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Friday, third week of Advent

December 16, 2005

Blessed Friday!

We’re on the verge of another threshold, about to step into the final countdown to God’s coming. In the next seven days we plead:

O Wisdom,
O Lord of Lords,
O Root of Jesse,
O Key of David,
O Rising Dawn,
O King of nations,
O Emmanuel

(In case you’re counting, yes, this does mean that if you wanted to pray a novena leading up to Christmas, you’d start today).

Readings: Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8
Psalm 67: 2-3, 5, 7-8 “O God, let all the nations praise You!”
+John 5:33-36

God tells us in our first reading, “My salvation is about to come, My justice, about to be revealed.” And what is this salvation, this justice? Is it only for one nation, the Chosen People? No. He goes on to say, “Let not the foreigner say, when he would join himself to the Lord, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from His people’”. Rather, “All who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to My covenant, them will I bring to My holy mountain and make joyful in My house of prayer…My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (emphasis added). The Psalm picks up the theme, telling us that all nations will know God’s salvation. Note that God emphasizes keeping the Sabbath as a condition of foreigners being joined to Him.

In fact, the Chosen People seemed to have had a particularly difficult time recognizing God’s salvation when He finally did come, and it was largely because of the Sabbath. Jesus observes that although St. John the Baptist testified to His identity, the Jewish leaders just couldn’t accept it. They liked the Baptist well enough, even “exalting in his light”, but when he pointed to Jesus…well that’s where the problems began. Jesus then points to an even greater testimony to His identity–the works the Father gave Him to accomplish–but it was these very works that had the Jewish leaders so upset. Jesus was working on the Sabbath in direct contradiction to God’s Law (or at least, to their interpretation of it). The verses leading up to today’s Gospel tell us that Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath was precisely why the Jewish leaders were challenging Him. How could He possibly be from God?

What the Jewish leaders couldn’t see was exactly what Jesus had come to show them. God had given them the Law, but they didn’t understand it. They thought the Law was about restriction, what you couldn’t do. Jesus came to open our eyes to the fact that God is for us, that the Law was meant to free us, not to enslave us. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). God gave us the Sabbath because He knew we needed a day off (interestingly enough, when I attended a seminar on thesis-writing, the secular presenter told us that research has shown that we’re most productive when we get one day off every week!), as well as a day to spend time with Him, to reconnect with Him. That day of rest was never meant to prevent us from doing good! It was designed to be a part of our salvation.

The same could be said for each of the other commandments. That’s why Jesus summed them up by saying that when we love God with all we are and love our neighbor as ourselves, we keep the commandments (see Mark 12:29-31). The commandments are about love…because God is love (John 4:8) and our salvation is part and parcel of our becoming like God (see I John 3:2). We still need the commandments because we need help knowing what love looks like in specific situations; we need help recognizing the God-like thing to do. We can mistake an affair for love. We can rationalize “putting someone out of their misery” as love. God had to tell us otherwise by saying, “You shall not commit adultery” and, “You shall not kill”. The commandments, rightly understood, are a textbook of love. Jesus, the Teacher, came to guide us in understanding that text, and spent the three years of His public ministry establishing the Church, through whom He would continue this living mission. We can still hear His voice today (Jesus told His Church, “He who hears you, hears Me”, Luke 10:16) when we would turn to the right or to the left, a voice saying, “This is the way, walk in it” (see Isaiah 30:21).

May we, foreigners who have joined ourselves to the Lord, become teachable in the ways of love, that we may grow into the fullness of the salvation He came to bring.

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