I came across this article a while ago in the Spec, but I just ran across it again and thought it worth pointing out. Hope is emerging in a poverty-stricken downtown Hamilton neighbourhood, and at the center of it are a Catholic school principal and an Anglican priest. Beautiful.
Scot McKnight has an excellent reflection on Lent over at his blog. It’s called “On the Way to the Cross.” Here’s a snippet:
If we walk with Mary, we will find a woman who is visited by angels, filled with prophetic words about what God will do through her Son, informed of her Son’s suffering, and who year-in and year-out pondered just how in the world her Son would become the Messiah. She grew year-by-year in her perception, and her growth actually mirrors our own: struggling with a crucified Messiah is our story, too. She came to terms with a crucified Messiah, but she came to it honestly: she struggled with Jesus.
Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: “Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”
Judah, the country to which Jeremiah was sent, refused to listen to the critique that he brought against them. Judah had abandoned Yahweh, the God who delivered them from Egypt, who established them as a nation and who granted them prosperity and safety. Though God sent His people many messengers, prophets with words of judgment and repentance, Judah refused to reform their actions: “And though the Lord has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention” (Jeremiah 25:4). Finally, God raised up a foreign power against them to destroy the land and send them into exile. This was destructive of Judah’s very identity as God’s people. Their occupation of the land was central to their understanding of who they were, especially in relation to God. By removing them from the land, God was essentially rejecting them as His people, revoking His promises to them. Judah experienced the abandonment of God.
This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in its head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.
This parable is a parable of hope. The growth of the kingdom is not the work of individual Christians—or even the Church as a whole—but rather is the work of God Himself. Because of this, the growth of the kingdom is hidden and mysterious. Yet it is also certain, for “night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” Though we cannot see God at work in the world to save it, though it seems to grow “all by itself,” we have a certain hope and confidence. The good news itself is latent with power and a will to shine forth, illumining the deep darkness of this world. We are merely observers and participants in its work.
For the next forty days, the Christian Church enters the season of Lent, a season of self-examination and repentance in preparation for the events of Easter. It’s traditional (though this is my first year practicing it) for Christians to give up something for Lent in order to have some small tangible reminder of the process of suffering and repentance. I’m giving up coffee. Each time I crave it I’ll be reminded in some small way of Christ’s own sacrifices for me–and ultimately, His greatest sacrifice at the cross. May you have a refreshing and cleansing season of Lent. Go in peace.
It only took me a month and a half, but I’ve finally gotten around to finishing off this series of blogs. The last thing I want to talk about in this series, though there are certainly more things I love about Catholics than I’ve mentioned, is the deep, broad and rich theology of Catholicism. This is largely a product of the long, varied and convoluted history of the Catholic Church, which extends 1500 years prior to any Protestant denomination. Whereas Protestant theology has developed only in the past half millennium, Catholic theology developed through the era of the Greek and Roman empires, the Slavic and Scandinavian peoples, the Medieval era, and the Renaissance before that German monk Luther was ever born. All the theology developed in this time continues to impact Catholic thought today.
This long history helps Catholics today to recognize that their own theological developments are only small pieces in a much larger puzzle, a whole history of development, fresh interpretation and re-interpretation. Protestantism, which arose at the beginning of the Enlightenment era that was obsessed with reason and science, has sought to work out a perfect, timeless, essentially scientific systematic theology–as if one can finish off the work of theology once-for-all, and then get on to more important things. All Catholic theology is in conversation with other bits and pieces of Catholic theology–whether the early church fathers, Augustine, canon law, the medieval mystics, Aquinas, the polemical Counter-Reformation declarations, the higher criticism of the 18th and 19th centuries, papal encyclicals, and the list goes on.
All these sources together combine to produce what stands today as Roman Catholic theology, a wondrously deep and broad lake, teeming with life (though in parts polluted) and being sourced by hundreds of freshwater rivers. We as Protestants stand only to gain by interacting with this rich history–learning from the theological tradition that produced and was produced by Augustine, Gregory the Great, Anselm, Francis of Assisi, Aquinas, Ignatius of Loyola, St John of the Cross, Madame Guyon, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Thomas Merton, Karl Rahner, JRR Tolkien, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa and Jean Vanier. Drink deep, friends.
In this place I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who seek their lives, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth. I will devastate this city and make it an object of scorn; all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff because of all its wounds. I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh during the stress of the siege imposed on them by the enemies who seek their lives.
This God terrifies me. Yet the Bible bears witness that this is the same God who entered the world in Christ. That baffles me. Here I see a God of no compassion, no mercy, no pity—of an infinite, insatiable wrath. Where is the God of the cross? I was reflecting a bit after my post on Jeremiah yesterday, and I fear that I may have too quickly jumped to reflection on God’s saving action in Christ. I feel that I need to let the prophetic image of a wrathful God linger a bit longer, in order to make me realize how precious the incarnation truly is. I’m beginning to develop the sense that when the Scriptures speak of the fear of God, they don’t mean a simple reverence or awe. They mean fear.
These are horrific images: “I will make them fall by the sword before their enemies, at the hands of those who seek their lives, and I will give their carcasses as food to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.” God’s own chosen, His precious people, those He called His “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5), are surrendered to the ravaging of the Babylonian empire. And this image is beyond words: “I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh.” Maybe I can only say this: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).