Blog # 453 Invitations
William Shakespeare lived in England from 1564 to 1616. That is far away from Cincinnati, and a long time ago. Yet we can read his poems and dramas here and now. Not only can we read them, we can be moved and influenced by them in a way similar to the way we would have been moved and influenced by them had we lived then and there rather than here and now.
It is something like that with the Bible and the stories from the life of Jesus we read there. Matthew Mark Luke and John lived a long time ago and far away. Yet their written words are available to us here and now. It is similar to the way it is with regard to Shakespeare and ourselves.
We can watch Jesus cure a blind man just as Andrew did. We can eat some of the fish supper Jesus shared with the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee just as Peter and the others did. We can go fishing with James and John. We can listen to Jesus preach, and watch him hug the children. Shakespeare lived out on the stage can move us to laughter or to tears. So it is with the Gospels. The distance and time gap tend to disappear.
There is a large difference, however, between our reading and response to the works of Shakespeare and the words of the Gospels. I do not know what Shakespeare had in mind when he was composing his works. I imagine he enjoyed writing. He must have had an audience in mind as well. That would be friends and members of his family perhaps, literary critics of his day, maybe even the King and Queen. I can't imagine him having you and me , the year 2015, or the City of Cincinnati in mind when he composed his sonnets or wrote the words of Othello. Though it was not his explicit intention to do so, Shakespeare did write for us if we care to read what he wrote. With the Gospels it is the same and different. Matthew Mark Luke John and the others hardly had us explicitly in mind any more than Shakespeare did. But when it comes to the Scriptures, God enters in at this point and the entire picture changes.
All of us live at a specific time and in a specific place. God simply lives, infinitely, always and everywhere the same. We are some-one, some-how, somewhere. God simply IS. When the Gospel stories were being lived out in the three dimensions of history, long ago and far away from here, and when they were being remembered and written down, our copy and our experience of reading them were 'on God's mind'. Then is now, now is then with God. We are there in God' plan, in God's love. We tend to forget this, or perhaps never actually realized it was true.
In the light of such a realization we pray before reading the Scriptures in a way we do not pray before reading Shakespeare. Before reading Shakespeare we might pray for intelligence and patience. Before reading the Gospels we pray for faith and love. We respect and respond to Shakespeare as a work of literature. We respect and respond to the Gospels as a word of God. God is not speaking to us there only of yesterday, but of today, not only of then and there, but of here and now. "Speak, Lord, Your servant is listening." should be our prayer.
Sunday, the Second Sunday of Lent, we had the story of Abraham and Isaac in the first reading at Mass and the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus in the Gospel. What is God inviting us to hear think learn and do? We are with Abraham and Isaac. We are with Peter James and John on the mountain of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
Abraham is certainly an important figure in the Bible. He is mentioned by name more than two hundred times. His outstanding characteristic is his faith. He trusted God, believed God's message to him, and was obedient to what he believed. In our reading Sunday we found Abraham willing to sacrifice his only son at the command of God. What an example of perfect obedience to one's faith!
This reading is presented on the Second Sunday of Lent as a model of obedience to faith for those who throughout the world are preparing to receive the Sacrament of Baptism this coming Easter. Through faith they know their sins are forgiven in Jesus, they die to sin and rise with Jesus to the glory of a new birth which is symbolized in the 'drowning and rising' of the Baptismal liturgy. For all of this to be ours we must believe. It is challenging. We are Abraham.
In the early years if the church, believers were often ridiculed and had to suffer, sometimes even death, for the sake of their faith. It was difficult to live out our faith in the pagan culture of the early history of the church. Abraham was a perfect model of how it could be done. In our current moment of history here in the United States it is also difficult to go against the tide of current pagan Godless humanism that is so strong in its influence upon our changing culture. We need someone to show us it can be done. We look to Abraham. He is faithful. We know the way to go. We call him our 'father' in faith. We say "Yes, I believe!"
The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus was chosen on the Second Sunday of Lent to complement the story of Abraham. Those who were getting ready for Baptism or renewal of their Baptismal vows were getting ready to lay down their lives, if that some day would be required in order to be faithful. They needed our assurance it could be done. Abraham gave that assurance. They needed an assurance as well that what Abraham did and what they might be required to do was the right thing, was worthy of their trust and allegiance, was the will of God.
In the Transfiguration of Jesus, God makes a claim and offers that assurance. "This is my Beloved Son..." You can bank on him. Listen to Him". which is another way of saying believe. He is authentic, and worthy of your trust. The kind of trust and faith Abraham placed in Me is the kind of trust and faith you can place in Jesus, my Beloved Son.
Take your son Isaac, your only son, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you will offer him as a holocaust on the height that I will point out to you. And Abraham set out to do just that. No wonder we hold him up as a model of trusting faith!
God spared Isaac. But He sent His Son Jesus, His only one, whom He loved, to the height of Calvary to offer himself there in trusting love. There he was crucified. He trusted the Father all the way to death. "Listen to him." Jesus did not call it suffering, but love. It was His greatest love for the Father. It was their greatest love for us. It is ours again and again as we offer the Sacrifice of the Mass united with Jesus as branches on a vine through faith and Baptism.
Our Lenten prayer: Father, through our observance of Lent, help us understand the meaning of Your Son' s death and resurrection, and teach us to reflect it in our lives. Grant this through Jesus Your Beloved Son, Amen!