Daily Reflection
November 14, 2006

Robert P. Heaney

John A. Creighton University Professor
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Titus 2:1-8, 11-14
Psalm 37:3-4, 18 and 23, 27 and 29
Luke 17:7-10

Often the Gospel readings each day are consoling – Jesus healing cripples, reaching out to sinners, or welcoming children and outcasts. Today’s reading, by contrast, is distinctly challenging.

In the way our world operates, when we do everything required of us, we expect a pat on the back – at very least. If a student gets all the questions right, she/he expects an “A”. But Jesus seems to be saying “That’s not enough”. Can that be true?

Actually “enough” is the wrong word. Jesus wants not more, but something totally different.

Our instinct has always been “Tell me the rules”. “Tell me what I need to do, and I will try to do it . . .” If we follow the rules, obey the commandments, practice our religion – then we will be saved. When we die, we will go to heaven. Right? No, that’s backward. Jesus has already purchased our salvation. There is nothing we can or could do to earn it. All that we need supply is gratitude, actually a life lived as expression of that gratitude – a life sharing that good news with those hungry for it, a life showing, by how we live, what God’s kingdom is really like.

This is a truth the great saints have understood and articulated again and again. Augustine tells us: “Love and do what you will”. St. Paul, throughout his Epistles, wages a literal campaign against law – not because he was an anarchist, but because he understood that rules cannot save us – no matter how well we measure up against their demands. Law, in Paul’s view, competes with Jesus – actually displaces Jesus. It is through Paul’s eyes that we need to read today’s Gospel – through Augustine’s ears that we must hear it. Doing what is expected of us gives us no claim on God. So we have to stop thinking in terms of meeting expectations.

We are called to a life of total self-giving. That is the model Jesus provides; that is our nature (made in the image of God . . .). Self-giving is the only possible response to the gift of God in Jesus. Certainly we should generally strive to meet societal expectations. We live in and benefit from human society, and so we owe society a corresponding allegiance. But its norms are not how we are saved, and sometimes – perhaps more often than we care to admit – society makes demands and shapes our values in ways not compatible with the Gospel.

The ultimate law is self-giving love, which has no limit – no “enough” – except the cross.

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