Gen. 15:1-12; 17-18 • Ps. 27 • Phil. 3:17-4:1 • Luke 13:31-35
The summons to “lift up your hearts” is a clear admission that without such invocations we are apt to fall back upon our failures, limitations, nothingness, loss, and despair. If the fall is great and deep, it may show itself as boredom and indifference, an ancient disease called acedia. “An old man said that a brother was goaded by his thoughts for nine years to despair of his salvation” (Sayings of the Fathers). We may all despair at times. The pressures of life and the apparent delay of God’s coming to our help can leave us listless and hopeless.
Our morning cry is: “Oh God make speed to save us. O Lord make haste to help us.” At Genesis 15:2 our ancient father Abram prays through his suffering: “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless?” A painful waiting has called the promise into question. Did God call? Is this an illusion? Only an upward thrust of the Spirit will restore his hope. “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them” (Gen. 15:5). Looking, he sees first the brightest stars. Then, adjusting his vision, he beholds deeper space as the stars multiply coming into being, a heavenly host. “So shall your descendants be.” The promise is restored, but shrouded still in mystery: a sacrifice, deep sleep, a smoking pot and a flaming torch. A poetic promise will always require faith.
“Brothers and sisters,” St. Paul says, “join in imitating me” (Phil. 3:17). The Christ-form is so vivid in Paul and his companions that they can commend themselves as formed in Christ. They incarnate a pattern of believing and living rooted in the conviction that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). This is not worldly rejection, but transformation. “He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory” (Phil. 3:21). The entire thrust is upward and yet anchored to reality. Falsity consists in having the belly appetite. “Their end is destruction.” Stand firm and look where you live; your life is hid with God in Christ.
We meet Jesus doing his work, casting out demons and performing cures. He works a triduum: today, tomorrow, and the next day. He is in motion and he is in sorrow. He looks over Jerusalem and cries, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Luke 13:34). His gaze over our cities and into our lives penetrates our violence and rejection. He wants us with the deepest desire but his grace will not destroy a free nature. We may stand in opposition. In love and sorrow, and even with respect, he says, “See, your house is left to you” (Luke 13:35). There is no better definition of hell.
Though we are left to our own destruction for a time, God comes. The residents of the city may yet say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:35). Hope lives. Abram looks to the night sky. Paul preaches a place-of-being in the heavens. Jesus would gather up his hens. “And when I am lifted up I will draw everything and everyone to myself” (John 12:32). It is all heaven bent in a cycle that is first downward in self-emptying; then, flowing out to history and creation, everything is transformed to the body of his glory. It is happening in the mystery of prayer and the flowing out of grace in concrete action. “The image unfolds into the one contemplating it, and it opens out its consequences in his life” (Hans Urs von Balthasar).
Look It Up
Read 1 Peter 5:6-10. It will lift you.
Think About It
Leave not yourself to your own small designs. Be the body you are in Christ.