God Bestows Blessings on His People
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Jeremiah R. Grosse
Reproduced with Permission

God's chosen people have done it again. They have provoked Him to anger and now they are calling upon God to remember the blessings He had bestowed upon them in the past.

Psalm 85 begins "O Lord, You have favored Your land, have restored Jacob's fortune; You have forgiven Your people's iniquities and pardoned all their sins; You withdrew all Your anger, turned away from Your rage."

The number of times that the Jewish people provoked God to anger throughout the Hebrew Scriptures is more than I could possibly detail this morning. It began in the Garden of Eden and continued through every succeeding generation.

Facing the wrath of a sovereign was certainly not something that many Christians were unfamiliar with. On several occasions, John Chrysostom was exiled from his position as archbishop of Constantinople for challenging Empress Theodora and the corrupt actions of her government. Like the ancient prophets, John took his life in his hands when he openly challenged the empress; however, he knew that he had to speak out and was willing to risk his life for the truth.

Another Father of the Church who faced the wrath of the government was Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. His martyrdom stands as one of the most well documented events of antiquity. The emperors of Rome had unleashed bitter attacks against the Christians during this period, and members of the early church recorded many of the persecutions and deaths. Polycarp was arrested on the charge of being a Christian -- a member of a politically dangerous cult whose rapid growth needed to be stopped. Amidst an angry mob, the Roman proconsul took pity on such a gentle old man and urged Polycarp to proclaim, "Caesar is Lord". If only Polycarp would make this declaration and offer a small pinch of incense to Caesar's statue he would escape torture and death. To this Polycarp responded, "Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" Steadfast in his stand for Christ, Polycarp refused to compromise his beliefs, and thus, was burned alive at the stake.

While facing the anger of the empress or the Roman government was enough to cost someone their life, the wrath of God is but for a moment and His favor is for a lifetime. God will provide well being for His people; He is near to those who fear Him. In God, faithfulness and truth meet; justice and well-being kiss. Truth springs up from the earth and justice looks down from heaven. Through His Cross and resurrection, Jesus freed us from sin and death and called us to the glory that has made us a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart. Everywhere we proclaim God's mighty works, for He called us out of darkness into His own wonderful light.

Writing to his monks about some of the challenges they might face as part of their monastic formation, St. Benedict says, "So we are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord. In founding it, we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome.

But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, whose entrance cannot but be narrow. As we advance in the religious life and in faith, our hearts expand and we run the way of God's commandments with the unspeakable sweetness of love."

St. Benedict's words are true for anyone wishing to live a Christian life. The virtue of hope stems from our conviction that what God has done for us in the past He will continue to do for us in the future. We have every reason to believe that God will provide well-being for us and that He will continue to be near to those who fear Him.