B Cycle – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 15

Many times we listen to a reading and fail to hear what God is desperately trying to convey to us. Listen once again to God in today’s first reading as he speaks to hearts that are frightened.” You may not think our hearts are frightened but they are. I learned this truth about our hearts by sitting by the bedside of those dying as they express their hope for God’s mercy. I learned this about our hearts by sitting with those in care facilities. Men and women who have outlived family and friends and wonder why they are still alive as they express their fear of God’s punishment for sins committed decades ago. I learned this about our hearts by sitting with men and women whose spouse left them broken, uncertain of the future.  I learned this about our hearts by praying with those who have been told that they or a loved one has “cancer” and they are frightened of what the future holds. I learned this about our hearts as I have sat with parents whose child has just died and I have felt the depth of their despair.

Yes we are a people who live with uncertainty and doubt and fear. Yet God speaks to us and says “be strong, fear not – I am here.” He reaffirms a promise that he will always be with us offering us “vindication and divine recompense.” Divine recompense is ours but what is divine recompense. The word can be a verb or a noun. It can be a payment for a service rendered or a restoration of something lost. Brothers and sisters we have lost something; we have lost intimacy with God; we have lost what God provided for us when he created us in his image – we have lost our former glory.

When did we lose all of this? We lost that and more with the sin of Adam. We know we were created by God; we know we were placed in paradise. We also know that because of the sin of “doing it on our own” we lost it all. What do I mean by “doing it on our own”? Think back to the words that the tempter used to make Adam and Eve fall. Of all the things in the garden it was only the fruit of the tree of knowledge that Adam and Eve could not eat. Yet it is the very things denied to us that we crave and desire more than anything else.

The tempter knows this about our nature. So he says to Adam and Eve, “if you eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge you will not die but you will become like God’s.” But they were already God like. They were already created above all other creatures; made in the image and glory of God – they were his ultimate creation and they were given dominion of all things he created. What more could they desire? They could not stand not having the one thing God denied them – the fruit of the tree of knowledge. So they and ever man and woman, who followed them, including us, lost everything God destined for us.

But God reminds us that his plan for us has never changed. He reaffirms this when he offers us divine recompense; “to restore us to our former glory and to save us.” He continues by saying, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.”

These things are not things he has done for others, God is promising those things are the fruit of the divine recompense freely given to us. It is what Christ said of himself when he read from the scroll from the prophet Isaiah when he began his ministry on earth. He said he came “To bring good news to the afflicted; …to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” (Is. 61:1)

But more was promised by God through the gift of his Son. He says we will “rejoice greatly in the LORD, our souls will exult in God; because he has clothed us with garments of salvation and has wrapped us with a robe of righteousness” (Is. 61:10). My brothers and sisters, we do not have to live in fear or uncertainty about future or present things. God has given us the one thing we most need in our lives: he has given us back our glory.

Those pools that will appear in the burning sands; those rivers in the steppes and the thirsty ground all bring life to what is dead. This is what is offered to us – abundant life. How do we get this divine recompense? We must accept the free gift of salvation given us because of life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is because Christ obediently died for our sins that we are filled with hope, joy, peace and a knowing boldness.

What we must do after accepting the free gift of salvation is to live our lives in a manner that brings glory to God. We must deny our desire to satisfy self, even when the things we are tempted by seem so good. We must also understand that we will always sin and fall short of the glory God desires for us (Rom. 3:23).

But we also should understand that what awaits us is not punishment but divine recompense. What God does for us is to embrace us after we fall short and clothe us with the garment of salvation (the first act of the prodigal sons father was to clothe the son). Then we must once more accept what God is freely giving us – life with God (the prodigal son wanted to be a slave in his father’s house but instead he was given back his birthright).

Let us take this message of divine recompense to heart and let us take this message to those still hoping, those still despairing; those still angry, hurt, fearful and doubting. The message is that God desires to restore us not destroy us.

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