Reflections for the Week of Sunday, June 18, 2017 Second after Pentecost

Gospel: Mt 9.35-10.8 tells of Jesus proclaiming the good news of the kingdom [of God] and calling twelve disciples to proclaim the good news also that the kingdom of heaven [of God] has come…through their actions in healing the sick, cleansing lepers, celebrating with table fellowship, etc. Today the kingdom is to be manifested by the church (mission), by Jesus’ followers who have been given His Spirit to worship God and love our neighbors and try to live lives pleasing to and worthy of God. Followers of Jesus reflect His character by having the vital signs of healthy Christian life through and through. These signs of Christian life don’t come automatically. They need to be worked at. They need to be thought about, to be consciously chosen to allow the Holy Spirit to form our character. When suddenly and unexpectedly put to the test, the new nature which fills you will spill out. Becoming a Christian means to become more genuinely human. We are transformed by three things with the aid of the Spirit. First, by aiming at the right goal. Second, by figuring out the steps to reach the goal. Third, the steps need to become habitual. The goal is not just going to heaven when you die, but is the promise that God will renew the whole created order (Rm 8.18-26) and give us new resurrected bodies with which to live in God’s new world (1 Cor 15).The steps toward this goal are the transformation that has already begun in those who acknowledge Jesus as Lord, and develops as the fully formed, fully flourishing Christian character of the mature Christian. It is not just a matter of keeping a set of rules or of discovering who you really are so you can live “authentically” according to that knowledge. What Jesus means by following Him is to acquire a set of virtues (like Aristotle’s) but which differ from Aristotle’s like love, kindness, forgiveness, and humility. And Jesus and Paul propose a very different way of learning and practicing the Christian virtues. Aristotle’s virtues might have been regarded by Paul as being like the Jewish Law: fine as far as they go, but unable to give what they promise. Learning new habits is very much like learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument. Part of the reward is coming to enjoy the new ability–reading the Bible in Greek or being able to play the Moonlight Sonata. Neuro-science has shown that developing new habits, like a language or playing a musical instrument, actually modifies the brain. This can be visualized on CT scans and MRIs. Habits become “second nature.” But as we learn new rules (as opposed to habits), we quickly learn that we can’t keep them. The real problem is that rules are restrictive while the things that make us human are being creative, celebrating life and love and laughter. Those things don’t come from rules. Rules matter but aren’t the most important things. What matters is character, and not any kind of character, but the kind Jesus was exemplifying–the character made up of virtues like patience, humility, and above all generous, self-giving love; in fact, all the virtues enumerated in the Beatitudes (Mt 5.3-12) and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22,23). And we get this kind of character by following Jesus, by worshiping Him and striving to follow His example. it is not an easy task by any means but with the help of Jesus’ Holy Spirit dwelling within us and prayer we can grow into gradually improving Christian character .

Memory Verse: Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9.23, 24).

(N.B. This Reflection is based on After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, by N.T. Wright, 2010)

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