Nine months from today (March 25-December 25), we will once again celebrate Christmas and officially welcome the new born Jesus into our lives!
You and I; however, know that Jesus is continually in our lives. Today’s reading, Isaiah 7:10; 8:10, has the Lord promising a Savior to King Ahaz. The prophet says,
“… Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore, the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us! “
God is with us! We are the people of promise! We believe the words of the prophet. We believe that the Son of God entered the messiness of human experience taking on human flesh, becoming one of us in all things save sin. We believe that Jesus (God-made-man) continually abides with us no matter what. We may make choices that distance ourselves from Him but He never lets go of us. He continues to walk with us, and whenever we turn to Him, confess our sins and ask for forgiveness, He reaches out and embraces us in love. God is with us – always!
In today’s Gospel, Mark 12:28-34, we read that “One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked Him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ And then Jesus added a curve ball, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” And thus we have it: Love is what life is all about!
Jesus begins by stating that there is only one God and that we are to love our God with the totality of our being. We cannot love that which we do not know. In order to love God, we have to get to know God. God is forever reaching out to us on a daily basis in the world around us, in the people we meet and in the depths of our hearts. We have to make conscious choices to let God into our lives. The more that we let God into our lives; the more we will get to know God; the more we will fall in love with God; the more we will be God centered. And since God is Love, we increasingly become men and women consumed by Love. And love cannot be contained. We are compelled to share it and so we love our neighbors. And who are our neighbors? Jesus tells us in the parable of the Good Samaritan that all men and women are our neighbors. We are to love all. And the love that Jesus talks about is not a good feeling or romantic love, but a love built on making choices for the good of others. And we cannot love God and others unless we truly love ourselves. Created in the image and likeness of God, we are good, and we are called on a daily basis to conversion – to tap the goodness that is within us. Love is dynamic. Love is relational. Love is all permeating.
Choice is a key word in the Christian vocabulary.
The refrain in today’s Response Psalm, taken from Psalm 95:
“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”
God speaks to us in countless ways each and every day. God speaks to us in the Scriptures. God speaks to us in the glory of Creation. God speaks to us in the history of our lives. God speaks to us in the daily challenges of life. God speaks to us in and through our loved ones and those that we do not like. God speaks to us in that tiny inner voice that we call conscience. God is forever inviting us to make good choices. We can open ourselves up to His voice and strive to be our best selves or we can block out His voice and harden our hearts. The choice is ours to make.
In today’s first reading, Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9, Moses urges the people to, “hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live …” He stresses how important it is to learn the teachings of the Lord and to pass them down to their children, “take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”
How easy it is to forget the teachings of the Lord. We see it all around us in our increasingly secularized world. One generation is grounded in Christian truth and practice; the next takes a cafeteria approach, picking and choosing what it will or will not believe and only worshipping when they feel like it and the following generation is unchurched.
Moses’ warning to the ancient Israelites is valid for you and me today. It is crucial to remember the teachings of the Lord on a daily basis and to do our best to pass those teachings on not only to family and friends but to all those we come in contact with. We do this not only by the words we say but by the example we give. In truth, we seek to live out the teachings of the Lord each day.
In today’s Gospel, Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus asks the seemingly impossible:
“Peter approached Jesus and asked Him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.'”
Most of us will immediately say “Impossible!” How can I keep on forgiving when I am being repeatedly hurt. Jesus is not asking us to be door mats and allow ourselves to be repeatedly violated. No. As responsible human beings, we have to take legitimate means to protect ourselves. Jesus is speaking about embracing a spirituality of forgiveness. We cannot forget hurts that are done to us, but we can go beyond the feelings of anger and hatred and choose to forgive. We can make a conscious choice to pray for the other; to do good to the other, and to refrain from tearing them down. We can choose justice over revenge. Memories may remain with us as well as the accompanying negative feelings, but we don’t have to indulge in them. To indulge in unforgiveness is to lock ourselves into a prison of our own making. Negative thoughts then eat away at us and cause us and those we love to be miserable. Forgiveness unlocks the prison door and sets us free.