, and it was definitely him leading, not his sighted friends.

We are all spiritually blind at least some of the time and some of us may never quite see. So long as we recognize our blindness, it is not necessarily a problem. If we ask and give help, it may even lead to greater solidarity in the community. Thank you, Father, for guiding us!