Scripture Readings for December 15, 2017
How hard is it for us to take advice? Sometimes nearly impossible. Husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, parents and our children can often seem naturally resistant to the advice given by those closest to us. So it’s not really a surprise that we find today’s readings complaining about the same thing. In Isaiah, God points out that if we paid attention to God’s message our lives would be as easy as water flowing downhill and that our prosperity would last for generations. Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel, is frustrated with people who dismiss God’s message no matter how it is presented.
My suspicion is that we don’t always respond to God’s call because it comes in ways that are too familiar, too much a part of everyday life. We want what people in the Gospels said they wanted, signs. Big signs that would startle our sense of the ordinary. Then surely we would recognize God’s presence and adjust our way of living. The issue is, it didn’t work even when John the Baptist and Jesus were alive and confronting the populace. John, was fire and brimstone and Jesus, was gentle and accepting, and yet according to Matthew in today’s reading Jesus is upset that people aren’t accepting the message either way.
The problem, as I see it, is how we think of God and what we expect God would do if God were, in fact, acting in our lives. Too often our God is a distant reality and all powerful in an overt sense. It’s harder to see God as intimately a part of life, so familiar that God’s power is expressed in the very reality we see around us every day. Instead of looking for God in outsized events and dramatic actions we would be better served to look for God in the deepest part of ourselves. In the same way that we resist the advice of those closest to us because we don’t want to admit they know us that well, we might consider that situations and thoughts that resonate with us are a sign of loving presence.
That sense of resonance is the basis of praying with Holy Scripture. We read a passage and something catches our attention. Sometimes we like what we read and other times it doesn’t make sense or it upsets us. If we take the time to listen to our reaction and the passage we may discover something that is meant for us. Prayer, of this type, is about listening to what resonates with our own deepest selves. More importantly, it is an indicator of something larger, a connection to God’s presence, which can operate, not just when reading Scripture, but all the time in relation to daily life situations. What happens in every moment of life can be a contact point with God’s love because all of creation is an expression of God.
The challenge we have is to be open to it. There are many books about mindfulness which is another non-religious description of what I’m talking about. Today’s readings suggest to me that the challenge to recognizing God’s presence in our lives is we often don’t pay enough honest attention to exactly what going on for us. Just as we are resistant to the advice from those closest to us, we don’t listen to our own life as a source of divine revelation. We shouldn’t be looking for signs and wonders to step in and guide us or fix this or that. We should be learning to see and hear the reality of our lives, what we respond to, what excites or worries us and then discover the message contained in that response and circumstance. The Gospel today suggests God’s message can come in very different forms. But it won’t make any difference to us unless we’re willing to see and listen.