16 Dec. Friday of the 3rd Week of Advent
Isaiah 56:1ff. God gathers the outcasts into his merciful salvation. “My house shall be …for all peoples.”
John 5:33ff.The miracles worked by Jesus prove that the Father has sent him.
The Price Of Growth
Today’s biblical passages face a phenomenon very difficult to handle. Put simply, the problem is this: what we ourselves spend a long time to acquire, others accomplish quickly. Hidden within this human situation is the complementary fact that in a different set of circumstances we are fast and others are slow. Yet the humiliating pain still strikes us, and we question God: “Why must I labour so long and hard for what others obtain so easily and so simply?”
Within the first century of Christianity it was hard for the Jewish Christians to see gentiles acquiring full status within the Church without submitting to the long, disciplinary and doctrinal preparation of the Jewish law and Scriptures. Not even Jesus dispensed with this preparation, and all of those whom he chose as “prophets and apostles” to be the foundations of the Church (Eph 2:20) were thoroughly Jewish in their formation and piety. Even Paul, who declared almost belligerently, “neither circumcision nor the lack of it counts for anything, only faith,” also wrote in the same epistle to the Galatians: “I made progress in Jewish observance far beyond most of my contemporaries” (Gal 5:6; 1:14). If Paul discounted Jewish practices as unnecessary, his Jewish adversaries could say, “Yes, that is true, only because you have learned and followed them so faithfully!”
We can turn to everyday occurrences for some advice and direction. Doctors and lawyers study long years about good health and sound legal practice, while many other people maintain their health instinctively by good simple habits of eating, sleeping and relaxing, and they remain at peace with the law by a normal routine at work and at home. Yet, doctors and lawyers do not begrudge these people their health and peace! Other cases are not as easily settled. Some women can bear children with relative ease, while others pass through an ordeal of physical agony and/or mental depression with each pregnancy. There is bound to be some angry jealousy on one side and some questioning impatience on the other.
Doctors and lawyers are at no disadvantage for long grueling years of study about medicine and law; parents are not being penalized when asked by God to suffer more for the sake of their children. Always, whatever costs more is appreciated more. At least this is the case if we are normal human beings. If Israel has endured more agony than almost any other nation in recorded history, they ought not to be upset if the gentiles come into the kingdom quickly. Not only will God always remember the loyalty of his people, but they will possess within their family traditions a strength, a devotion, a sense of true values far more precious than money can purchase. Israel’s pre-disposition for faith far exceeds the attitude of most other people. Just as a long family tradition of farming or handicrafts or banking imparts an ancestral wisdom which could come only with time, likewise as St. Paul wrote, Israel, the true olive branch, can much more easily be grafted onto the root of an olive tree than we gentiles whom the apostle calls wild olive branches (Rom 11:13-24).
Yet every family with ancestral wisdom needs new blood, new ideas and new challenge. Likewise Israel was to be enriched by the ingrafting of gentiles within the true olive tree. Whatever we possess, is not worth possessing unless it is shared with others and thereby enriched. As Jesus said: whoever loses their life for the sake of the Kingdom of God, saves it; and whoever saves their life selfishly and fearfully, loses it to mediocrity and eventually to silent extinction (Luke 9:24).
For our part then we treasure the gift of faith, handed down to us from our ancestors’ suffering and perseverance. We also treasure each opportunity to freely and honestly share this gift with others.
First Reading: Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8
Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.
Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people;” and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.
Gospel: John 5:33-36
You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.