Thursday, January 14, 2016

First things First

A few of my friends shared a video by Steve Harvey, a very successful comedian.   He seems to have several different versions of it, but they all point to the same message.  That at some point, you have got to jump to be successful.  I think it's a good message, but it is missing something.  In the version on Facebook he quotes the Bible and makes the message sound like a good, strong Biblical principle.  It almost though becomes that sort of prosperity Gospel that we hear from various Protestant ministers out in the world, it misses something, it misses discernment.  Steve goes on to say that when you jump, sometimes the Parachute (which he attributes to God) is not going to open and you're going to crash into the rocks.  Then he tells you to keep jumping until it does open.  That makes God out to be this entity that acts like a lottery.

The problem to me with this message is that God is always faithful.  It is us who are unfaithful.  Yes, we should jump if it is God's will.  That's when we will have a parachute.  God never hurts us on purpose.  He does however, permit us to hurt ourselves.  If we are jumping off a cliff over and over and bashing into the rocks?  It's because God didn't ask us to do it.  It's because we are after our own goals, our own wants and needs... and God has something better for us.  How do we know? How do we find out what he has in store for us?  By listening to Him.  I'll talk more about that in a minute.

Today's scripture readings for daily Mass give two prime examples of what I am talking about.  In the first reading we have Phinehas and Hophni.  These are the sons of Eli who we have been hearing about the last few days.  They aren't the best example of holiness.   In the book of Samuel it says that they slept with the women who served in the temple and cheated God and the people out of choice portions of the sacrifice.  They took more than they should have, and even took the beast pieces before the sacrifice was even offered up.   These were men who had become complacent, they were doing things for themselves instead of the Lord. 

The Philistines gathered to attack Israel.  The forces of Israel gathered and marched out on the battlefield only to suffer a great defeat.  Over four thousand men died in this first assault.  The Elders gathered togethered and began to question, why did God allow this to happen?  Then instead of going to the temple and asking for God's guidance, they simply decided to take it into their own hands.   They went to the temple and grabbed the Ark.  Phinehas and Hophni jumped!  They came with the Ark to the battlefield with no protests.  After all, the Ark was the presence of God!  As long as the Ark was there no one could lose.  Yet, not only did they lose... but Phinehas and Hophni were killed and the Ark was captured by the Philistines. 

One could say this is one of those examples of your parachute not opening, sure.   I think that would denigrate the severity of this loss to the Israelite people.  They had lost the Ark!   The Ark was the presence of God for the Jewish people.   This was his throne!  This was where He lived!  God was gone from them, his presence was stripped from them.  They did not ask him for advice.  They did not discern his will.   They simply assumed that he would do whatever they wanted. 

Then we see in the New Testament reading a man with great faith.  Being a leper he was an outcast.   A man of social stigma who was not allowed to join in worship, come to town, or eat with others.  He comes to Jesus and speaks words that all of us should consider a priveledge to recite: “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  This is a man who understands God's will, right?  He knows that God doesn't heal everyone.  He also knows that Jesus is the source, the Word, the place to go for healing.  He asks God to heal him, trusting, but not assuming.  If you wish.  Jesus does indeed.  He charges him then to tell no one, but to fulfill the law by going to the temple and offering up the sacrifice prescribed by Moses.

This man then goes on about his way telling everyone!  One minute he was conceding to God's plan, then the next he goes off on his own.  What happens next is what happens so often in our own lives, because of his own plan, God's plan is hindered.   God has already revealed to Him what he wants him to do.  Instead of doing it, he does his own thing.   Jesus became so popular, so famous, that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.  I imagine whoever won the Power Ball last night is going to know what this felt like.  Everywhere Jesus went, someone needed something.  Anyone who needed healing came out of the woodwork.  People pressed in on every side just trying to get a moment in with him.  It took his mission of proclaiming salvation to the people and turned it into a 'miracle show.' 

I think that is where our lesson from today's readings comes into play.  Discernment.  We must get to know God's will.  What does He wish.  We are already blessed so abundantly with life itself.  Everything on top of that is just icing on the cake.  So often that's all we are after.  More luxury.  More adventure.  More wealth.  But what does God want from us?  What is his plan?  Phinehas and Hophni paid the ultimate price for not following God's will.  While many of us will never be called to that sort of punishment, we must realize that the wages of sin are death.  If we drift too far from God's path we can too end up in a spiritual death.  Or we can be like the Leper, realizing God is the means to get out of our disease, our discomfort, our sorrow.  All too often that is when we turn to God isn't it?  At a funeral.  During a natural disaster.  A time of personal stress and sorrow.   Then afterwards, we forget God's plan for us.  We take matters into our own hands during time of prosperity.  We run off and do whatever we can.  Sometimes going directly against what God has asked us to do.

How do we know God's will?  That's where the Sacramental life comes into play.  We turn to Jesus Himself.  We receive the Holy Eucharist at Mass (daily when possible!) and allow it to slowly consume us, to change us.  We go to confession regularly to keep our hearts and minds focused on God's will in our lives and on living a life of true piety and faith.  We come to the Sacraments of Healing.  Then we spend time with the Scriptures.   We pray them.  We listen to God's Word speak through them.  We turn to the Church Fathers for understanding and interpretation.  What did the Apsotles teach them?  What did the first Christians believe?  Then we spend time in silence.  We listen for God's voice.  That's something many of us fail to do. We must make time for Sacred Silence.  A time when we aren't doing all the talking.  When we are doing the listening.

Then when you are certain this is where God wants you to go, this is the direction he wants you head in, this is the cliff he wants you to jump off of... then by all means, you can and should do so!  Discernment first, jumping second.   Otherwise you're doing exactly what Jesus warned against in his temptation in the desert.  Satan told him to jump off a cliff... don't worry God isn't going to let you dash your foot against a stone.  Jesus responded, "It is written, though shalt not tempt the Lord your God."  Jesus understand that God isn't sending us here to get beat up.  He is sending us here to be faithful yes, but obedient as well.    Following His will.  Not our own.   It's not about vacations, trips, and sports cars.  Those can be nice things.  It's about making the world a better place.  It's about living a life of obedience to Christ and service to others.  It's in living the beatitudes that we see true happiness.  And it's in discernment that we find God's will for us in our lives.

His servant and yours,

Brian

"He must increase, I must decrease."