19 January 2009

Holy Exercise in God's Gold Gym

2nd Week OT(T): Heb 6:10-20; Mk 2:23-28
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Having long ago resigned myself to the fact that I am an unrepentant couch potato—a homebody and gloriously lazy—I find St Paul constantly nagging us about being energetic, eager Christians. . .well, let’s just say that I find his bubbly-enthusiasm for workworkwork to be more than just annoying, it’s depressing. What happened to peaceful contemplation? Serene silence? When did we become the People of the Frantic Work Day? The Church of Git ‘er Done or Die Trying? Paul would have us running races, meeting deadlines, flying into panicked work-fits, racing about like manic monkeys hopped up on a double-sweet, double expresso. Someone needs to write a book on how many times in his letters he uses words like “eager,” “readiness,” “perseverance,” “fervent.” It’s exhausting just reading those letters! We can excuse some of Paul’s jumpiness. He was a Pharisee before his trip to Damascus. His whole life was ruled by rules. His whole life was ruled by schedules, appointments, rituals, formulas. He was busy b/c he had much to be busy about. Our Lord was a busy man too. But he teaches us that time and work are sacred, our labor and its measure are holy if given first and only in the service of the Lord.

Paul writes to the Hebrews, “God is not unjust so as to overlook your work…by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones. We earnestly desire each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of hope until the end, so that you may not become sluggish…” So, here we have Coach Paul whipping the team into shape for the Big Game. Notice: work, serve, continue to serve, eagerly demonstrate, fulfill! Why? So that you don’t become sluggish, lazy! And, of course, this makes perfect sense if your eager service is to the benefit of the gospel. We have baptismal promises to fulfill. We have unplowed, unplanted fields to culivate and seed. To say nothing of the harvest!

So, yes, we must work. But we have a gospel scene this morning where Jesus “works” on the Sabbath and the Pharisees scold him for violating the law. Jesus easily rebuffs their attempt to catch him up by doing what he does best: showing them how his first commandment of love fulfills the law of Moses. Man was not created to make the Sabbath holy. Rather, the Sabbath was created to make man holy. A time for us to do the work of resting, to be with the Lord in solitude and peace when the first work of our daily work is done most ardently—in the human heart. Jesus teaches us that it is what comes out of our hearts that defiles us, makes us holy. Not what goes in. The Pharisees have confused merely obeying the Law with doing God’s work. Is there a quicker way to a heart attack than to work feverish for no purpose other than to get things done?

Obviously, Paul understands this. He’s not urging us to activity for the sake of activity. He’s urging us not to allow our hearts to become muscles ruined from lack of spiritual exercise. He writes that “we have as an anchor in our soul” the promise of Christ’s work on the cross. The heavy lifting of hope, the constant repetitions of love, the crunches of faith—these are the contant soul-building exercises of the Christian. Whenever you do them, you do them on the Sabbath.


  1. The heavy lifting of hope, the constant repetitions of love, the crunches of faith—these are the contant soul-building exercises of the Christian

    NICE ONE!!

    I've never seen St Paul as a spiritual Richard Simmons before. whoa....hurting my brain.


  2. Irenaeus9:40 AM

    Whatever Paul wrote it didn't include Hebrews; even most of the ancient church thought it anonymous. The best bet -- but it's only a guess -- is Apollos.

  3. Irenaeus,

    Just following the lectionary...

    It's better to say that we don't know who wrote the letter, but the style, mention of some of Pauls' associates, etc. indicate a link to Paul.

    Please, I'm not interested in a protracted discussion of the authorship of Hebrews...I just used Paul as the author b/c the lectionary indicates that the letter is often attributed to him.


  4. I'm currently picturing Paul as I remember my high school's football coach: screeching on the sidelines for the team to give 150%.

  5. LOL...he needs to scream at me a little louder these days...

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