Second Friday after Pentecost

Sacred Heart of Jesus (A)

With the death of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1690, devotion to the Sacred Heart spread rapidly in France and England through various religious orders. The notion was appealing. Christ loved us so much, he suffered and died for us. We need, not only to love him, but to spread his love through imitation. That means love in acts of consecration, devotion and reparation.

The readings for this feast day speak of divine love, a love devoted to the world, a love that redeems the world.

Deuteronomy 7:6-11

6 For you are a holy people to YHWH your God: YHWH your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 YHWH didn't set his love on you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all peoples: 8 but because YHWH loves you, and because he would keep the oath which he swore to your fathers, has YHWH brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that YHWH your God, he is God, the faithful God, who keeps covenant and loving kindness with them who love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations, 10 and repays those who hate him to their face, to destroy them: he will not be slack to him who hates him, he will repay him to his face. 11 You shall therefore keep the commandment, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which I command you this day, to do them.

This passage from Deuteronomy encapsulates the relationship of God and his people. The relationship was based on divine initiative. The people were not special in themselves (their size, for example). No, YHWH chose them to be like him: holy, unique, set apart. The author gave no reason for the divine election, but he does describe that election as one of faithfulness and love. YHWH was faithful to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He delivered his people from bondage in Egypt. And he gave them a covenant as a sign of his loving kindness.

What does YHWH expect in return for his covenant and his activity in their lives? The people were to treat God the way he treated them. They were to be faithful; they were to devoted to him. The covenant which the Isrealites accepted was a testimony to that relationship. If the relationship was broken, the results were as predicable as the tearing of an agreement with a king. Royal justice would punish those who broke their word.

The combination of divine favor mixed with the threat of divine wrath became the logic for keeping the covenant. While modern believers might not feel comfortable with this thinking, it was generally accepted as the norm in ancient times.

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1 John 4:7-16

7 Loved (ones), we should love each other because love is from God and everyone loving has been begotten by God and knows God. 8 The (one) not loving does not know God because God is love. 9 In this, the love of God is make clear in us, because God sent his only begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 Love is in this, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son (as) an expiation for our sins.

These few verses in 1 John 4 tied the notion of charity with God and his community. In essence, love defined the God we worship and the movement we align ourselves with. We worship the God of love and belong to the love community.

By defining God as the source of love, the author distanced himself from a spirituality of individual ecstasy. Notice it is the activity of love (mercy, compassion, empathy, personal involvement) that defined the Christian view of God. The phrase "God is love" alone could miss the point. This phrase could be interpreted as a reduction of God's power to the transcendent euphoria of new love; we could be fooled into the notion that we can only touch God in such a ecstatic "rush." That was the furthest notion from the author's mind. He was not speaking of an ecstacy; he was speaking of a history. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of his Son was an act of love that defined God. And, how do we know this loving God? Not by our feelings alone. No, by what he has done for us!

11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we should love each other, God remains in us and his love is made complete in us. 13 In this (way), we know that we remains in him and he in us, because he has given his Spirit to us. 14 We have seen and (we) testify that the Father has sent the SON (as) the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever should confess that JESUS is the SON OF GOD, God remains in him and he in God. 16 We have known and trusted the love God has for us. God is love, and the (one) remaining in love remains in God, and God remains in him.

In today's world, people want experience, not pure ideas. If they accept an idea, they want that concept to change them. The modern argument for the existence of God is one based on experience. How do I know God exists? The idea of a dynamic deity can be life-changing. Critics complain this argument is purely subjective, but believers have used it to justify their actions, both good and bad.

The author of John's first letter used the argument from experience to promote his belief in God. No one has ever seen God, but the author claimed he was an eye witness to what God did. What he saw and what he preached was consistent with the experiences of his followers. The core insight into God's activity and intent was love. God sent his Son because he loved us. We experience that love so we should act accordingly.

Notice the power of his argument lie in the actions of Christians. While we Christians can take comfort in the spiritual depths our faith bring us, our example is our primary witness to the existence of God. When we act in love, our argument for God's existence grows stronger; when we act selfishly, our argument dims.

Many people use the idea of God to justify their acts. They have it backwards. One's acts should justify their faith in God. God acts in life. Charity, Christian love, is the proof of God's activity. While this reason ultimately breaks down (actions cannot supersede faith; God exists in spite of what we do), we should strive to match our actions to our words.

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Matthew 11:25-30

25 At that time, having answered, JESUS said, "I praise you (out loud), Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you hid these (things) from the wise and intelligent and you showed them to babes. 26 Yes, Father, because it was a pleasing (thought) before you. 27 Everything has been given to ME by MY Father; no one understands the SON except the Father but neither does anyone understand the Father except the SON and to whom the SON might choose to reveal (it).

10:25 "having answered" In context of the verse, Jesus was not asked a question. The phrase, then, was redundant.

10:27 "Everything has been given to me by my Father" What does "everything" mean in this context? Two answers are possible: power or knowledge. In light of the verse, knowledge is preferred. Jesus was praising God for the revelation he received.

Jesus praised God (literally "acknowledged" God in public) for revealing his Kingdom to the common people (those who knew little) instead of those who thought they understood all (i.e., the scribes and the Pharisees). This is the way God wanted it to happen. [11:25-26]

Knowledge of God requires some explanation. Jesus did not merely speak of dogma (knowledge about God). He addressed a deeper issue: intimate experience of God. An analogy might help us understand this point. We all have had rare experiences of authentic encounter with another human being. A meeting where all our good and bad points, all our strengths and weaknesses are revealed. The other person in the encounter know us for who we truly are. If we apply this experience to God, only the Father and the Son truly know each other. The follower of Christ also knows the Father through the revelation of the Son. This is what the Kingdom is all about. [11:27]

Knowledge of God has consequences, for it demands a response. For those under the Jewish Law, knowledge of YHWH required a duty to his Law. As the teachers of God's Law, the Pharisees firmly believed that God punished the nation of Judea throughout history because the people ignored his Law. If people strove to keep his Law, they would arrive one day closer to his Kingdom. So, the Pharisees added guidelines, rulings, and regulations that kept the faithful from breaking the Law even by accident. Unfortunately, their rulings tightly controlled everyday life. [11:28]

Jesus countered this notion with the breath of fresh air. God would provide the means to people so they could please him. His Son was that means. Those who came to the Son would please the Father. Rules and regulations were not important. Relationship with Jesus was important.

28 Come to ME everyone laboring and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29 Lift up (and place) MY yoke upon you and learn (as a disciple) from ME, because I am gentle and humble at heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. 30 For the yoke (I give you) is easy and MY burden (I give you) is light."

10:29 "you will find rest for yourselves" is literally "you will find rest for your spirit"

The yoke of Jesus stood for his Lordship. When someone says "yes" to Jesus, he or she placed Jesus above them. He is the Teacher. The follower became the student. But, because of his gentle compassion and his humility, the Lordship of Jesus had the weight of love, uplifting and empowering. [29-30]

The feast of the Sacred Heart is a celebration of divine love. That love is an easy yoke for it is a shared burden. More important, it has done its work already on the cross. Our response to that love is one of gratitude, discipleship and imitation. Thank you God for the opportunity to share in your Son's work. Thank you for the opportunity, not only to be loved, but to love.

How have you passed on the love of God to others this week?