Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Psalm 117; Luke 13:22-30.
As most of you know, one of the ways I prepare to write a homily is to do some etymological research on any words that seem interesting. In this morning’s lessons the word ‘chastise’ in the Letter to the Hebrews caught my attention. To chastise means to rebuke or reprimand severely, an older meaning is to punish, especially by beating. Its original root is the Latin word ‘castus’, which is also the root word of ‘chaste’ meaning pure. The words discipline and disciple are also related. So, what does all this mean? Exactly what the writer of Hebrews says, “God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” God disciplines us, chastises us, that we may become righteous and pure in his sight.
How does God discipline us? I am sure there are many ways, but mostly, I believe, God allows us to reap the consequences of our actions, attitudes, choices, words, lifestyles, beliefs and thoughts. And we must always remember that our definition of a good or positive outcome is not, necessarily, the same as God’s. We, being human, are most often concerned that we have a peaceful and productive life. God, being Divine, is most concerned that we have a peaceful and productive eternity. These two viewpoints are often at cross purposes. We find an example of this in our Gospel lesson from St. Luke, Our Lord says, “Try to come in through the narrow door. Many, I tell you, will try to enter and be unable. When once the master of the house has risen to lock the door and you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Sir, open for us,’ he will say in reply, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your company. You taught in our streets.’ But he will answer, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Away from me, you evildoers!’” The narrow door is the way of true discipleship, of humbly accepting whatever God puts in our life, of responding to all the vagaries and uncertainties of the world with faith, trust, love and joy. Those who are turned away are those who wear the guise of faith, and wear it lightly, shedding it when it chafes, and is constricting, and putting it back on when it is comfortable again. Taoiseach Ivan and I often say that if you are comfortable in your relationship with God, you are doing it wrong.
I don’t mean that we are not comforted by God, we are. God’s mercy and loving kindness are very comforting, especially when we are acutely conscious of our failure to be faithful. But we should not BE comfortable, we should never feel that we have ‘got it’ and can now relax, that is the first step on the slippery slope to hell.
Sometimes God’s discipline comes in the form of external circumstances over which we have little or no control; unemployment, foreclosure, natural disaster, illness, betrayal, loss of a loved one, challenges to our faith. Again we must respond humbly in faith and trust, in prayer and gratitude. Why gratitude? Because either we trust God, or we don’t, and if we only trust God when things are going well, then we don’t trust him at all. We are grateful to God for EVERYTHING, because we believe we are in his hands, and even if we meet our death, it is death in Christ which is our true life. We are grateful because we see “through a glass darkly”, we are not wise enough, or knowledgeable enough to know what is truly good for us, what we need to become righteous and pure and holy. And when we pray to God for help to be his disciples, God gives us this life – full of broken dreams, broken promises, broken people – and says “Feed my Sheep.” The Church is both hospital for sick souls and training camp for saints, the life of the Church: the liturgies, Mysteries, devotions, seasons of fasting and feasting, the daily cycle of prayer, is discipline, and sometimes chastisement, and is the context in which we grapple with whatever God allows in our lives. Without this context we are flailing in the dark, fighting blind. Within it we have guidance, direction, purpose. Within it we have healing, hope, nourishment, friendship and a home, both now and in the world to come.
So, when, as our Second lesson says, the discipline is painful rather than pleasant, we will not reject it, but embrace it, because we desire the ‘peaceful fruit of righteousness’, and we will lift our drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees, and make straight paths for our feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
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