Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Hebrews 6:10-20
Psalm 111
Mark 2:23-28

REFLECTION: "Truth Matters"

Today we commemorate the life and witness of Hilary of Poitiers, a bishop of the Church who was born just prior to the rise of Constantine. When he was in his fifties, he was consecrated as bishop of Poitiers in Gaul (in modern day France) and became known as a fierce defender of the doctrines of the Church against the prominent Arian movement. For a time, he was exiled by the civil government - making his life and ministry a pretty compelling evidence as to why the government shouldn't be involved in legislating religion... but I digress.

Hilary was consistently found advocating for the truth as well as the needs of his people. Why? Because faith and works walk hand in hand.

Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews opens up with these words: "For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him..." 

"But wait," many may cry, "works are useless!" They might point to the famous episode where Luther, while reading Romans 1:17 (“It is through faith that a righteous person has life.") took out his pen and wrote "sola" (the Latin word for "alone") in the margin.

Of course, Romans 1:17 never says "alone". Not in the original Greek, not in the Latin Vulgate, and not in any proper Bible translation that I personally know of. In fact, the phrase "faith alone" appears in precisely one place in Scripture: "So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone." That's James 2:24... our actions and our beliefs make a difference.

In our Gospel today, the disciples, and by extension, Jesus himself, are criticized for plucking a snack for themselves off of live plants. Jesus goes on to rightly point out that the Sabbath exists for a purpose, and it is for people's needs, and not for the needs of God. The religious leaders of Jesus' day failed to understand a central concept of their own belief and practice, just as many well placed religious (and secular!) leaders of Hilary's day failed to understand the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ Jesus. 

Everything, the totality of our witness, our confession of faith, the theology we hold to, and the actions we take... all of them come together like the vertebrae in our bodies to form the backbone of who and what we are as Christian people. Right belief (orthodoxy) is vitally important. So is right action (orthopraxis). 

These two exist synergisticly. They enhance, empower, and provide nuance to one another, and when they are right and just, they flow from very Spirit of God. They move us forward to deeper experiences of faith, hope, and love, which lead us to abandon our own self reliance day-by-day and come to rely ever-more-fully on the grace of God to bring us through.

Hilary understood this. The early Christians understood this. The apostles understood this. We would serve ourselves well to understand it too. May we, like Hilary, always defend what we believe through the Spirit's inspiration and with passionate zeal... but let us never fall into the trap of believing that our theology is more important than our actions; for such is not a holistic understanding of our faith; and it will lead us down a Pharisitical path, no matter how cautious about it we think we are trying to be.


That the Church may be continually inspired
with the Spirit of truth, unity, and concord;
and that all who confess Jesus as Lord,
may be united in fidelity to the word,
and live in unity and godly love;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That all who minister in the Church,
may be filled with grace,
inspired in their teaching,
and faithful in ministering the sacraments.
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That our president Barack
and all others in civil authority,
might be guided by Divine Wisdom,
and given the strength and courage to do God’s will;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That all those who, in this transitory life,
are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any adversity,
would know of  Yahweh’s presence with them in their time of need;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the Lord would graciously incline his ear
to our personal needs and intentions,
as well as the concerns of those we love…
In his compassion,
may all who approach him with reverence and expectation
be defended from every evil,
and granted what is needful in this life;
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.

That the wonderful grace and virtue declared through the life and witness
of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Hilary, and all the saints
may inspire us to remain, like them,
steadfast in faith,
and obedient to the ways of Jesus.
let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, hear our prayer.