Graphic by David Chen

Path to God lies in applying spiritual ideals

  • November 25, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent Dec. 4 (Year A) Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12

Observing the predatory and pitiless violence in the natural world, many tend to agree with the poet Lord Tennyson that nature is “red in tooth and claw.”

Since humans began to inhabit this planet millions of years ago, they were at first the hunted, and later, the hunter. Fear was abundantly present in both cases. Humanity has not been very successful in moving beyond the urges of fear and aggression. “That’s just the way it is,” insist many.

The Bible has another vision for the world’s future — spiritual evolution of a sort. The key is genuine knowledge and experience of God. When this is present, violence and fear dissolve.

Isaiah envisions a time when one anointed by God will rise to judge and rule the Earth correctly. He will not judge or perceive in human ways, filtered through fear and selfishness, but through the eyes of the Spirit. One must be careful: many make claims of being able to “fix” the world, but the result is almost always a brutal, selfish and authoritarian rule. Isaiah was clear: this is God’s project, not humanity’s.

There will come a time, Isaiah insisted, when humans will no longer be at war with nature or with one another. Peace and harmony will reign, and this is symbolized in the text by traditional adversaries living in fearless proximity to one another: the lion with the lamb, the leopard with the kid and the cow with the bear. Even the child will be safe in the presence of the adder and asp.

No one will hurt or destroy anyone or anything on God’s holy mountain because of their knowledge — in a personal and experiential sense — of the Lord. We are very far from this vision and lately we seem to be fleeing in the opposite direction. It won’t just happen — there must be a preparation for God’s transforming intervention. This means a critical mass of individuals and groups that understand and apply the spiritual principles of the kingdom of God: patience, compassion, generosity, non-violence, tolerance, inclusiveness, justice and forgiveness.

Human attitudes and consciousness must change before our world does. God will help, but God will not do it for us — no free rides. In these dangerous and troubled times, it is more important than ever that we commit ourselves to healthy spiritual ideals and apply them in our lives. Above all, it is important to resist the seductive lure of the pervasive “tooth and claw” mentality.

Paul exhorted his community to exercise the patient endurance that is so much needed today. Many disastrous things occur because people are angry and impatient. God is immeasurably patient with us. If only we could exercise a tiny fraction of that patience as we await the completion of God’s action in our world.

In the meantime, Paul would like us to get a little taste of Isaiah’s vision by living in supportive harmony with one another in our communities and families. It’s not too much to ask, but it requires a change of heart, as do all good things.

John the Baptist’s call to repentance left little to the imagination. It was about getting right with God before the wrath of God’s visitation. To a certain extent, his vision reflected a rather violent apocalyptic understanding of God, one that predominated in that era.

The Greek word that we translate as “repent” implied a radical change of mind, heart and understanding — sort of an inner revolution. This inner transformation is in harmony with Isaiah’s vision of the Messianic Age. In this story, there were those who treated religion as a sort of insurance policy or free pass. They showed up for baptism at John’s hands, but he would not hear of it. He challenged them to show the fruits of repentance, for talk is cheap. He wanted to see evidence of their inner transformation.

Those words are also aimed at us. Religion must make a positive difference. The only way of accomplishing this is by walking with God in thought, word and deed.

(Story from the Catholic News Agency