Love.

Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.” He takes away the first to establish the second. By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.

This Advent we focus on the promises of God. We have provided a handy follow along book of reflections and devotions covering thirty promises of God broken down under the categories of hope, peace, joy, and love. This final week we reflect on God’s promise of love.

Remember that promises from God are things we can absolutely count on. We have perfect assurance that God’s promise of love will be fulfilled. We know this more so because God has shown us by His outward action that His love is perfect and all giving.

St. Paul is reflecting on that very fact in today’s Epistle. He calls our attention, once again, to the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, came to once and for all consecrate us – that is to make us holy and pleasing to His Father. He would do this, not through the sin offerings of people, which God did not delight in, but through the love offering of Himself, the perfect sacrifice as willed by the Father.

It is key for us to focus on the value of offerings. You see, the sin sacrifices of people could never compensate God for what they had done. Rather, its key metric was in the way it forced people to evaluate, in a tangible way, the cost of what they had done. 

Now if a person were really dedicated to loving God, they would say the cost is too high. I must rather turn away from sin and by doing so, not suffer the cost consequences. But the people never did change, they got caught up in paying to play. Their hearts remained hard, not like the hearts of flesh God wished them to have. For them, it boiled down to an equation in the Law.

To change the equation, to fully carry out the will of the Father, His Son, Jesus, had to step up and say yes. He had to give His love totally to the Father in sacrifice. By doing so He carried out the Father’s will for us. 

Jesus carried out the Father’s love mission. He destroyed the old equation of cost sacrifices and says to us, come, live in my love. St. John’s repeats Jesus’ words: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

The choice is clear. We have met our God Who gave Himself as sacrifice. We cannot pay, there is no option for that, so we must choose to dedicate ourselves to Him, to live in His love. If we make that choice, we are among those made holy by God’s perfect love gift.

In the face of God’s love, Mary served, Elizabeth proclaimed, and John leapt. In the face of God’s love, we must also serve, proclaim, and leap, not to pay, but as sign of love in our consecrated lives.

Being
shrewd.

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! “When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?

The beginning of our first reading is a perfect set up for trying to understand one of Jesus’ most difficult teachings. The reading condemns those who are literally sitting around waiting for the end of the new moon (the beginning of each Hebrew month marked as a holiday much like parts of Passover would be) or the Sabbath, so they can go back to work – and not just any work – but work that defrauds their customers. How many people do we know, so anxious about tomorrow that they miss the blessings of a Sunday? So anxious, they defraud God of the worship due Him?

Much like the thieving merchants of Amos’ time, the master and his steward were both thieves. Recall that charging interest on loans was forbidden in the Bible because it exploited the vulnerable poor, yet that is what they both did. Jesus’ hearers would know that the debt contracts of the master and steward included exorbitant interest hidden from illiterate peasants – a cut for everyone rich enough to control the terms. Today’s analogies may be high-interest student loans, credit card debt, and predatory pay-day loans. Wealthy landlords and stewards in Jesus’ day created other ways to charge interest often hiding it by rolling it into the principal. Hidden interest rates up to 50 percent! The steward, once confronted, set out to shrewdly protect himself, to act smartly for his own benefit.

All this selfishness and self-preservation, and we would think Jesus would roundly condemn all the players. Yet, oddly, Jesus doesn’t. Instead, he lauds the steward for his cleverness, with an additional complement to “children of this age” (those who were not His followers), for their shrewdness.

The lesson we can take from this teaching is that being shrewd requires we know what rules our hearts, that we know Who we serve, and that we take decisive action to change our ways in light of the coming judgment. If we serve wealth and self-preservation for their own sake, we will fail. But if we shrewdly (i.e., wisely) work for God, placing Him first in all we do – on Sundays, with money, with what we have, in acting compassionately toward the poor and suffering, we will enjoy the blessings of life with God because we cannot “serve both God and mammon.