29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A man who had boldly entered Tim Horton’s to place his order was disappointed when he finally received it. He marched right up to the counter and asked, “Ma’am, can you tell me why the donut you gave me is all smashed up?”
“Sure,” replied the server. “When you came in, you marched right up to the counter and said, “ I’d like a large, dark roast regular and a Boston creme donut, and be sure to step on it! So I did!”
Sometimes, being too bold doesn’t work to our advantage. But not so, when it comes to our relationship with God! For ever since Jesus came down to earth to save us by his suffering and death on the cross, we’re in a totally new ball game, spiritually! We’ve been given VIP access to throne of God’s grace, a grace that saves and which forever changes the way we can approach God! We’ve been given front row seats to the marvels God promises to continue to do in our lives, too! And that access means that we don’t have to ever be afraid of God again; we don’t ever have to question God’s unconditional love and mercy for us. We don’t ever need to hide from God again. Nope, God’s in your face and he’s in mine! He wants to have a closeness to us that we can’t even possibly imagine. It’s the kind of closeness that God envisioned when he first created the human race.
We know from the story recounted in the Book of Genesis that Adam and Eve had it all! We know that they lost it all, too, when they sinned by disobeying the one commandment of God, to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the Garden. We also know, that once they sinned, their initial reaction was to hide. And though that story is a theological explanation of how sin entered the world, containing important truths within its content, human beings have, ever since their creation, been continually hiding from God because of their sinfulness. Various rituals were created to help deal with that reality.
The Jewish Nation, for its part, sought forgiveness for all its sins on one day of the year: the day of Atonement. The high priest would enter into the holy of holies on that day, slaughter a bull for his sins and the sins of the entire nation of Israel, and then sprinkle the blood, seven times, on the mercy seat, located above the ark of the covenant and flanked by two angels, which symbolized complete confession and remission of one’s sins by God and before God’s throne. Then they’d take two goats that had been chosen by lot and on the first one, a tongue shaped piece of scarlet cloth was attached to the neck and on the other goat, a similar scarlet cloth was attached to its horn. The goat with the cloth on its neck was sacrificed as a sin offering and its blood sprinkled several times before the mercy seat. The horns of the altar of incense were then sprinkled seven times to cleanse it from the sins of Israel, and the remaining blood was mixed with that of the bull’s and then the priest would then sprinkle the brazen altar seven times, where offerings were burned, to cleanse it of the sins of Israel. The people patiently waited outside the gate of the Tabernacle court during all this, until the high priest would stand toward them with his hands raised, signifying that God had indeed accepted their sacrifice. The high priest then placed his blood-soaked hands on the head of the goat with the cloth around its horn and made him the scapegoat, (that’s where that term is derived) and thereby transferred the people’s sins onto the goat. The goat was then led out into the wilderness and forced to jump off a steep cliff to its death.
If that sounds like a gory and unnecessarily lengthy way to have one’s sins forgiven, it was intended to be. It was intended to show the violence and death that are the result of human sin. It was intended to make us come out of hiding and to confess our sins publicly before the Lord.
It was intended as a deterrent for committing future sins, too, because one innocent bull and two innocent goats were killed because of transgressions, both individually and collectively. (The Tabernacle: Shadows of the Messiah, David M. Levy, pp 82-84)
Fast forward to Jesus, the Jew, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, whom the Father sent to earth, to save us from our sins, once and for all. By becoming Man, Jesus wanted to show us and all future generations that it is possible to live an authentically human life without sin! By becoming Man, Jesus wanted to show us that all temptations can be overcome by God’s grace. By becoming Man, Jesus wanted to draw us out of hiding, out of our fear, out of our doubting God’s love, out of our isolation and sense of despair, and to announce to us good news of great joy!
And that good news is that salvation is possible through faith in the Son of God! That good news is that God has enabled us to bask in the radiant light of his mercy and grace by the redemption he won for us through the shedding of his Most Precious Blood! That good news is that God has invited us to bathe in the tenderness of his love forever! Salvation was made possible then, precisely by Jesus’ willingness to take our sins upon himself, to suffer and to die for those sins, and then to be raised up in utter defiance of the seeming insurmountable power of sin over the graced actions of our Divine Lord! Because of that incomparable offering of Jesus to the Father on our behalf, we now have a closeness to God that can never be taken away! It’s because of this closeness that the author to the Letter to the Hebrews exhorts us, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
Yes, it’s that boldness in approaching God that ought to be characteristic of each and every Christian.
No longer the purview of the priest alone, every baptized Christian can enter into the holy of holies and have a deep, direct, and personal connection with God at his Throne of Grace and Mercy.
For we have a God who became Man, precisely to draw us close to himself and to embolden us to come to Him in every need, and in every desire, and in every necessity of our lives. That closeness can happen then, not just in church, or in front of a tabernacle, or in the reception of a sacrament, but wherever we may happen to be and in whatever circumstance in which we may find ourselves in need of God’s presence.
So when we pray, we should do so, with the full confidence that the Lord hears us! We should avoid keeping our heads low and thinking of ourselves as lowly creatures unworthy of God’s time and attention. We should also avoid being afraid of turning our gaze heavenward! No, when we pray, we should deliberately lift our eyes, our hearts, our minds and our souls heavenward and be unafraid of presenting our sinful selves to the throne of God’s mercy, for that’s precisely what he wants us to do. The only requirement is that we keep a deep reverence for the Lord in prayer and a consciousness of his great sacrifice on the Cross, ever before our eyes. We shouldn’t ever come before the Lord in a flippant way, with little thought or reflection or regard for whom it is we’re approaching. Such prayer isn’t worthy of the name. No, we have to come with an attitude of openness and vulnerability, with a heart full of love of the Lord, and a deep desire to hear whatever it is the Lord has to say to us, and a readiness to receive and to act on his Divine Word. For it’s in this way that our prayers are truly answered, and it’s in this way that we can truly draw closer to God like never before.
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