Hello blessed friends--
Every time I receive a blessing from the Lord, I marvel a little bit that he should be so nice to me. And then recently an obscure Scripture passage was pointed out to me. It's called the "Prayer of Jabez". Buried in the middle of a long, boring genealogy, it mentions a man named Jabez who was "more honorable than his brothers". In 1 Chronicles 4.10 his prayer is recorded. "Jabez prayed to the God of Israel: 'Oh, that you may truly bless me and extend my boundaries! Help me and make me free of misfortune, without pain!' And God granted his prayer".
Did God grant his request for blessing because he was honorable? Well, in my own case I can't see that blessing is ever a reward for good behavior. Blessings are there for the asking for anyone and everyone. But God doesn't force them on us. He respects our ownership of our own minds. But when we ask for a blessing, he's there with an abundance of them. Incredibly more than we could ever imagine or even dream of (Ephesians 3.20).
Next Sunday, the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the readings are about being chosen to receive blessings from the hand of God. They are found on the web at: http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/071209.shtml, and in your Bible at:
Psalm 85.9-10, 11-12, 13-14
In the First Reading, we see the prophet-without-portfolio, Amos, being confronted by Amaziah, the high priest of the temple at Bethel: "Get out of here, you hayseed! This is the King you're bad-mouthing. Go back to your farm." (Amos 7.12-13.) But, see, Amos didn't answer to the priest. He had raised his hand when God said, "Who will go to my people Israel and warn them about my impending judgment?" Why did he do that? Why did he volunteer? Well, he may have known about the Prayer of Jabez. Anyway, he asked God to bless him, and God chose him for blessing, and "extended his boundaries". Today, we still remember that shepherd and fig-dresser Amos! (vs. 14-15).
The Responsorial Psalm is a straight-up request to see the Lord's kindness and be granted his salvation (Ps. 85.8). You know, there is no "limited seating available" in heaven, and the tickets are free and without any "while supplies last" clause. God proclaims peace in this psalm (v. 9). He promises that "kindness and truth shall meet, justice and peace shall kiss, truth will spring out of the earth and justice will look down from heaven" (vs. 11, 12). The LORD himself will be handing out his blessings (v. 13). We have all been chosen to receive salvation, all we have to do is accept it.
Paul in the Second Reading talks about being chosen "before the foundation of the world", to receive every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1.4). Take a look at v. 13: "In him you also, who ... have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit...". The Holy Spirit, I don't think anyone would argue, is truly a blessing indeed. Everyone, through Christ's sacrifice, has been chosen by God to receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit. And that is just the "first installment" of the richly blessed life God has prepared for us (v. 14)! Blessings are plentiful, it's just that quite a few of those "prizes" have gone unclaimed.
You remember from last week's Gospel Reading, what happened in Nazareth when Jesus swung through his home town. He met with a lack of belief and wasn't able to do much healing (Mark 6.5). This week Mark relates how, immediately after that, Jesus chose Twelve to go out two-by-two to heal and cast out demons (v. 7). Do you suppose they were more successful in Nazareth than Jesus was? Don't know... maybe not. After all, they were healing and casting out demons in the name of Jesus. Well, the point is, healing is available and it's guaranteed. But Jesus never forces anyone to accept it.
Oh, and do you think the two-by-two program was limited to just those twelve? Maybe that's all who chose to accept the call, at that time. But it hasn't been limited to twelve since then. Look at St. Paul, Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Pope John-Paul II, and uncounted others, recognized as saints and unrecognized, except as members of the sainthood of believers (see 1 Corinthians 1.2). These made themselves available to do God's work and spread healing and the good news of salvation.
How about me? Can I get in on that? Can I pray the Prayer of Jabez? I may be a hayseed like Amos was, but I would like all the blessings God can afford. And I know he can afford a lot!
Have a blessed week, folks!
"Those who ignore the call say the blessings are lmited!"