Thursday, First Week in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings for January 12, 2017

Hebrews 3:7-14, Psalm 95:6-11, Matthew 1:40-45

Today’s readings are stories of compassion. The story from the Old Testament is familiar. God has led the Israelites out of Egypt, freeing them from oppression. This is recounted ironically in the complaints voiced both in the Hebrews reading with a quote from Psalm 95 and then using the Psalm itself as the Psalm of the day. Finally, the Gospel tells another story of how a person with leprosy asks for help and Jesus compassionately cures him. Both stories are examples of God taking care of God’s people in concrete everyday life saving situations.

I think it is important to recognize the emotional component in Jesus’ actions. Mark says Jesus was “moved with pity.” Jesus operates out of a personal concern and care for people he meets. He is not a miracle making machine out to light up the country side. Hence, the admonition to just go see the priest and perform the rituals that the Law of Moses requires. He is doing this for this person but otherwise things are expected to stay the same. He’s not trying to break the mold, or issue some kind of challenge to the religious establishment. At least not in this action for this man. It’s a personal response. I think that is very important for us to recognize. Because it opens a better way of understanding God’s relationship with us at all times. I suspect that we can think of God’s saving history with humanity as, “what God does.” As in the first reading when God may be angry but God doesn’t abandon God’s newly freed people.

I certainly don’t want to shake the idea that God acts to give us better lives as part of who God is. But I think we need to nuance it somewhat. I think we need to see God’s action, as unbelievable at this may sound, as a personal, emotional response to the one being helped. This is not about building a highway so we can all get around better. It is laying one stone in the water so this person can cross.

God’s gifts are personal, individual to each of us, heart felt offers to make a life better. That is why the Psalmist calls out, “Oh, that today you would hear his voice.” We are asked to be in conversation with this God. God is saying, “Let’s be friends.” Too often we can’t believe or accept that such an offer is real. We do what the Psalmist deplores, we “harden our hearts” like the Israelites in the desert. Having been saved from their Egyptian oppressors they complained about conditions in the desert, they tested God.

The man with leprosy offers a better model. So giddy with being cured he goes off and tells everyone. The trick is to do what the author of Hebrews advises, “hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end.” If we are blessed enough to see and hear what God has given us then we must hold on to that reality in today’s world for each of today’s situations. Isn’t that was we do with a friend who cares for us?

It’s also why prayer is so important. Like a conversation with another person, prayer is specifically a time when we adopt a one-on-one stance towards God. By praying we acknowledge the personal relationship just as the leper did by asking for help and, in fact, as the Israelites did by complaining to God about their situation. God already considers the relationship personal. The issue is, will we?

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