Consider It All Joy
Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways. James 1:2-8
The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, "Why does this generation seek a sign? Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation." Then he left them, got into the boat again, and went off to the other shore. Mark 8:11-13
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Consider it all joy.
The death of a loved one.
The car accident.
The stock market crashes the week before your hoped-for retirement (or the week after!).
The spouse abuses.
The tourist helicopter crashes in the middle of the Grand Canyon vacation.
The fall on the ski slope during your last run down the Olympic Mountain at PyeongChange2018 after a lifetime of training.
Consider it all joy. Consider it all joy! Consider it all joy?
I have a running debate with one of the other authors of Your Daily Tripod. I contend that Jesus was no master market-eer. Who would possibly be attracted to the rose-garden promises of such a faith tradition? Today’s readings provide an excellent example for my skeptical argument. Look at what James and Jesus offer. It is hard to look at their offer because there is nothing -- or little -- to examine.
NONE of us would trade life lived in the modern 21st-century American experiment for life in ancient Palestine. You would have no closet or dresser full of clothes -- in its place is one tunic and one cloak. You would not have a choice of different shoes for every occasion, but instead, you would have one pair of sandals.
Without membership in the royal family or the priestly class, you can count on a life of hard labor as a farmer, shepherd, carpenter, refiner, fisherman, or any number of professions we encounter in the Hebrew Bible. The option is selling out and becoming a belligerent Roman soldier, tax collector, or traitor. And that is if you are lucky enough to be born relatively healthy without leprosy, hemorrhaging, deafness, speech impediments, blindness, or worse.
Thanks to the happy accidental birth in 20th century New York City, I’ll take my life right here, right now over that existence. New York is where I’d rather stay. I get allergic smelling hay. Penthouse views. Park Avenue. Acres of green. Verdant pastures beside cool running tap water.
No wonder James says all trials are just part of perseverance, tests of our faith. If we cannot figure that out, just ask for wisdom. Wisdom? Not money? Not health? Not freedom? Wisdom! Testing, perseverance, and refinement is the route one takes – then or now – on the road to attaining spiritual maturity and getting prepared for the coming of Christ.
Ah, but these steps require wisdom -- a gift that God readily grants to all who ask in faith. Such understanding will sustain the Christian in times of trial (times of trial equals everyday life). In this way, a Christian can deal with the adversity that daily life dishes out. And the Christian can face such persecution with great calm and hope.
Is it any wonder that people looked for signs that the Kingdom of God was at hand? Some sought personal salvation through faith in Jesus. To them – like the leper encountered in Sunday’s Mass – Jesus offered to heal. But to other with less pure motives, Jesus provided nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Despite miracle after miracle, the Pharisees did not comprehend Jesus’ miracles as acceptable signs that the Kingdom of God is at hand. They wanted more. They were like Madison Avenue advertisers or Wall Street brokers well ahead of their day.
Jesus promised the Pharisees and their skepticism nothing. He gave them a sigh, not a sign. A sign is not offered up based on human demand. A sigh is offered up based on human demand. However, a sign emanating from the generosity and love of the Good Shepherd is another story.
I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11
Good marketing, no?
Testing, perseverance, and refinement is the route one takes – especially now – on the road to attaining spiritual maturity and getting prepared for the coming of Christ.
Are you looking for a sign? Or are you working to be a sign to others?
Although Jesus did not respond to human demands, he did react to human interaction and faith-filled requests. His heart was quickly moved to pity. And the distance from pity to action was short. When Jesus encountered such people, he could not hold back his compassion. Neither should we.
Over the weekend, tensions between Israel and Syria escalated again. However, with the Opening Ceremonies, perhaps we see a thaw in the relationship between North and South Korea.
Maybe we are not all called to cross the border and venture into Syria or North Korea, but we are called to cross boundaries. Can you cross a cultural border in your hometown? Can you cross an economic border? Can you cross a social border?
When you cross these borders, you gain greater insight into the shoes of those on the other side – be they Pharisees, Jews, the poor, or the powerless.