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November 8, 2018 - More Rejoicing!

Thursday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you may struggle with the same challenge as Paul (and I): Confidence in “the flesh;” in other words, confidence in the self.  In all Paul’s writing, ‘the flesh’ points not to our physical nature, but to our ‘self’ as it exists independent of God.  It alludes to our will, our rationality, our emotion, our human-informed capability for both vice and virtue.  In the first reading when Paul talks about “confidence in the flesh,” he’s talking about the human ability to be good, or to ‘save yourself.’  There’s a tendency among many people (especially we who are trying very hard to be good) to believe that our salvation counts on our goodness.  That our ‘flesh,’ our being on its own, can and MUST act rightly if we are to have a good life and eternal life.  If we act wrongly, bad things will happen.  It totally depends on ME.  In a funny way, it’s self-centered; this belief inflates our sense of self-importance.  Paul confesses to being like this before his conversion.  Lots of religious people think this way.  Most days, I think I do.  It can be a problem.

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with trying to be good and virtuous.  The problem is the belief in the importance of me, ‘the flesh;’ the deserved rewards and consequences.  In our present and eternal life, we are not saved from suffering and death by our actions; the forgiveness of Jesus Christ saves us.  In our present world, we so often are not able to correctly discern how to bring about the Kingdom; instead, the Spirit moves and directs us to do our part for the Kingdom (often without our understanding).  We are not in charge.  God is in charge.

We see this in the realities of the world; bad things happen to good people all the time.  Good things also happen to bad people.  It doesn’t seem fair, because so many of us believe our actions alone determine our fate.  But they do not; numerous actions, divine and human, determine our fate. 

Our work is to allow the Spirit to convert us, to cooperate with God.  When we open ourselves to the saving action of Christ, Heaven rejoices!  It does not rejoice in our futile efforts to be righteous, because too often we don’t really pick the right action.  In the Spirit, however, we are driven to right action.  When we allow Jesus’s message to guide us (instead of our own ideas and feelings), we will live a life of love and generosity.  It will not be ‘I,’ but ‘Christ in me.’  Heaven rejoices when a sinner repents.  Repentance is a total reorientation of life, a turning away from the former way.  It’s more than righteousness; it’s a change of heart.  Indeed that is worth rejoicing!

Today, let’s give Heaven a reason to rejoice.  Let us repent of our false belief of self-importance.  Instead, may we trust in and open up to God’s saving work in our lives. Amen!

-Chris Nieport