A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Reacting to signs

For most of us who love God (or at least say we do), the dialogue between King Ahaz and the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading is astounding. Ahaz is being offered a blank check from God: a generous, open-ended offer of cosmic dimensions.

Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God;
let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!

And Ahaz turns God down.

I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!

On one level, Ahaz is making a specious show of piety, possibly referring to Deuteronomy 6:16: “You shall not put the LORD, your God, to the test…”

But of course, that’s exactly what Ahaz is doing: putting God’s patience to the test.

Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary people,
must you also weary my God?

Ahaz does not want God to give him a sign because he does not want to see or hear anything that would deflect him from the direction he has set for his life. Moreover, he feels more comfortable following and relying on earthly allies (who murder their own children) than following and relying on the ways of the Lord.

The contrast between Ahaz in today’s first reading and Saint Joseph in today’s Gospel could not be greater. Joseph simply accepts the angelic sign from his dream and goes against the ways of earthly men (especially for that time and place): taking as his wife a woman already pregnant with a child who is not his.

That was not the direction Joseph had set for his life, but he would rather do what the Lord wanted him to do because he loved and trusted the Lord for his ultimate happiness.

Most of us would prefer to think we are more like Saint Joseph than King Ahaz, but too often we are the ones who ignore the signs God gives us.

We go through life focused on the direction we have set: our goals and plans for this day, what we’re going to do this week, what we want out of life period. Too often, what influences the direction of our lives, even minute by minute, is not the will of God but the way of the world: the culture, our friends, what’s popular, what’s convenient, and, of course, our own selfish desires.

Even if we live basically “good” lives, we are not always perfectly attuned to the signs God gives us. We may dissent from this or that teaching. We may rationalize this or that behavior or “temporary lapse” (may God have mercy on us all).

Even those among us who feel themselves to be the most orthodox and moral (very good things indeed) may not always be perfectly attuned to all the signs God gives us. We may be so focused on particular tasks or a day’s particular agenda that we fail to see or hear God telling us to do another task: perhaps to pray for a particular person, to speak a particular word of faith in a particular situation, to do a specific act of true Christian kindness, or to dedicate our entire lives in a special way to the heroic service of God and his people.

Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God;
let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!