17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: “Walking in Full Alert”
Psalm 33:12-15, 18-22
Hebrews 11:1-2. 7-13
Jesus said to His disciples, “Don’t worry about the things the world worries about – what you need to eat, what you need to wear, where you are to live. All these things the Gentiles pursue but you, you seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these other things will be added unto you.” Then, He said, “DO NOT BE AFRAID! God the Father has chosen gladly to give you the Kingdom.”
The kingdom of God is infinitely more satisfying than the things we worry about. The kingdom of God is way more fulfilling than the things that occupy our minds 24/7. Jesus is saying that if we have our priorities right, if we seek first His kingdom and all His righteousness, then all the other things will be added to us. Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. What do we treasure? God’s kingdom or the things of the world? God has chosen gladly to give us the kingdom; therefore, He is the Source of all good things. God is the Source from Whom all blessings flow. Blessings not curses. No evil dwells in God; nothing comes from Him that is not good for us or that is not a blessing for us. His eyes looks to and fro for someone to bless.
David is a man after God’s own heart, and there is a story that reveals God’s heart and that of David too. After King Saul died, David asked his servants, “Who of the house of Saul is left so that I can show kindness to him?” A grandson of Saul, Mephibosheth, was living in a town called Lo-debar, which means nothing. No provision, no abundance, no satisfaction or fulfillment. He was struggling to survive here where there is nothing to be offered for his life. The king asks, “Who can I bless today?” His eyes goes to and fro looking for someone to bless. Mephibosheth was called and he went from a place of nothingness to the palace of the king, eating at the king’s table and having his fortunes and servants restored back to him.
This is our story! Don’t we find ourselves in a place that is dry and we get no satisfaction or no rest for our soul? We live in a place of nothing – no hope, no peace – and then God finds us and transfers us from this kingdom to His kingdom of light and serves us at His table and restores to us blessings. God ever blesses! Our adversary, the devil according to St. Peter, is like a roaring lion that prowls about, seeking someone to devour or to destroy. The enemy steals and kills and destroys. God blesses, blesses and blesses. Don’t mistake one for the other. Do not blame God for our miseries because all that God gives us is good things. Our sickness did not come from God. Death did not come from God. Life comes from God. If we see things right, hopefully, our anxieties will be lessened, if not totally erased from our hearts and minds.
God blesses and He seeks whom to bless, and the devil seeks to whom to devour. God is a Friend, a King, a Father, and a Shepherd. Know Him as such and let our faith grow. Faith is the assurance of things not yet seen. Faith is not seen but it has a basis of something that it has been seen and proven before which is the knowledge of God. We have to act on our faith as faith without works is dead. If we have faith in God, we act on it. If we believe, we act accordingly.
In the conclusion of our reading in Hebrews 11, it says, “All these men of faith died in faith without receiving the promises.” They died believing. Unfortunately, today, the opposite is true. People remain alive but their faith dies. They give up because they seem not to see God’s promises being fulfilled. The Hebrew children were placed in a fiery furnace believing that God will deliver them, but they said that even if God doesn’t deliver them, they will still obey Him and they will act on their faith. They were not after the reward or the deliverance; they were after serving God because they found joy in doing it. Serving God in itself is the reward; it is the source of joy.
Even if we don’t see results, don’t grow weary! Do not give up! These men of faith mentioned in Hebrews11 did not question God and they died without seeing results. All they saw was trial, struggle, persecution and injustice. They did not question God.
In Hebrew 10:32, “32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings.” What we suffer now is nothing compared to what they suffered before. Persecution was torture and death for them. Today, persecution is not getting noticed, recognized or being thanked. “33 Partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.” They accepted their tribulations joyfully. Peter and John healed a lame man in the temple and they were arrested unjustly. They were doing the will of God and yet they were imprisoned. In the Book of Acts, after they were released, they prayed and they rejoiced because they were considered worthy to suffer for the sake of the Kingdom. These are true Christians!
Even if we don’t see results and we just see conflicts and struggles and tests, believe to the point of death. Do not give up and do not grow weary. God is a rewarder but our attitude is that it is not about rewards, but all about obedience. The joy and obedience is reward enough in the first place. If there is more reward, praise the Lord! If there is no more reward, praise the Lord! This is because we have joy, not in the reward, but in the service of God. God is our inheritance. If we have God, we have all the other things in our lives. Where is our treasure? If our treasure is God, there will our heart be also.
In Hebrews 10, the people accepted joyfully their persecution. After they were enlightened, after they were converted to follow God, things got worse, but the people were blessed because they were faithful. They proved their faith no matter what. This is very different from the false gospel that we hear today that if we follow Jesus, everything will be okay. If everything is not all right, if we don’t receive blessing, then, something is wrong.
From the song, “O For A Faith That Will Not Shrink” it says:
O for a faith that will not shrink Tho' pressed by many a foe, That will not tremble on the brink Of any earthly woe;
That will not murmur nor complain Beneath the chast'ning rod, But in the hour of grief or pain Will lean upon its God;
A faith that shines more bright and clear When tempests rage without, That, when in danger, knows no fear, In darkness feels no doubt.
Lord, give me such a faith as this, And then, whate’er may come, I’ll taste e’en now the hallowed bliss Of an eternal home.
It is a song that is full of hope! It is a faith that will not shrink, but that waits for blessings. Whatever happens, we will serve, obey and follow because we derive joy from it. This is our treasure and our joy.
In Moses’ time, he told the Israelites the good news that God will take them out of bondage and will be led to a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. After he said this, things got worse and they were persecuted. They did not accept it joyfully, but instead they murmured and complained. They did not see yet that which was promised. Faith is the substance of things that is not yet seen. Our attitude is: whenever, if ever, whatever, whether we see it or not, our faith continues because we know God and we have proven God.
Comparing the attitudes of the faithful people mentioned in Hebrews 11 and the Israelites, one accepted joyfully their persecutions while the other complained. Which are we? The difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world is: in the kingdom of God, the people have joy and peace; in the world, they have fear and rage because they don’t know God.
The letter to Philippians was written by St. Paul from prison. He was imprisoned because he was serving God. It is injustice, but he does not complain. He said in chapter four verse 4, he said, “Rejoice” twice. In the letter, he mentioned the word rejoice and joy sixteen times. He ministered to those who were free. He said, “Let you gentleness be known to all.” In the first 300 years of Christianity, they were known for their gentleness and their non-violence. They did not fight against the Roman government. They did not use swords. Violence started during the time of an emperor and started conquering supposedly in the name of the Cross and they killed Muslims and unbelievers. They did crusades and up to now, some wage wars against non-Christians nations thinking God is on their side. This is wrong. Let gentleness and non-violence be known amongst us. Sometimes we justify our brawn, our violence, and we say it is a Christian attribute, but this is not true. It is not about might or violence because the Lord is near.
St. Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing. Don’t worry, pray. Let our requests be known to God. Whatever is honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, if there is any excellence or worthy of praise - focus on these things.” It is easy for us to focus on the wrongdoings of our brothers, but St. Paul says, “IF there is any excellence, anything worthy of praise…” thus, focus on the good and the peace of God which surpasses understanding will guard our hearts and minds and minds.
St. Paul said, “Be thankful and be content.” In 1Timothy 4:4, “All creation is good; nothing is unclean if received with thanksgiving.” In chapter 6:6, “Godliness is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.” One time, I was in a bus and I saw an elderly beggar woman knocking at a car’s window. The car window rolled down and she was given a coin. I saw the lady looked up to heaven, spread her arms and with a smile, she gave thanks to God for what she got. On the other hand, I heard of someone who owned several properties and he expressed to me, “My properties are not appreciating in value.” I thought, “Who has joy – the lady who received a coin or the man with several properties?” What is the difference? The money or thankfulness and contentment? It is our thankfulness and contentment that will bring joy to us.
Be on the alert for the adversary or the devil moves around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, to deceive, to kill and to destroy that joy that we have. Guard it! Don’t lose it. Our Master wants His joy to be in us, and for it to be full. Joy is founded on the fact that the Father has chosen gladly to give us the Kingdom, and everything else will be all right. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. This is the truth and this is the good news; and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.