Summary: "Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right." Who in his right mind rejoices at wrong?
Second Sunday of Lent 2019
One of the great themes of Christian literature, both in and out of the Scriptures, is the need for each of us to make a deliberate choice between the Two Ways of living. There is the way of life and the way of death, the way of following God’s will and law, or the way of disobedience. St. Paul tells the church at Philippi that they should imitate Paul, who preaches Christ’s cross, and reject the enemies of the cross, whose only thoughts are of their own pleasure and advancement.
As St. Augustine taught us, our hearts are restless because they were made for union with God, and they cannot find rest until they rest in God. We just heard that our citizenship is not of the United States, or Mexico, or any other nation. Our citizenship is in heaven. Our home is where our Father is, our Redeemer-brother, Jesus, our spiritual mother, Mary. On our happiest day here on earth–maybe our wedding day, or our graduation day, or the day our first child was born–our most joy-filled day on earth is as nothing compared to the experience of the Beatific Vision, which is really an eternal embrace in the Blessed Trinity. Therefore we owe our total allegiance to the Universal King, Christ our Lord. That is the Truth. Jesus Christ is the Truth.
I believe that in every human life, there is a moment, or a series of moments, of decision. Peter, James and John went up the mountain with Jesus, because they wanted to be with Him as He prayed. They got way more than they bargained for–they got a revelation of what it meant for Jesus, their Messiah, to pray. Moses and Elijah and the Son and the Father, and by extension the Holy Spirit, were there. And they were in glory. But what was the prayer, the conversation, about? Christ’s Exodus in Jerusalem. Luke alone records this detail from the prayer, and I think he got it from John.
The Greek word “Exodon” has more than one meaning. We hear “exodus” in Lent and we think of Moses, who is here on the mountain with Jesus, and his leading the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage, through the sea into the desert. We may also think of our catechumens and candidates who on Holy Saturday will receive the sacraments of initiation and begin a new life as Catholic Christians. They, too, are being led out of bondage to their past and are taking up the white robes of the liberated.
But “exodus” has the root meaning of “departure,” and here we think of Elijah, the prophet who more than any other OT saint signifies the embrace of the One Way of faith and obedience. We remember the scene on another mountain–Carmel–where he alone stood for the True God against the hundreds of prophets of Baal. They danced around and prayed all day to their silent deity to send fire down on their sacrifice. They cut themselves and probably took drugs to achieve an ecstatic state, even as Elijah mocked them for trying to wake up a sleepy god. Nothing happened because, as the writer tells it, nobody was listening. But then Elijah erected his altar and spread out his sacrifice, even drenching it with water so nobody could accuse him of trickery. And a simple prayer brought down a fire from God that obliterated the sacrifice, wood and altar, and led to a great victory. Peter, James and John would, when they heard Elijah speak of departure, think of another scene, when Elijah’s departure from earth was in a chariot of fire.
The Exodus of Our Lord, which we commemorate in the Triduum just four weeks away, was also the summit of a prophet’s life lived for others. But the blood spilled in His Exodus was not that of a bull or goat, but His own Precious Blood. The water that flowed was not the torrent of the Red Sea or the flood of the River Jordan, but the water that surrounded His Sacred Heart. The sacred meal of Christ’s Exodus was not a partaking of a year-old lamb, but of the very Body and Blood of our Savior. He died and rose again, and became the very Life we share sacramentally, so that we can claim to be citizens of heaven, looking forward to our own exodus, our own death and resurrection into eternal union with God.
So what should we do in response to this precious gift of life? How must we live? The answer to that question can be found in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, the first letter. Paul gives us his awesome “take” on the Two Ways. The way of life, for St. Paul, is the way of charity, of love for God and for neighbor. He gives us these contrasts: “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Now for most of these attributes, we can say, “yeah, I ought to avoid the one and embrace the other.” But just who in the world “rejoices at wrong”?