The readings are from the catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headlines are meant to keep my thinking real:
COLD LAKE CITIZENS PROTECT VANDALISED MOSQUE
From Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus, together with their presiding elders and deacons. We wish you the grace and peace of God our Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God whenever I think of you; and every time I pray for all of you, I pray with joy, remembering how you have helped to spread the Good News from the day you first heard it right up to the present. I am quite certain that the One who began this good work in you will see that it is finished when the Day of Christ Jesus comes. It is only natural that I should feel like this towards you all, since you have shared the privileges which have been mine: both my chains and my work defending and establishing the gospel. You have a permanent place in my heart, and God knows how much I miss you all, loving you as Christ Jesus loves you. My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognise what is best. This will help you to become pure and blameless, and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God.
Paul had a specially warm relationship with the community in Philippi, who had continued to support him financially as he ministered in other cities. This “ecumenical” understanding of faith was very dear to Paul, whose gospel emphasised the emergence of one new humanity in Jesus Messiah. Paul’s habit of prayer for his distant brothers and sisters is another element of this gospel: where people are not united by being in the same place, their unity in prayer becomes more important.Paul continually emphasises his sense of the shared life of believers. Here he says that by their support, the Philippians have shared in his ministry, in its sucess and its suffering. We should never see these expressions of Paul as mere pieties but rather recognise the historical uniqueness of this sort of voluntary partnership across huge distances. Some of his contemporaries might have experienced “partnership at a distance” in the service of the Empire or in commercial enterprise but only the developing churches did it out of mutual concern.
As in most of Paul’s correspondence, there is a note of urgency in this passage as Paul looks forward to the “day of Jesus Messiah”. He sees God at work in his converts, enabling their growth in goodness, but with an end in view, the “day” when all things will be brought to perfection in the returning Messiah. Obviously this eschatological framework which predicts the end of this present age and the beginning a new age will seem foreign to modern believers, who may trust in some conclusive act of God but don’t feel it’s just round the corner, and if they do they’re probably members of some slightly loopy sect. Perhaps it’s worth setting down the elements of Paul’s escahtology:
1, The processes of nature and history are bounded by the rule of God
2. The history of the world will be brought to a just conclusion with all goodness rewarded, all evil punished, all tears wiped away.
3. The cosmic process of nature will be brought to the perfection that God has planned for it.
4. God’s justice and perfection have been revealed in nature and history by Jesus Messiah. There will be no new revelation; the one who will complete nature and history is the one who has already lived, died and risen to life.
5. God’s completion will bring perfection to individual human beings. While it’s clear that some will be pefected in goodness, it’s not clear that all will be. Paul frequently warns people that their behaviour may exclude them from God’s rule.
6. All this may happen soon.
Apart from 6, I share Paul’s faith. The first Christians seem to have felt that God’s rule was imminent. Jesus used the word “near”. I think that nearness may not be in time but in love: it’s not like waiting for Christmas but like the message that a dear freind will be with us in a few days. They may have given no date, but already we start cleaning the house for their arrival. God’s arrival, I think, may not be at the “end of time” but may be the invisible “other side” of all our times, carrying our suffering, nullifying our evil, beautifying our ugliness, completing our growth, perfecting our goodness. This seems to me an essential part of Christian faith. The language I’ve used to express it is of course metaphorical, but I don’t think God’s rule is just a metaphor. All mortal trash may fall but that’s not the end of the matter:
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. | Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; | world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)
On a sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely. ‘There in front of him was a man with dropsy, and Jesus addressed the lawyers and Pharisees. ‘Is it against the law’ he asked ‘to cure a man on the sabbath, or not?’ But they remained silent, so he took the man and cured him and sent him away. Then he said to them, ‘Which of you here, if his son falls into a well, or his ox, will not pull him out on a sabbath day without hesitation?’ And to this they could find no answer.
For the Pharisees, God has become a mere metaphor. Religious Law is just here with its rules to point to the One Who Makes No Difference. They have forgotten the othersidedness of reality. But for Jesus, who is reported as saying, “My Father is always working and I am working too,” God’s rule is always near, inviting trust and action. Just as we “interfere” with reality when a child or animal falls into a well, so the Father inteferes through those who channel his/her goodness.