Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This week’s readings show us a remarkable series of patterns. Let me speak about two of them.
The second chapter of the Book of Judges is a kind of executive summary of the rest of the book. Israel forgets the mighty deeds of God and falls into sin. When Israel sins, the people are conquered by another nation as punishment for their sin. Israel then cries out to God. God raises up a judge, who saves the people and restores them to freedom. Then the cycle starts over again! There are 12 judges in the book, and this cycle is repeated seven times. In the Bible, symbolic numbers like that are meant to draw our attention! They generally signify that not only did these things happen, there was also a lesson in them.
Patterns in the physical world often reveal physical laws. Patterns in Israel’s history usually reveal lessons about the covenant. Similarly, when we see patterns in the spiritual life, they often reveal the spiritual laws of human flourishing. The readings for the week show us one such spiritual pattern.
This week, we hear about Ruth. She left her father, mother and homeland to follow the widow Naomi to Israel. There, she became the mother of Obed, the grandfather of David — the greatest king in Israel’s history. She gave up something precious; she received something more.
This week we also hear about the Rich Young Man. Jesus invited him to give up his material possessions and follow Him. Unwilling to do so, the man walked away sad. He clung to something precious; he missed out on something more.
Finally, this week, we hear about the apostles. They gave up everything to follow Jesus. What did they gain? Jesus Himself tells them, “everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.” They gave up precious things; they received the greatest gift of all.
Let’s think, for a moment, about what that pattern means for our own spiritual life. For example, we fast for an hour before receiving Communion. It’s a small gesture. But it contains the seed of an important lesson. What do we give up? Eating and drinking. What do we receive? The Body of Christ.
It’s important to realize that this is not simply a rule of the Church. It is a rule. But the rule is based on a biblical pattern, and it’s meant to lead us into one of the laws of the spiritual life. When we give up something precious, it prepares us to receive something more. The question becomes, will we let that spiritual law guide our lives?
When we give up money for a cause, we get back much more than we give. When we give up time and energy for a cause, we get back much more than we give. If we were to give up the worldly focus of our lives, and offer it to Jesus, what would we receive in return?
I urge us all to consider this biblical pattern, the spiritual law it reveals, and what it might mean for flourishing in our life of faith.