Sunday, August 30, 2009
A Light to the Nations
God had a dream for Israel when he called them out of slavery in Egypt to form a new nation. He dreamed that they would be a sign to the whole world of his love. As we hear in the first reading, The people of Israel were meant to live by God's commandments in such a way that people in surrounding nations would be attracted to God because of their holiness. For this reason the Jewish people did not look upon the commandments as burdens - as a bunch of hoops God placed before them - but as a gift by which they could radiate to the whole world God's love and goodness.
For the most part, Israel lived up to this great expectation God placed upon them. They taught the nations the truth that there is only one God who is the Father of all. They witnessed to the value of human life by speaking out against child sacrifice which was rampant in the cultures around them. By prohibiting divorce and not allowing men to have more than one wife, Israel did much to begin promoting the equal dignity of women. And by insisting that orphans, widows and immigrants be treated justly, they testified to the responsibilities of society to its weakest members. There were also times when they failed as a people to live up to these lofty values. But they never stopped turning to God to seek his mercy and renew their commitment to his commandments. The Jewish people to this day strive to be a light to the nations.
God's dream, however, does not end with Israel, but continues with us who profess belief in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Christians are to live in such a way that the people around us say, "Hey, they have something that I want." The joy we manifest in our lives, the concern we show for strangers and our willingness to tell others about our faith in Jesus are all meant to make an impression on others and leave them with the question: "Why have I never known that believing in Jesus was so important to leading a happy life."
Like the people of Israel, Christians for the most part have done a good job through the grace of God in witnessing to the truths of our faith. It was Christians who led the way in abolishing slavery and establishing civil rights in our country. It is Christians who are the strongest voice for the dignity of all persons both born and unborn. And the Catholic Church is the largest provider of education and health care in the world today. The witness of Christians has been indispensable to guaranteeing that justice is done for all people created in God's image and likeness. By the grace of God, we have much to be proud of about our Christian faith and heritage.
Unfortunately, many people in today's world don't see things this way. There is a lot of cynicism about religious people. Those who choose to live the way Jesus lived are often labeled as fanatics or hypocrites. So many widely publicized scandals involving religious leaders make people suspicious that we Christians do not practice what we preach. And what we do preach is often looked upon as backward, not up to date with the findings of science and with the way people live today. Because of this, many people find it hard to believe in Jesus, to read the Bible and to participate in Mass.
Though much of what I have mentioned is caused by prejudice against Catholics and ignorance, we have to be honest with ourselves and admit that we Christians have not always been the examples of holiness and goodness that God dreamed we would be. People have not turned to Jesus often because we have not shown by our lives or by the way we act that belief in Jesus does make a difference. I think the reason Jesus got so frustrated and angry with the religious leaders of his day, as he does in today's gospel, was that so many people in Israel needed to hear about God and his love for them, but they were too busy worrying about matters of little importance.
There are people all around us who need to hear that God loves them - people in whose lives God could make a big difference. What can convince them more movingly than any words we say or any arguments we come up with is for them to see us loving others as we love ourselves, forgiving others as God has forgiven us and giving to the poor and needy just as God has provided for our needs. As Saint James tells us in the second reading, such is the religion which is pure and undefiled in the eyes of our heavenly Father. And the world, despite its prejudices, cannot help but take notice of the good we do when it is done in the strength provided by God.
Saint Francis of Assisi said: "Preach always. When necessary, use words." As followers of Christ, it is our mission to bring him into the world by living holy lives. Through our baptism, we are the hands of Christ stretched out to the world. We all know someone who needs God. Maybe we need to make it a point this week to reach out to them, give them a phone call and invite them to have coffee with us. By showing love and concern, we can witness to them about the love of God and perhaps change their lives. It may be the only opportunity that person will ever have to hear the good news. That is God's dream for each one of us - to live lives marked by such holiness that others will say, " I want to know your God."
(artist: Alan Falk)