The imprint of our faith
What I share with you happens frequently as a lesson of God’s imprint on those of us who believe. Last week, I went to visit people in our hospital. One of the patients was lying on her back, didn’t seem to be breathing and her eyes were open starring at the ceiling. I introduced myself, but there was no response. She died I thought. There were no family members to pray with, no nurses in the room; it was just the two of us. Out loud I said, “I’ll pray and bless her with holy water since she is already with you Lord.”
“In the name of the Father and of the Son…” Just then, she began to move her right arm to her forehead, very slowly pulling her arm upward. I continued with the prayers, she continued to slide her arm towards her head. I helped her as she struggled to make the sign of the cross. Reaching for the Holy Oil I anointed her, concluded the prayers and said, “May the Lord who frees you from all sin save you and raise you up.” “Amen” she responded, completed the sign of the cross and gave her last breath. The woman had waited long enough to receive God’s forgiving blessing before going home to the Lord. Through many similar experiences God has taught me that being a faith witness is not at all about you and me. Witness is all about being open to God’s grace at work for others and using you and me to help. Often God’s grace calls us to be open and be representatives of the Lord for the good of others.
Isn’t that the lesson from God to Jonah? The people were ready to repent and awaiting the call to forgiveness. But Jonah didn’t want to go and preach repentance and healing. He thought he knew the situation and the people. He argued they won’t listen or repent. Jonah even judged God’s mercy and thought the people should be punished and destroyed by God. Jonah was hoping for the destruction of Nineveh by God and not its conversion
Jesus, like Jonah also calls people to conversion, to change their ways and follow the ways of God. Of course, there are huge differences between Jonah and Jesus, in addition to the obvious. Jesus came to teach us not to destroy one another, to live his ethical behavior. To follow Jesus can be scary for daily we need to think about and be responsible for our words and actions. Following the Lord also means like Jonah our view of the world is at stake—it could change, we could be wrong, which can be scary to some. We may have to convert our understanding of how God can work in others, not just ourselves-scary stuff! But that is hope having faith in what cannot be seen.
Such hope is what Paul preached when he stated, “For the world in its present form is passing away.” What he means is that when we change our lives in Christ our world view changes with us. That is how Paul’s belief as well as that of his converts resulted in establishing an incredible number of Christian learner-communities. However, they also believed that the return of Jesus would take place any day. So, the bad news for you married men is that Paul’s statement in our reading today- let those having wives act as not having them, is not a biblical loophole for you.
Nor are there loopholes when we encounter personal pain of social stigma very often attached to standing up and speaking out for our Christian values – stewardship of what has been entrusted. Haven’t we seen the price of disposable life in the destruction of human and animal life and the destruction of the health of our planet?
Conversion from sinful ways may even be the price of leaving one’s given social position even in high school. However, there is joy in knowing that we are doing so in the realized hope that our new human existence, our personal integrity is the result of living an ethical Christian life.
In a country that can easily resemble Nineveh with idolatry of status, and the lengthy list of status symbols, it is a significant social struggle to follow Jesus. We need to repent from our personal list of idolatry, and to reform the way that we view the world and one another, and avoid being swallowed by the whales of temptation that surround us.
All of us know those times and places when God is calling out to us to live the gospel of Jesus, and to witness to others with our lives especially to young people so desperately in need of guidance. Values that reflect conversion from hollow idolatry into life-giving peace and stability come from living the gospel. There are no loopholes in being Christian!
Jesus call to repentance is daily—not a onetime event; each day he gives us opportunities to avoid judging others, to bring hope to offer reconciliation, to be open to the change in others by giving God a chance to change them. That may be what others might be waiting for—that we change too.
Blessings, Fr. Gordon