Wonder or Miracle?
“What can you give me?” Admittedly, that’s coming it strong, answering the Highest like this. Abraham, the first Jew, gives the Lord this answer. With that he shows his levelheaded mind; for how should God’s promise of the great reward become true when Abraham is childless and – like his wife Sara – already old?
With this healthy skepticism Abraham determines the grounds on which wonders become possible, not miracles; because wonders require the participation of man. That differentiates wonders and miracles. And it is Abraham, the first Jew, who supplies the history-making example for this. To the repeated, now detailed promise of God that Abraham will have numerous descendants he reacts: “Abraham put his faith in the Lord.” And “Sara became pregnant”. After the first big bang, the “conception” of the cosmos, this was the second: Israel developed, the people of God. Through the faith of a single person. The first wonder of the bible, which had more in its lap. That this people is still alive after a 3000 year history – at the same time a history of perpetual persecutions – in its own land again at that, is a miracle equal to the beginning with Abraham. It is like a shining star, also over the third century. bek
The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying: “Fear not, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what good will your gifts be, if I keep on being childless and have as my heir the steward of my house, Eliezer?” Abram continued, “See, you have given me no offspring, and so one of my servants will be my heir.” Then the word of the LORD came to him: “No, that one shall not be your heir; your own issue shall be your heir.” The Lord took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” bram put his faith in the LORD, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness. The LORD took note of Sarah as he had said he would; he did for her as he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time that God had stated. Abraham gave the name Isaac to this son of his whom Sarah bore him.
Where does God live?
The successful king through God’s grace, the great David, wants to give God back his due: God should not be worse off than he is, he too should live in a splendid house. It even takes the prophet a while to realize: by this David would lock God in a house, as is customary in religions.
This God, however, does not have a permanent residence, neither is he a king’s subtenant. It is God’s way to travel with his people, to lead the way, and kings and prophets have to try to keep up. tac
When King David was settled in his palace, and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!" Nathan answered the king, “Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you.” But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said: “Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Should you build me a house to dwell in?’ “It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth. I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance. Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old, since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.”
The message of the third Sunday of Advent is easy to understand: “Gaudete – Rejoice! Be happy!” What is left to explain? Particularly he, who has read the 60 chapters before that, will understand Isaiah’s good news.
For who rejoices there? And why? It is the war-ravaged city of Jerusalem unexpectedly being rebuilt and repopulated. Like a bride she adorns herself for her groom. Thus the word of the prophet searches for the right listeners to this day: those that find their joy in Jerusalem being rebuilt. mim
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God. I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels. As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.
End and Beginning
The end has always been interesting to everyone. The end of one’s life and the end of the world. When will it come? And how? And what will happen? The Jewish people were not interested in the end for a thousand years.
They left speculations about the afterlife and Last Judgment scenarios to the Egyptians. What moved them were the beginnings. How does something new come into the world? A people of free human beings? Solidarity, justice, peace? Such a beginning is recounted this Sunday: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ…”. Somebody attracts attention through his special language, through his unusual life style. He does not make himself bigger than he is. It begins with him. acb
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
According to the latest studies we spend 30 percent of our lifetime asleep. Reducing this healthy statistical mean is not what the gospel has in mind, when it calls on us to stay awake and vigilant. This is about a specific point in time.
It requires focus, a concentration of attention because all of the responsibility is entrusted - to each one a task intended just for them. The matter-of-fact realistic acceptance by the individual and the necessary cooperation requires its own kind of vigilance and interest. Disinterest and negligence would signify sleeping in this case – vigil, to do the work of the absent-arriving landlord in the world together.
Jesus said to his disciples: Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!
There are life style habits – eating habits, sleeping habits, but also habits of understanding. So for generations it has been our habit to see the maxim of Christian action in the parable of the last judgment, somehow valid for every person: doing good for the needy – and thus doing good for Christ.
Whoops, a wrong viewing habit has slipped in there! An exact perusal and exegesis lead to a different interpretation. Namely? The addressees of the judge of the world’s words are “all the nations”, thus the gentiles. The needy aren’t simply the poor of the world, but Jesus’ disciples, whom the Son of Man calls “least brothers of mine”. This follows from the context of the gospel. And what does this mean? The gentiles are measured, “judged”, according to their behavior towards Jesus’ disciples, who became uncovered, vulnerable and persecuted for his sake. And Jesus’ disciples themselves and their associates, what applies to them? That is written in other parts of the gospel. bek
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
It is a bold thought to compare the arrival of God with the intrusion of a thief. In fact, this image talks less about God than about us humans.
We tend to get frightened when God approaches and fear for our belongings. Apparently we view our life as our property. But God comes into our life – also and especially during the darkness of night – as its owner. Being sober and alert means knowing the right property relations. tac
Concerning times and seasons, brothers, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night. When people are saying, “Peace and security,” then sudden disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.
As familiar as the parable of the ten bridesmaids is, as strange, yes, offensive is its message:
only five are admitted to the ballroom! So there must be something wrong with the image of the tolerant Jesus, who accepts everyone as he is. Perhaps something is wrong with us though, if we have more sympathy for the stupid than admiration for the foresighted. Apparently, the most important thing is overlooked: that the groom, namely God, who visits his bride Israel, even finds anyone, who will receive him. mim
Jesus told his disciples this parable: The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
… to serve …
The word “serve” seems so worn and dented in the history of Christianity that it seems best to replace it with another.
“The greatest among you must be your servant”, tastes like Sunday speeches or a sermon at the inauguration of the new bishop. Everyone can guess: he wants to determine and will have to decide. Even the so humble title “Servant of the Servants of God”, one of the many titles of the Pope, has been linked to the undisguised claim of primacy and prestige over the centuries. The Ethiopian prince Asfa Wossen-Asserate writes in a book about manners: The problem today is not so much that nobody wants to serve, but that no one wants to be a master, because it means living and acting responsibly and exemplary. The greatest, the rabbi, the teacher, the father, the mother … they do not have to make themselves small artificially. They just have to know that only one is the teacher, master, father – the one in the heavens – and they therefore bear all of the responsibility on earth, the responsibility for the world, that is: to serve. acb
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Are words superfluous?
One of the most frequent delusions in connection with the reformation of the church is probably the assumption that people need to talk more about and get better informed about the faith. What was it like in apostolic times?
Paul, undoubtedly a man of words, tells the parish in Thessaloniki: There is nothing more to say about this – namely about the faith. Why not? Because it is visible, yes, even seizable with bare hands. The parish in Thessaloniki lives the faith in a way that is visible far and wide. They live as a community where everyone vouches for each other. One person's behavior turns the world upside down by serving the others instead of searching honor, reputation and power for himself. That's how Paul lived, following Jesus' example and the surprised ones followed his example. “Evangelization”? Everywhere, people tell each other how the parish has taken in Paul, how they follow his example of service and are of one mind with him. Indeed, there is nothing more to say about it. The facts speak for themselves. bek
Brothers and sisters: You know what sort of people we were among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves openly declare about us what sort of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.