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June, 25 2017

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dr. Susan Fleming McGurgan

 

About 15 years ago, the Prayer of Jabez became immensely popular, especially among evangelical preachers, televangelists and their followers. The prayer itself comes from 1 Chronicles 4:10, and is a simple one: 

 And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I might not cause pain”

Fueled by a book, followed by more books, followed by merchandise such as shirts, mugs, plaques, and keychains, this prayer became, not only a cottage industry for hucksters, but in some circles, a talisman; a lucky charm; a consecrated chain letter; a mantra that if chanted often enough, would become a divine pipeline to physical and material blessings such as property, power and wealth.

As a people, we have always struggled with the connection--and the difference--between faith and tangible blessing; between belief and achievement; between the promise of abundant life and “living large”. Like the disciples who followed Jesus, we long for our faith to reward us, not only in the next world, but in this one. We want our enemies brought low. We want our friends to flourish. We want our territory enlarged. We want the hand of God to hold out something good. We look for signs and miracles and tokens of our inheritance from the Lord.

But the Gospel does not promise, “Believe and you will get rich”. God's Word does not guarantee us territory, power, wealth, or even a swag bag. In fact, it appears to be just the opposite. Today's readings seem to promise that if we witness, we will be persecuted.

As St. Teresa of Avila famously said, "If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them"

But if we listen closely, we will also hear God's promise that we will never be alone. God's hand is with us. God has numbered the hairs on our head, the freckles on our nose, the flecks of amber in our eyes, the ridges on our fingertips, the fears in our heart. God knows us, loves us and believes in us, even as we struggle to believe in Him. We may be persecuted, we may be afraid, but we are loved, we are redeemed and we are called by name. 

Notice that in this passage, God never promises that the sparrows will not fall. Rather, God promises that when they fall, He is there. What God tells us is "Fear no one.". Even Jesus was not spared pain; persecution; suffering. He was tempted, insulted, betrayed, beaten and ultimately killed in a shameful and horrific way. Yet, he feared no one, and from his broken and bruised body, flowed the blood and water of the world’s salvation.

God blesses us and enlarges our territory by inviting us to share in Christ's passion as we share in his body and blood. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist; each time we say, “Amen”, we are acknowledging God and saying “Yes” to this invitation and this journey. Each time we say, “Amen”, to the Eucharist, we are remaining faithful, not only to the cross, but to the promise of redemption.

 Fear no one. God is with us. Now that is a prayer of prosperity worth saying.

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