At that time Jesus was filled with joy by the Holy Spirit and said, “Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have shown to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned. Yes, Father, this was how you were pleased to have it happen.” Luke 10: 21
There’s no IQ test to get into heaven. Most of those called by Jesus weren’t learned. In fact, Jesus seemed to have the most run-ins with the religious experts of his day.
While being familiar with scripture and the tenets of our faith is a good thing, it’s easy to confuse knowing it intellectually and living it. Jesus said the most important commandments are to love God, others, and ourselves. A superior intellect isn’t needed to live a life of love.
God invites us all to participate in his heavenly banquet. In the parable of the great feast, when the invited guests chose not to attend, the king invited the sick, the disabled, and anyone else his servants came across on the highways and byways. (Matthew 22: 1-14) These guests weren’t given an entrance exam. All they had to do was accept the invitation and respond accordingly.
We respond accordingly to God’s invitation by treating our host, ourselves, and all other guests with respect and love. If we have intelligence or any other gift, let’s use them, by all means—not to build up our own egos, but to help us love.
Prayer: Lord, teach my heart the wisdom of love.
Reflection: How can your abilities help you reach out to others in love?
It will be like a man who goes away from home on a trip and leaves the servants in charge, after giving each one his own work to do and after telling the doorkeeper to keep watch. Mark 13: 34
Jesus makes it clear that we’re all supposed to watch, because we don’t know when the master will return, but watching isn’t all we’re supposed to do. Our Master has given “each one his own work to do….”
God made us all individuals for a reason. We each have a unique combination of talents, abilities, and interests. We all have a purpose and are uniquely situated to serve as we are.
Often, we need to grow where we’re planted. A shy homebody, hiding her beautiful singing voice out of fear disguised as false modesty, may decide to move beyond her comfort zone and take on the role of cantor when the need arises. A businessman might use his management skills to help the parish food bank get off the ground. The work we’re given to do goes beyond our vocation.
What would happen if we consider every person that crosses our path today as sent by God? Our work might be to give up a few minutes of our time to listen to them, offer a word of encouragement, or a simple smile. No one is going to encounter the same set of people that you or I do today. We each have a unique opportunity to reach out and touch someone.
The work God has in mind for us may or may not be how we earn our living, but it is uniquely ours.
Prayer: Lord, who do you want me to serve?
Reflection: What are your talents? How can you use them to be of service today?
Do all your work in love. 1 Corinthians 16: 14
“Do all your work in love.” Simple, but challenging.
“God, what does success look like to you in this situation?” I don’t know where I first read this phrase, but I put it on my refrigerator, next to pictures of my grandkids. I see it when I’m tooling around the kitchen and every time I do, it brings me back to what I believe is the reason all of us were put on this planet: love. Jesus told us the most important commandments were to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves. Do we really have something better to do than what God wants us to do? It sure seems like it, most of the time.
I went to my first writers’ conference some years ago, eager to pitch my first book proposal. The conference set up author/publisher five minute pitch appointments. It was a bit like speed-dating. Publishers sat stations in the middle of a huge room all afternoon as a never-ending flow of budding authors streamed past them. I was so nervous I could barely concentrate. Then a God-thought occurred to me: I’m not here to get a book contract. I’m here to love. The room was hot. The editor sitting across from me had beads of sweat on her forehead. I wondered if it would be rude or against protocol to offer tissues to a sweating editor. I decided to treat her the way I’d want to be treated. I pulled out a pack of tissues from my purse and offered them to her. She smiled the first genuine smile I’d seen all afternoon. I felt less nervous. We were just two human beings in a hot auditorium together. Doing my work in love felt good. That editor didn’t offer me a book contract, but I think I was a success that day from God’s point of view.
Prayer: Lord, live your love through me today.
Reflection: How can you manifest love in whatever you do today?
…Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you. James 1: 21b
God plants his word—not in our heads, not in our hands, but in our hearts.
Accepting the word of God isn’t an intellectual exercise. Jesus praised his Father for showing the unlearned what he hid from the learned. (Luke 10: 21)
It isn’t just about what we do, either. Jesus warned against praying, fasting, or helping the needy to gain approval or admiration. (Matthew 6: 1-17)
That could be why Jesus said the most important commandments were to love God with all our being and love our neighbors and ourselves. Living our faith goes much deeper than our heads and our hands, it goes to our hearts. We’re not equipped to go deep enough to change the kernel of our hearts on our own. Only God can get in there and do the deep surgery needed to bring about a change of heart.
What we can do is be open to the word God wants to plant in our hearts and nurture it. We can take actions that encourage spiritual growth. Honest prayer opens our hearts to God, He can heal what needs to be healed in us when we stop covering it up. Connecting with other people who are growing spiritually inspires us to desire a genuine change of heart. Serving others can soften our hearts to the needs of those around us and allow God an easier entrance.
We can come to God just as we are, warts and all, and accept his unconditional love for us. We can welcome the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us to save us from our self-defeating faults. We can give our hearts back to Him.
Prayer: Lord, I open my heart to your healing love.
Reflection: What word of love is God planting in your heart today?
What did a jilted bride do when the groom broke their engagement a week before the wedding? She invited the homeless and guests of a local food bank to attend the feast at the reception hall. Despite her sorrow, she brought joy to those who have little to celebrate. I’ll bet her generosity helped her feel good on some level.
How like the parable in Luke’s gospel. Why won’t the invited guests taste the dinner? They didn’t want to go. They had something better to do than go to a banquet. Their excuses sound pretty lame. Who would rather work (try out his oxen) or check out real estate instead of going to a party? Another guest excused himself because he just got married. Who would think so little of his host to assume his new bride wouldn’t be welcome?
But their unwillingness to celebrate didn’t stop the party from happening. The host found other guests. He welcomed not only the poor and disabled, but pretty much anybody else he could find that wanted to come. God’s generosity is not thwarted by our refusal to accept it. Why would beggars, invalids, and other last minute invitees accept? Maybe what they had—or didn’t have—made what they were being offered look too good to pass up.
The things that kept the first string guests from attending were possessions and a brand new relationship. How do we let our possessions, our work, our romances, get in the way of accepting the goodness God wants to offer us? So often we get what we think we want and still feel let down. Why do we see time with God or time sharing His love in service to others as an obligation? Did you ever do something you felt called to do and feel good about yourself? Did you ever experience the joy of camaraderie in working with others? Did you ever lose yourself and forget your problems by getting caught up in something outside your own plans? We weren’t meant to live in isolation. Sharing creates a nourishing banquet for our hearts.
Prayer: Lord, help me say yes to you.
Reflection: What have you got better to do today than accept God’s invitation?
What do we have to get rid of in order to stand against our enemies…especially the enemies within ourselves? It can be threatening to think we are responsible—at least partially—for the problems in our lives. The good news is if we are part of the problem we have a chance to do something about it.
So, what are we hanging on to that keeps us from conquering the self-defeating behaviors that hurt us and those we love? When we’re willing to take an honest look at how we contribute to our pain it becomes possible to change that part of the equation. Do we rely on substances like alcohol or nicotine? Or compulsive behaviors like recreational shopping? They seem to relieve tension but can cause more problems and tension in the long run. Is another person causing us misery? Are we clinging to an unhealthy relationship out of a misplaced sense of loyalty or fear of being alone?
Once we look at how we contribute to the problem, we can see which behaviors might have to go. That doesn’t mean we’ll be willing to let them go. Even unhealthy patterns can feel comfortable. After all, we must get something out of them or we wouldn’t hang on to them. But when we take an honest look, can we see that the benefits are no longer worth the price we pay in self-respect, damaged relationships, or physical and emotional health?
Maybe one of the things we have to get rid of is the false pride that tells us we should be able to kick these enemies all by ourselves. If we can’t see our part, or we see it and don’t know how to let go, we can seek help. I have to believe that if we ask, God will provide us with the guidance and willingness we need to get rid of anything that is harmful to us or our loved ones.
It’s scary to let go of even a false sense of relief if we have nothing to replace it with. That’s where asking for assistance can help us see alternatives we may never have thought of on our own. With God’s grace we can find the guidance and support we need and the courage to let go of self-defeating behaviors. We can face our enemies unafraid with an arsenal of healthy coping skills and an army of support.
Prayer: Lord, help me let go of self-destructive tendencies.
Reflection: What do you need to let go of to stand against the enemy you’re facing today?
Elisha died and was buried. Every year bands of Moabites used to invade the land of Israel. One time during a funeral, one of those bands was seen, and the people threw the corpse into Elisha’s tomb and ran off. As soon as the body came into contact with Elisha’s bones, the man came back to life and stood up. 2 Kings 13: 20-21
Contact with Elisha’s lifeless bones brought another man back to life. With that much power, why did Elisha die in the first place? Why couldn’t he heal himself? Maybe it’s the same principle as a surgeon who can’t perform surgery on himself. We can do for others what we can’t do for ourselves and they can help us when we can’t make it on our own. We need each other. We’re meant to live in community and help one another.
Sometimes our very wounds and weaknesses empower us to be useful to others. They give us credibility, a point of empathy, common ground, and hands on experience. In AA, one recovering alcoholic helps another in ways a non-alcoholic helper never could. Someone who has gone through similar challenges can give us strength and hope and help us find the way out of our dilemma because they have been there. They know what we’re up against and what it feels like. We can identify with others who have overcome or at least learned to cope with the same challenges we’re facing. There is power in weakness.
Sometimes we are more effective in helping others from a position of weakness. When we feel weak and ineffective God may be preparing us for service. I’ve had physical and emotional challenges that I wouldn’t want to go through again, yet I can see how God has brought good out of each and every one. I’ve been able to encourage others who have similar physical problems or are limited by incapacity. I’ve been able to reassure others in stormy emotional situations because I’ve weathered some myself.
I’ve also learned a lot about being there for others more effectively through my own incapacities. I’ve learned that platitudes don’t help. I’ve learned that offering solutions isn’t necessary—especially when those solutions have probably already been thought of. I’ve learned saying “You look so good” in an effort to cheer up someone who feels lousy can have little effect. It can even make the sufferer think the depth of their discomfort is not understood. Honesty and kindness work. I learned this through my own weakness. As St. Paul said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 10) You can’t get weaker than Elisha’s lifeless remains, but another regained life through them anyway. It wasn’t Elisha’s power, it was God’s. God may work through us best just when we feel weakest.
Prayer: Lord, use my weakness.
Reflection: How might God want to work through your weaknesses?
…your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5: 16
So when you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do…they do it so people will praise them…but when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. Matthew 6: 2-4
Which is it? Should we shine our good deeds before people or keep them secret? That depends.
The reason for “shining our lights” so others will see the good we’re doing is not so they’ll praise us, but so they’ll praise God. We don’t make our own light. It comes from Jesus, the light of the world. We just reflect it. When we’re God’s channels, He gets the praise, not us.
On the other hand, as Jesus warned, the hypocrites make sure other people know when they are helping the needy to get praise for themselves. They’re hogging the spotlight for themselves, not reflecting God’s light. It’s human nature to want credit and recognition. There’s nothing wrong with that. A healthy sense of self-esteem develops as we receive validation, but the truth is we have worth just because God loved us into existence. Although we may feel good about ourselves when we are of service to others, our self-esteem is inherent in our being children of God, not in accumulating brownie points.
There is no room for love in a do-gooder’s contest where people are caught up in themselves. It doesn’t really help others when we’re “helpful” but never let them forget it. The word self-righteousness was invented for a reason. We want to make ourselves right, instead of knowing that, apart from God, we can do nothing.
So when should we let our lights shine? Probably when we’re most afraid to. Maybe God gave us a nudge to serve in a certain way and we’re afraid what we have to offer won’t be good enough. We can trust that if God wants us to shine our light, it will help others and we’ll be reflecting His goodness and love. It’s not about us. There is no ego involved in using our gifts when we thank the Giver. We shine whenever we’re reflecting the Light of the world.
Prayer: Lord, make me a channel of Your light.
Reflection: How can you shine your light today?
Each one, as a good manager of God’s different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. 1 Peter 4:10
What’s your special gift? Sometimes it’s hard to answer that question. Maybe we were brought up to think acknowledging our talents wasn’t being humble and so we learned to deny our abilities—at least in front of others. Belittling ourselves is NOT humility, it’s another form of egotism, keeping ourselves the center of our focus. Besides, there’s a difference between recognizing our gifts and thinking those gifts put us in some special level of worthiness.
Gifts are given to share. When I was a kid, money was tight at our house. We always got a few things for Christmas, but often our gifts were games like Chinese checkers or Clue. We had to share those gifts to enjoy them. What’s the point of playing Chinese checkers by yourself? St. Peter tells us the point of the gifts that we’re given is not to show others how wonderful we are. Neither are we supposed to hide them, convinced of our inadequacy compared to the talents of others.
Maybe we’re good at sports, or math, or multi-tasking. Maybe we have musical talent, or a knack for putting people at ease, or seeing both sides of an issue. Whatever it is, it’s a gift. Maybe we’ve worked hard to develop that gift, but even willingness and perseverance are gifts. Not using our gifts is no better than showing off or bragging about them.
When we are focusing on others and not on ourselves, we don’t have to be afraid we’ll mess up or what we have to offer won’t be good enough. It’s not about us. It’s about passing on what we’ve been given for the good of others. Besides, we usually like doing what we’re good at, so the joy we pass on comes back to us as a sense of satisfaction, competence, and pleasure. What are you waiting for?
Prayer: Lord, help me see the gifts you’ve given me and guide me in using them.
Reflection: What are you doing with your gifts today?
There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee and helped him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the wife of Zebedee. Matthew 27: 55-56
After the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices to go and anoint the body of Jesus. Very early on Sunday morning, at sunrise, they went to the tomb. One the way they said to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” (It was a very large stone.) Then they looked up and saw that the stone had already been rolled back. Mark 16:1-4
Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, isn’t mentioned much in the gospels. That doesn’t make her contribution any less important. She was at the cross and at the tomb. She is referred to as one of the women who had followed and helped Jesus in his ministry. We don’t know how she helped Jesus in his travels but she was there. She gave him the gift of her presence as he was crucified–even when there was little she could do.
Mary joined the other women going to the tomb to anoint Jesus body, even though it after the fact because they had rested on the Sabbath. She and the others voiced their honest concerns about the large stone blocking the burial cave, but they kept moving forward. Imagine if they had not bothered to go because they thought it was too late or because the stony obstacle would make their task impossible.
When they got to the tomb, they found the stone already rolled away. The obstacle had already been taken care of. Besides, it wasn’t a problem anyway. The women weren’t needed to anoint Jesus’ body. His body was no longer in the tomb. Instead, Mary and the others were needed to witness to the Resurrection. They had all they needed to do what God had in mind for them to do. They were able to do it, because they persevered in spite of obstacles. All they needed to do was show up with willing hands and do what they could. God did the rest.
Like Mary, we can do what we can. When we worry how we’ll be able to contend with obstacles down the road, let’s remember Mary and trust that if we’re meant to do something the obstacles beyond our control will be removed. Or maybe by showing up we’ll find that the job we’re meant to do isn’t the one we thought at all!
Prayer: Lord, give me a willing heart.
Reflection: Who needs you to show up today, even if you can’t control all the circumstances?