This past summer my family and I were hiking in Arches National Park in Utah. We decided to take one of the park's more rugged trails, which often crossed bare rock. On those occasions, the path was marked by cairns, which, at times, seemed to suggest a path different from what seemed to be correct. We trusted the cairns and found our way back to civilization.
I find myself reacting to these readings as if they are cairns guiding us along the trail of the Gospel. On the one hand, Paul is suggesting that the world we inhabit is full of unmistakable signs pointing both to the glory of God and to what God would have us do as human beings. The signs, like cairns, point us along the right path, if we are attentive.
It may be tempting to think that Paul’s warnings do not apply to us who are Christian, since we do not worship the creature rather than the creator and we generally do not give ourselves over to the evils on his list. I’m not so sure this is right; were Paul with us today might he not add “uncritical acquisitiveness,” “rampant greed,” and “reckless use of God’s creation” to his list of evidences that we have not been paying attention to the clear signs and have lost our way? The first reading is no mere historical curiosity.
If the first stings, the second stings more bitterly. Here is an additional reminder to the religiously smug that their outward observance, even if correct and legal, can mask a deep misunderstanding of what God wants. We may do it all right and still get it wrong. The letter of our observance must always be balanced by the Spirit. Without the Spirit animating our religion, we are as likely to go down a dark path as those who miss the unmistakable signs of God’s power in creation.
Let’s pray for the power to see clearly that we might stay on the trail.
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