Then the Lord asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Can I really have a child when I am so old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? As I said, nine months from now I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”
Because Sarah was afraid, she denied it. “I didn’t laugh,” she said.
“Yes, you did,” he replied. “You laughed.” Genesis 18:13-15
Initially, Sarah had decided to help God keep his promise that her husband Abraham would have a son. Because Sarah couldn’t have children, she magnanimously told Abraham to sleep with her slave girl, Hagar. After Hagar became pregnant, Sarah resented it. I can relate. There have been times I decided God needed help in making things turn out the “right” way. I’ve taken it upon myself to force solutions through what I thought was selfless sacrifice on my part. I ended up frustrated when things didn’t work out according to my plan and resentful when the people involved didn’t fall over in admiration for my efforts.
In spite of Sarah’s earlier misguided efforts, some years later, God promised to bless Sarah and give Abraham a son by her. By the time God made this promise, Sarah was long past child-bearing years. Even when she was young enough to have children, Sarah had been barren. I don’t blame her for laughing. I would have laughed, too—and if I got caught laughing, I would have denied it, just like Sarah. Who wants to be caught not taking God seriously?
I suppose it’s human nature to deny what’s really going on inside us when we think it’s inappropriate, but think about it. Do we feel the need to cover up feelings we’re less than proud of because they aren’t worthy of God? God is the one who gave us our ability to have feelings, to respond with laughter, tears, anger, and fear. God is truth. If we can’t tell the truth about what we’re feeling to God, who can we tell it to? The psalmists did it all the time. There are psalms not only of praise and thanksgiving, but also of fear, sadness, and anger. We can share our whole smorgasbord of emotions with God. It’s okay. We don’t have to deny what we feel any more than we have to act on our feelings. But we do need to acknowledge them. Since God already knows, maybe the biggest hurdle is admitting our feelings to ourselves instead of talking ourselves out of them.
Prayer: Lord, help me trust Your love enough to be honest with you.
Reflection: What feelings do you have the most trouble acknowledging? Why not lay them at God’s feet today?
Whether it pleases us or not, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are asking you to pray. All will go well with us if we obey him.” Jeremiah 42:6
There are a lot of things we need to do, whether it pleases us or not, if we want things to “go well with us.” If we only did what we felt like, few of us would brush our teeth, go to work, or do a thousand other things that are in our best interests. How much more important is it to obey God, who knows what we need and loves us even more than we love ourselves? Wise parents teach their children to share, bathe, and use good table manners whether the children like it or not. The parents have the child’s long range well-being in mind, not just their momentary pleasure.
When I was in grade school, I hated math. I always did all my other homework first, putting off the dreaded computations until the last minute. My mom told me time and time again to do the hardest subject first, while I had the most energy. After countless frustrating nights of doing it my way, I finally followed Mom’s directions. I’m so glad I did. What I thought was the easy way out wasn’t easy nor was it the way out. Dealing with challenging tasks up front has served me well in any number of situations over the years.
We may not like what we’re called to do on any given day. It’s okay to feel whatever we do feel about it, but if we do what we believe God would have us do in those situations, we are not likely to regret it. God is good all the time. We might not experience immediate gratification, but we can believe that all will go well with us when we follow His promptings.
Prayer: Lord, grant me willingness to surrender to Your will.
Reflection: When have you seen things go well even though they didn’t go your way?
Peter knocked at the outside door, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer it. She recognized Peter’s voice and was so happy that she ran back in without opening the door, and announced that Peter was standing outside. “You are crazy!” they told her. But she insisted that it was true. So they answered, “It is his angel.”
Meanwhile Peter kept on knocking. At last they opened the door, and when they saw him, they were amazed. Acts 12: 13-16
Just because we have faith doesn’t mean we don’t get flustered sometimes. Rhoda was astonished to see Peter at the door. He was in prison. The entire faith community knew it. What they didn’t know is that Peter miraculously escaped from prison. Once free, he went straight to the house where Rhoda was a servant. Overjoyed, Rhoda slammed the door in Peter’s face and ran to tell all the other believers gathered at the house. They didn’t believe her. Caught up in trying to convince them, Rhoda left Peter standing outside.
It’s a beautiful story, actually. Rhoda, in her excitement, couldn’t wait to share the good news with others. Eagerness to spread joy is a good thing. Although nobody believed her, Rhoda knew what she saw. Rather than allowing herself to be talked out of the evidence of her own experience, she remained steadfast and tried to convince others of the truth.
Of course, none of that helped Peter who remained locked outside. But he didn’t lose patience even though he knew prison guards would be hunting him down any minute. Acts says he kept on knocking. It doesn’t say he started yelling or tried to break down the door. It doesn’t say he gave up and took off for greener pastures. Peter was meant to talk to the faithful gathered in that private home before leaving the area. When he finally gained entrance to the house, he didn’t complain or criticize Rhoda, he simply explained what happened, how the Lord had brought him out of prison and instructed them to share the news with all the other believers.
As long as we are human, we will be subject to emotional excitement and occasional lapses of judgment. Maybe that’s why the bible tells us again and again to bear with and forgive one another. I know when I’m excited I don’t always think straight. If I want understanding for my inadvertent oversights or unintentional slights or comments, it makes sense for me to give others the benefit of the doubt when I’m the one on the outside looking in.
Prayer: Lord, help me accept the human fallibility I share with others.
Reflection: When have you felt left out? Is it possible that experience had more to do with others than with you?
The prophet Hosea’s message of repentance was unpopular to begin with. In obedience to God, Hosea gave his love to a prostitute, married her, and continued to take her back even though she was repeatedly unfaithful to him. His obedience to God lost him credibility. No doubt the Israelites felt justified in tuning him out since he showed remarkably poor judgment in remaining faithful to a cheating wife. Even so, Hosea remained faithful to her and to his commission to speak God’s truth to the people who hated him for it.
Hosea’s actions were a living demonstration of God’s love for us no matter how many times we turn our backs on Him. His experience is a message of hope. It reassures us that God will always take us back when we turn to him. When we do, He will be see us through any consequences we may have brought on ourselves by our own poor choices. More than that, Hosea’s story confirms that suffering—painful though it may be—is not without purpose. With God, Hosea’s personal hardship was used to benefit others.
Pain without a purpose is misery. Pain with a purpose is redeeming. Many of us face difficult or painful challenges. There is hope in seeing that our misfortunes don’t have to be pointless. They can be of value by empowering us to help others. Because we’ve had our own share of pain, we gain credibility with those who still suffer. When we have weathered and come through our own storms, others know that our words of comfort are not given lightly. We offer hope in a way that those whose lives have been untouched by pain cannot. We become living examples that heartaches, broken relationships, physical pain, and grief are not insurmountable with the help of God.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the hope that You can bring good out of anything, even pain.
Reflection: Think of a time when God was able to bring strength, help, or some other positive result following a painful time in your life. How can this experience offer hope in the face of future misfortune?
Excerpts taken from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes,” Franciscan Media, 2012
Six days later Jesus took with him Peter and the brothers James and John and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. As they looked on, a change came over Jesus: his face was shining like the sun, and his clothes were dazzling white. Then the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. Matthew 17: 1-3
Why spotlight Matthew when he’s not mentioned in this glorious mountaintop experience? I think it was incredibly classy of Matthew to spread the word about Peter, James and John witnessing the Transfiguration, even though Matthew did not share that privilege. Many modern scripture scholars don’t believe Matthew’s gospel was actually written by the disciple. I don’t care.
Although we’re told elsewhere that the disciples argued among themselves as to who was the greatest, I’m guessing Matthew wasn’t a main contender. As a tax collector, Matthew had been an outcast, despised by the Jewish people for collaborating with the occupying enemy, Rome, and for the dishonesty and greed rampant among tax collectors of that day. Jesus accepted Matthew and welcomed him as a disciple. After being an outsider for so long, I’m guessing gratitude would have been his ongoing response. Of all the disciples, I believe Matthew was the best candidate for healthy humility. Whether Matthew’s gospel was based on oral traditions handed down by him or he had no hand in it at all, I’m guessing he would have approved of the Transfiguration’s inclusion in the gospel.
Jesus said that tax collectors and prostitutes would get into the kingdom of God before respectable people. Maybe the reason is because they are in the best position to recognize what a gift God’s love is. We can’t earn God’s mercy and we don’t have to. We’re loved and forgiven because that’s the kind of God we have. If we serve God, it’s not to earn forgiveness or special privileges, but to express thanks for the gift of salvation we’ve been given. I’m guessing Matthew knew that better than most.
Prayer: Lord, Your love is enough.
Reflection: How can gratitude eliminate envy?
Jesus entered Jerusalem, went into the Temple, and looked around at everything. But since it was already late in the day, he went out to Bethany with the twelve disciples. Mark 11: 11
Sometimes following Jesus means knowing when not to act. Being called doesn’t mean being driven. I am a recovering Type A personality. I’m learning that although sloth is one of the seven deadly sins, going to ridiculous extremes to avoid it is just as bad. One time I created an impossibly long “to do” list for myself and raced through my day to get it all done. By suppertime I had crossed out every single thing on my list. Did I relax over dinner, put my feet up and enjoy my evening? No! I decided I hadn’t planned enough in my schedule and quickly added a few more chores to the list. I was not a pretty sight by the end of the day (just ask my family) nor was I very effective at completing those last-minute tasks.
Soon after that episode, a few physical challenges made it impossible for me to push myself relentlessly. God blessed me with the awareness that what good was it if I accomplished every chore in the whole world but lost my soul and damaged relationships with my family in the process?
The mission on Jesus’ “to do” list was to save mankind, but he had the good sense to realize that late in the day was not the time to tackle cleansing the Temple. He took the night off and went with his closest companions to Bethany, his home away from home. The Temple was still there the next day when Jesus returned, drove out the moneychangers, and taught the people that remained.
Impatience makes it hard to wait, but sometimes taking a break before we act or speak, can make us much more effective than jumping in to get something over with. When we trust God rather than our own sense of urgency, our timing improves. If God has in mind for something to get done, it will get done. We don’t have to force it. Pausing before we act might be the most effective thing we can do. It gives us time to collect our thoughts, renew our energy, and most importantly, check in with God’s plan.
Prayer: Lord, grant me the wisdom to trust Your timing.
Reflection for sharing: How might pausing before forging ahead help you be more effective today?
Josiah did what was pleasing to the Lord; he followed the example of his ancestor King David, strictly obeying all the laws of God. There had never been a king like [Josiah] before, who served the Lord with all his heart, mind, and strength, obeying all the Law of Moses… 2 Kings 22:2; 23:25
Josiah, who became king when he was eight years old, served the Lord with all his heart, mind, and strength. It is interesting to note that Josiah is credited for obeying all the Law of Moses even though the book of the law wasn’t discovered until 18 years after Josiah began his reign. On the other hand, the book of the law was only discovered because Josiah had ordered repairs to be made on the Temple. During the repair work, the book of the Law was found. When it was read, it became obvious that the Law had not been kept by preceding generations up through Josiah’s own time. Josiah immediately initiated reforms. He did away with all idol-worship practices that had found their way into Jerusalem and the Temple itself. The reform wasn’t only about destroying what was unlawful. Josiah also re-instated celebration of the Passover festival again, providing great joy for the people.
Although technically, Josiah didn’t follow the book of the law for his entire reign, he did, from day one, follow King David’s example. David was a man “after God’s own heart.” Apparently Josiah was, too. He loved God with his heart, determined to worship Him, and used his power to repair the temple. Once he had knowledge of the law, he informed and led his people in following it.
We may not have the authority to bring about reform on a national level, but we all have a sphere of influence, even if it is simply under our own roof. God calls us to love him with all our mind, heart, and strength. Each of us will live out that love in different ways, since God created us all as individuals, with varying temperaments and abilities. We don’t all have great knowledge of scripture, a gift for offering words of comfort, or the physical stamina to work in soup kitchens. Josiah did what he could. He started repairing the temple and was led to the next step. We don’t have to do everything, or be all things to all people, but when we do what we can with what we have, we’re serving God with all our heart, mind, and strength. The next step is in God’s hands.
Prayer: Lord, teach me to love and serve using the abilities you’ve given me.
Reflection for sharing: How are you being called to serve God with all your heart, mind, and strength today?
Jesus knew that they were about to come and seize him in order to make him king by force; so he went off again to the hills by himself. John 6:15
The King of Kings, was going to be declared king by the people but he retreated to the hills alone. Why? Because they wanted to make him king by force. God doesn’t force anyone to follow him or to love him. He allows us to freely accept or reject His loving invitation.
Almighty God, who holds all the power in the universe, doesn’t use force. Since Jesus is the Son of God, it’s easy to see why he could afford to let people make their own choices. When you have true power, you don’t need to lord it over others. It’s when we feel vulnerable that we’re likely to dig in our heels and grab on to whatever power we can wield to protect our fragile self-image. It takes maturity and confidence to think of others instead of our own egos.
Being human, we’re bound to feel inadequate at times. If we feel compelled to throw our weight around to command respect, obedience, or admiration from others it might help us to remember that our Lord didn’t model that behavior. He didn’t have to. When we’re trying to do His will, neither do we.
Prayer: Almighty God, grant me the security that comes from knowing all power is in your hands.
Reflection: Think of a time when you tried to force people to see or do things your way. What feelings were going on beneath the surface? How might trusting God have helped?
With him goes Onesimus, that dear and faithful friend, who belongs to your group. They will tell you everything that is happening here. Colossians 4: 9
St. Paul called Onesimus his “dear and faithful friend.” Others might have felt differently about him. Onesimus was a runaway slave, who may well have used his master Philemon’s cash to fund his escape. Although the name Onesimus means useful, Philemon probably had other words to describe him.
Somehow the runaway met St. Paul became a Christian, and had a change of heart. Onesimus was not only useful to Paul, but faithful, too, according to Paul’s account. In his letter to Philemon, Paul sent Onesimus back to his master, imploring Philemon to welcome him just as he would welcome Paul, himself. Philemon was expected to welcome back the slave who stole from him with open arms. Paul was asking a lot of both master and runaway. There was no guarantee that Philemon would forego whatever punishment was due Onesimus. He went back anyway, or we would not have the letter today. Why couldn’t Onesimus have stayed with Paul where he was apparently of great service? Returning to make amends for his wrongs and creating an opportunity for reconciliation was a greater service.
We may run away from situations not to our liking for any number of reasons. It’s appropriate to remove ourselves from abusive situations. The idea of a fresh start is appealing for good reason. But sometimes there is no fresh start until we have cleaned up the messes our past mistakes have created. We are under no obligation to put ourselves in danger of victimization, but when we’re risking our pride or vanity, we owe it to ourselves to make amends to those we may have hurt by our self-centered choices–unless doing so might cause them or third parties harm. When we approach those we have wronged in a sincere attempt to set things right, they may or may not welcome us. If they do, we have mended a relationship–but even if they don’t, we can put the past to rest. Knowing we have done what we could to set the matter straight, we are free to live usefully in the present instead of being haunted by lingering regret.
Prayer: Lord, teach my heart the freedom of facing my mistakes.
Reflection: How can making amends free you today?
They are like trees planted in the house of the Lord, that flourish in the Temple of our God, that still bear fruit in old age and are always green and strong. Psalm 92:13-14
I’ve qualified for the senior discount for a few years now and I don’t feel all that green and strong. I remember what it felt like, though. In my younger days I was a pretty sturdy physical specimen. I had energy, stamina, and worked very hard. Even though I got a lot accomplished, I didn’t bear much fruit in those days. Not that I didn’t need to earn a living or get the chores done…but I invested too much time in energy in things that made me feel productive but didn’t matter in the long run. Getting things checked of my “to do” list is not the same as bearing fruit.
The time I spent investing in relationships with loved ones, in exploring who I really am, in attempting to follow a spiritual path, those are the things I see bearing fruit now that I’ve reached “a certain age.” Those are the things that keep me green and strong on the inside. Something within me flourishes every time I connect heart to heart with someone else; every time I accept the truth about myself and my limitations; every time I’m open to receive God’s love and share it.
Prayer: Lord, keep me rooted in your love.
Reflection: What are you investing your energy in today? Will it still bear fruit in old age? What keeps you green and strong?