The scriptures of today’s liturgy remind me of one of my personal touchstone passages of scripture: “If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal”. Sirach 2:1
There are a variety of translations for the original Hebrew translated here as “ordeal.” Some say, “prepare yourself for testing,” or “prepare yourself for temptation.”
But every time I recall this passage I hear Jesus saying to me: “John, if you aspire to serve me, prepare yourself for an adventure”.
It fits well with another favourite scripture, Jesus saying: “I have come that you may have life, and have it in abundance!” (John 10:10)
This contrasts greatly with a common perception of Christianity as a nice, polite, comfortable and regulated life. Who wants such a weak existence when a robust adventure is offered?
Today’s first reading develops the abundant adventure theme in a way that might not be so attractive:
“Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us… Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking, the very sight of him weighs our spirits down; his way of life is not like other people’s, the paths he treads are unfamiliar.
Then today’s gospel reading opens: “Jesus stayed in Galilee; he could not stay in Judaea, because the Jews were out to kill him” and concludes “They would have arrested him then, but because his time had not yet come no one laid a hand on him”.
If you aspire to follow Jesus, prepare yourself for an adventure. Yes!
As one of my great mentors reminds me: the circumstance that i am in, whatever they are, however difficult or unwanted, God allows me to be in for my maturity. (Luigi Giussani). So if I want to be mature in faith (and I do) then I need to see the circumstances I am in, whatever they are, however blue or grey or black, as the place where Jesus is working in me, moulding me into His image.
I suppose that another way of thinking of it is that while it is true to say we have been (past tense) created by God, it is even more true to say that every day we are being (present tense) created by God. I like that image since every day I do feel this creative act happening sometimes a tender embrace, sometimes a hard moulding with some sudden and shocking realignments. Sometimes I co-operate with the creative action of God and other times I resist. I remember (ref. yesterday’s reflection) what I was like a year or five ago and see that I am changed, moulded by the circumstances that have made up my life to this point. Sometimes God works in the light. But other times it seems God prefers to work in my darkness. While I might prefer the light, the darkness is not a problem is I know that while in darkness I am being formed in the tender embrace of Jesus.
That Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) passage is worth sharing in full:
My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for an ordeal.
Be sincere of heart. be steadfast.
and do not be alarmed when disaster comes.
Cling to Him and do not leave Him,
so that you may be honoured at the end of your days.
Whatever happens to you. accept it,
and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient,
since gold is tested in the fire
and the chosen in the furnace of humiliation.
Trust Him and He will uphold you,
follow a straight path and hope in him.
You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;
do not turn aside, for fear you fall.
You who fear the Lord, trust him,
and you will not be robbed of your reward.
You who fear the Lord, hope for those good gifts of His,
everlasting joy and mercy.
Look at the generations of old and see:
whoever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame?
Or whoever, steadfastly fearing him, was forsaken?
Or whoever called to him and was ignored?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful,
He forgives sins and saves in the time of distress.
- Invite Jesus to reveal to you something of the adventure that is a life in relationship with him.
- Remember that the adventure of faith is provided by the circumstances that face us, whatever they are. Become aware of your fears in the face of adventure, and ask Jesus to help you to see these fears as an opportunity for intimacy with Him.
- Gently read the Sirach passage above once or twice again hearing Jesus speak these words directly to you.