After this weekend’s liturgy, the Church suspends Ordinary Time until July third. This is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of that “joyful season of Lent.” So perhaps these days you can do many of those things which you are going to “give up” starting at the end of “Fat Tuesday”. Ah, you begin listing eatables, drinkables, watchables, and or playables. What about that “joyful season” thing.
As we move toward this week’s liturgy I offer a simpler preparational plan. I am going to reflect upon this week’s selection of what usually brings me some form of being sad. I believe there are some areas of self-disappointment which deaden my spirit to say nothing of those disappointments in those with whom I live. Ah, I hear myself saying that I would rather give up something that makes me happy, than to give up those feelings of negativity. I guess I like them after all.
We come to the Eucharist and to Lent as we are in the solid hope that grace will surround us and move us to a life of Easter-centered peace.
The chapter from which we hear verses forming our First Reading has one foot firmly in the history of God’s saving care for Israel. The other foot is tentatively poised for the future. The first section is full of references to how God had saved Israel from slavery in Egypt. Moses is reminding the people to keep close to their national history, because it is also personal. The placing of God’s laws and customs near ones head and heart will prevent a wandering and a forgetting.
The future has to do with the land of great abundance which they will enter, but they will have to keep remembering by keeping the traditions and activities which have and will form them. When they are faithful to God’s ways, God’s blessings will be manifested in the victories over even stronger peoples who inhabit the land God is giving them. If they stray, then the curses will be manifested by the lack of sun and rain. It is all about fertility and fidelity.
Recently I was engaged in a retreat in the southern, hence warmer section, of the United States. I had occasion to roll up my pants, take off my shoes and stand in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It was coolish, being January, but warmer than to where I was heading back the next day. I noticed with each surging wave, the sand under my feet was shifting and I was slipping deeper. Agile as I am, I kept shifting and enjoying the surf-dancing.
Today’s Gospel has the image of a flood with rain and wind as dramatic effects. One house loses its footings, because it stands on shifting sands. The other house remains, because it has more solid foundations. As we say around here, “There’s a homily in there somewhere.”
Six verses before the beginning of our Gospel reading, Jesus warns His listeners to beware of the ravenous wolves, (false teachers), who are disguised as attractive lambs. These parade within pious practices, but are bent on attracting others to their own public performances and selfish aggrandizement. Jesus continues this theme before using the flood images.
Listening to the solid teachings of Jesus is contrasted with those who follow the more attractive and attracting performers of religion. Matthew, here and elsewhere, is not condemning all Jewish religious traditions or teachers of the Law. Rather He is alerting His followers that there are those whose teachings lead to the following of them rather than the following of Moses toward God.
We are finishing the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew concludes by describing the attitude of the listeners. They all were astonished and impressed with all three chapters, because He taught with “authority”. What is that? Jesus spoke with reverence and with intensification of the Law; a Law written deeply in their hearts. Jesus was bringing out the whole relationship with God Who had initiated and sustained that relationship. The scribes’ authority came from their personal need to dominate the religious experience of the people by their personal powers of severity and condemnation.
Now to the floods. The swirling waters of lakes, rivers and oceans rearrange constantly the geography of the shore, pulling and filling. Later, in chapter thirteen, Matthew will present a parable about seeds falling on various sorts of soil. He then gives an explanation of the parable which is similar to these two houses and two floods.
The house on rock takes on the various floods, rains and winds of change, threats and persecutions and, while maybe shaken, remains in place. The house, which is built in a similar fashion, except for its foundation, shifts according to the winds of popular acceptance, the rains of mystery and the floods of novelty. The listening disciples have heard strange things, but deep in their hearts, where the Law has strong roots, they are moved to follow Jesus as He begins His public ministry of curing and revealing the One God.
The big question from the opening verse of today’s Gospel. Not the sayers, but the doers of the “will of my father who is in heaven,” will enter the Kingdom. The “will” of God, can we know it? Are we on shaky shifting ground here? The basic invitation of God to Israel and Jesus to all His listeners is to trust the Love of God. This can sound foolish with worries and doubts. Trusting has such worrying and doubting, which is exactly what trusting needs to be - trusting. I personally do not know, and do not want to know for sure, that I am doing exactly what God exactly prescribes. I desire to have faith in my faith and trust in the Rock which frees me greatly from the floods of self-satisfying exactness.
Doubts and worries are like the rains, winds and floods which rage against both houses. I hear them, feel them very well. I am still standing with the shiftiness of my mind and imagination, and this seems to be, for me, the will of His Father which He lived and invites us to live in our ways.
“I call upon you, God, for you will answer me; bend your ear and hear my prayer.” Ps. 17, 6
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