I write this reflection having just walked back to my office from a memorial service for a colleague. I did not know Karin well, but I attended the service because, in this loving, faith-centered community, we celebrate, and grow, and grieve together.
In this context, returning to the scripture passages assigned from 1 John and Matthew’s Gospel, I find that they speak to me with unusual clarity.
In the first reading, the writer’s goal is straightforward. He knows that it does not pay to trust to first impressions. “Many false prophets have gone out into the world,” and we could easily be misled by them. So it is important for us to learn how to discriminate “the spirit of truth” from “the spirit of deceit.”
Unfortunately, this leads only to the very practical question of how we should make such a crucial distinction. And for me, the most helpful hints come early in that reading. In the closing verses of Chapter 3, the writer advises us to focus on the two great commandments, the two commandments that we know so well but find it so hard to follow: love God and love one another. The individuals we should look up to, the writer argues, are those who live out those two principles in their lives, since they “remain in [Jesus Christ].”
Which brings us to the wonderful passage from Matthew, Chapter 4, which summarizes in a few short but compelling sentences the key components of Jesus’ early ministry. How did Jesus live out those challenging commandments on a daily basis? “He went around all of Galilee, teaching …, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.” No wonder “great crowds … followed him”! For they saw in his actions concrete evidence of his commitment both to his Father (teaching, proclaiming) and to his fellow women and men (curing disease and illness).
So what does this have to do with the service I attended earlier this afternoon? For thirty minutes or so, Karin’s colleagues, students, friends, and family shared stories of her life and we watched a short video. Karin emerged as a woman whose life had touched everyone around her … and always for the better. A gifted artist, a leader in her faith community and a teacher who not only instructed but truly inspired her students, Karin was one whom nobody could mistake for a false prophet. Her life exemplified the simple God-centeredness to which the writer of 1 John calls his readers.
May we all take to heart the challenge presented to us by Jesus’ life and ministry, the challenge implicit in John’s words, “You belong to God,” by showing in our own lives unmistakable evidence of our commitment to our baptismal vows to love God and our neighbors as Christ loved us.
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