Having said that I would write on justice during Lent this year, I find that I have not addressed at all what I thought I would. The Scriptural texts that I have used seem strange even to me. And today I use another odd one. Romans 12:9-21 is really about how we treat one another, how our relationships should be transformed when we become Christian. For example, love one another, serve the Lord by serving others, be joyful, be hospitable to guests. These may be common ways of acting for anyone.
But then Paul goes on to speak of how we should relate to our "enemies." I suspect most of us relate to our enemies by avoiding them. But that is not what Paul anticipates. He says we should bless them, live happily with them, celebrate with them, don't hold a grudge, don't think we are better than they. "Beloved, don't be obsessed with taking revenge, but leave that to God's righteous justice. . . . 'If your enemy is hungry, buy him lunch! Win him over with kindness. For your surprising generosity will awaken his conscience, and God will reward you with favor.' Never let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good." (TPT)
It's a tall order. And as in another Scripture where it is asked, "Who is my neighbor?", I am tempted to ask, "Who is my enemy?" In America today it seems as though we have classified entire groups of people as our enemy: immigrants, the poor, the rich, those who wear a mask or those who don't, Republican or Democrat, White, Black or Brown, followers of QAnon. Take your pick. There are plenty of enemies to go around.
Buy him lunch, be kind, generous, defeat evil with good. We might even add listening during lunch.
#justice #peace #Lent #prayerandfasting #generosity
Another issue on which I think we can say that God stands firm is slavery. There seems to be no case in which slavery is acceptable. Holding a person against their will goes against the dignity of the human person who is made in the image and likeness of God. It goes against "love your neighbor as yourself." By its very definition it goes against free will.
No doubt we should consider the issue of Paul's writings about slavery. He speaks of slavery in various ways. Paul likes to contrast being slaves to God with slaves to sin. In Colossians 4 he urges slave owners to be fair to their slaves. Slave masters were to treat their slaves as God, the Supreme Master, would treat the owners. It is true, he does not condemn slavery outright, but he does expect slave owners to treat their slaves with respect and to set them free when possible (see Philemon). In Galatians 3:11 he declares that in the Kingdom there is no slave or free. Since we are trying to bring the Kingdom of God on earth, is this not the attitude we should take toward slavery? Today, modern societies have recognized that all forms of slavery are wrong whether it is the slavery of domestic workers, field hands, soldiers, or sex workers. So let us stand with God against slavery, against abusing people, against seeing others as inferior to ourselves.
For Reflection: Is there any way in which I have treated another person as a slave? Have I withheld wages? Have I coerced someone to do what I wanted? Have I failed to grant another freedom when I could have? Have I considered someone to be my inferior?
Let us pray. Jesus, I repent of all the ways in which I have participated in slavery and I ask you to forgive me. I stand with you now against slavery in all of its forms throughout the world. I stand with you in declaring an end to slavery. I want to be part of bringing your light to the darkness of this issue. Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
Another of our titles, if we want to call them that, is "heirs of God" and "co-heirs with Christ." (See Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:7; Ephesians 1:5.) We are heirs because we are sons (daughters) of God our Father. There is perhaps no greater designation than to be called a child of God because of the ramifications. Children grow up with their parents and take on their mannerisms and habits. Children benefit from the education and other things that parents provide because parents want their children to succeed in life. They benefit from their parents' place in society. Children inherit from their parents when the parents die.
God, as our Father, wants and provides the same for us and even more so because He is God. God made us in his image and likeness. We can, through the example of Jesus and applying the Word of God to our lives, grow up to be like him. Because of natural parents, we might say of someone, "She has her father's eyes and his smile." How much greater the compliment if we can say, "She has her Father's eyes and smile, his compassion and love of others." Or, "He has learned patience and self-control."
As children of God we hold a certain place in society. After all, our Father is the Supreme Godhead, Creator and Ruler of the Universe. If we know who He is, then we should know who we are. We can brag on our Father and bring people to meet him. People might look to us to be leaders and to grant favors which we would be able to offer through exercise of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
As children of the Father, co-heirs with Christ, we inherit all that he has. Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18) and he passed it on to his disciples. He said we could drive out demons, speak in new tongues, and heal the sick. And we will inherit the Kingdom. At the end He will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Come, enter into my joy (cf. Matthew 25:23).
That's what it means to be an heir.
This new creation that we have become can conquer! We are more than conquerors according to Paul in Romans 9:37. We may have heard this statement used often among Christians when trials come, but we need to look at the context in Paul's letter (9:26-39). We who have answered God's call are conformed to the likeness of Jesus (We have been made in the image and likeness of God.). We are also justified. Therefore no one can bring any charge against us for we have been declared "not guilty" because Jesus died and rose for us. We are then glorified by the impartation of the Holy Spirit who "helps us in our weakness", who "intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express . . in accordance with God's will."
Because of all this nothing can separate us from God's love; nothing can come between us and God. It is more than just standing beside God or being attached to God. We are not just "two peas in a pod" or "attached at the hip." No, we have God within us. How can we be separated from something which is within us? We can't. And since we are united with him we can conquer anything.
For Reflection: What needs to be conquered in my life? In the world around me?
Let us pray. Lord Jesus, I believe that you live within me, that we are united by the work of the Father, your death and resurrection and the indwelling of your Spirit. I always want to act in union with you to conquer whatever needs to be defeated according to your will.
Those who have died in faith will rise to eternal happiness. It is this hope of the resurrection to which Paul refers throughout his first letter to the Thessalonians. Christians are not like other people who, when a loved one dies, have no hope of their continued happiness or of ever seeing them again. We will see each other again in the resurrection. That is our sure hope.
So we should not grieve as non-believers do when someone dies. And, in fact, we should not fear death. There is life beyond this one, and it is a better life. In heaven there is no pain, no illness, no sorrow, no mourning. In heaven there is the presence of the complete fullness of God. That is our sure hope (1 Thess 4:13-14).
For Reflection: This hope should make us happy. This hope should reassure us about our future life and the lives of others who are in Christ. Do we have this happiness and assurance deep down within us?
Let us pray. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us (Romans 5:1, 2, 5).
After Paul and Silas left Thessalonica they tried repeatedly to return to the young church there. But, Paul says, "Satan stopped us" (1 Thess 2:18). He is not specific about how Satan stopped them. Perhaps it was the persecution, threats from the authorities, illness or some direct attack by Satan; we don't know. Nevertheless, Paul has hope and joy just thinking about the Thessalonians. It gave him great joy just to remember how they had received the gospel, how they had turned from idol worship to worshiping the one true God, how they had stood under persecution. Paul's reward in life and before God was knowing that he had brought people to Christ. That was his hope, his joy, his glory. No matter what came against him in life, no one could take away what God had done through him - the salvation of more people for the kingdom.
For Reflection: What is keeping me from remembering the great things God has done?
Let us pray. What can keep us from recalling the great works of God? Sickness or depression? Persecution or danger? Loss of job? Criticism by a loved one? No, we are more than conquerors through Jesus. Nothing in creation can separate us from God's love. Jesus, you are my sunshine on every cloudy day (based on Romans 8:35-36).
Jesus is in the house! As we saw in yesterday's post, in Luke's Gospel, Jesus' standing up and reading from Isaiah in the synagogue is the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. He then goes out to start fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy, as he said he would do. He teaches with authority (Luke 4:31-32, 36); he frees a man possessed by a demon (4:33-35); he heals many people (4:38-41); he preaches the good news to all who would listen (4:42-44).
Jesus does not ask us to do anything for which he did not give us an example. And just as he did not do things in his own strength, he does not want us to do things on our own strength. He had the authority of the Father and the power of the Spirit to preach, to free, to heal. He prayed before he began his ministry, he prayed all during his ministry, he continues to intercede for us before the Father (Romans 8:34).
For Reflection: If Jesus needed to pray, how much more so do I need to pray?
Let us pray. Jesus, you set the example. You laid out the mission. You showed us how to accomplish it - through our prayer, with the authority of the Father, empowered by the Holy Spirit and your own intercession. It is in partnership with you that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). You are the source, the holy one.
Isaiah's vision of the Kingdom of God is one of beauty, of lushness, of perfection. It is the return of the Garden of Eden, the return of a time and place before sin. It is a return to original holiness. Not just people, but all creation will give praise to the King.
"The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy" (Isaiah 35:1-2). As it says in Romans, "creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay" (Romans 8:21). All of creation will be set free from the effects of sin and death.
For reflection: What causes me to praise God today?
Let us pray. Lord God, you are King of the Universe, King of Heaven, King of Kings, King of Creation. All creation gives you praise.
We interrupt our story of Cornelius, the Roman officer, to let you know what is happening with Peter. We skipped over Acts 9:43 about Peter staying in the home of a tanner named Simon. Since a tanner handled dead animals, Simon would be considered "unclean". So Peter was breaking a Jewish tradition, and making himself ritually unclean, by staying with Simon.
About the time Cornelius is sending his men to bring Peter to his house, Peter has a vision wherein a voice tells him to "kill and eat" all the kinds of unclean animals he is seeing. Peter refuses because he has never eaten unclean foods before. The voice says, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Peter carries on this exchange three times (Acts 10:9-16). Peter comes out of the vision, and while he is still thinking about it, the Holy Spirit tells him three men are coming to fetch him (the ones sent by Cornelius) and he should go with them.
The next day Peter and a group of disciples set out for Cornelius's house. Going into the home of Cornelius, a gentile, also breaks another Jewish tradition which would again make Peter ritually unclean just as staying in the home of Simon the tanner did. But now Peter realizes the message God was giving him in the vision - he should not call any person unclean (Acts 10:27-29).
For reflection: Am I judging others as being "unclean", beneath me or not worth my time? (By the way, I saw Woody Allen's movie "Blue Jasmine" over the weekend, and it has this same theme. The truths of the Gospel are always current.)
Let us pray. Father, forgive me for the times when I have looked down on others, turned them away, passed them by. Help me to see all people as persons you have created and whom you love. Help me to see them and love them as you do.
I was working on Capitol Hill when 9-11 happened. I could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon. Rumors were rampant that morning about what was going on, and, of course, we had no concept of people doing something like that deliberately.
What does this have to do with our recent theme of praying for and forgiving our enemies? Even enemies such as these need to be forgiven. We are commanded by Jesus to forgive all and to leave the vengeance to God. Whether it is men who fly planes into buildings or fire bullets into schools, or who hold three women captive for years. Whether it is presidents and generals who lead us into war, or drug traffickers and human traffickers, pedophiles or identity thieves, we must decide to forgive them. Having forgiven them, we must love them and pray for them. As I said earlier this week, it is one of the hardest things for a Christian to do.
For reflection: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:14-21, also see Leviticus 19:17-18, Deuteronomy 32:35, Proverbs 20:22).
Let us pray. Once again, Lord Jesus, I come to you for help. There are so many people who have not hurt me directly but I have judged them anyway because they have hurt people I know, or they have hurt my country, or they have become notorious for the things they have done. I want to forgive them. I do forgive them. I forgive them as you have forgiven me - fully, completely and without reserve. They are not mine to judge. You alone know their hearts and minds and why they did what they did. I place all of these people (name their names if possible) in your hands, Lord. They belong to you, not me.
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.