Psa 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14
Each of today’s readings is about the divine invitation to participate in the mercy of God. The shepherd Amos was taken by God and made a spokesman, a prophet. Like so many other prophets, Amos was reluctant. “God gives him a shove,” writes Father Hans Urs von Balthasar of everyone who is called by God, “and unless he deliberately ignores it, he will notice it.” We, like Amos, are often hesitant; we might try to find excuses; we may seek to deflect the call. But Amos did finally accept the call, and he was chased out of the Northern Kingdom by the high priest, Amaziah.
Saying “yes” to God is often a prelude to being told “no” by those who hear God’s word. When Jesus summoned the Twelve Apostles and sent them out in pairs, he prepared them for rejection: “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them” (Mk 6:11). Those entrusted with the Gospel are not guaranteed success, though they are promised challenges and even persecution. Being a prophet, an apostle or a disciple consists of being faithful to the message entrusted by God as well as being transformed by the word of God.
Being called and being converted are inseparable. But so are being called and being blessed. The apostle Paul, writing to the Church in Ephesus, situates this divine calling within a panoramic vision of salvation history. Disciples of Christ, he wrote, are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:3-4). The initiative of God and the passivity of man are even further emphasized in Paul’s declaration: “In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:4-5).
The reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a lengthy, poetic prayer of thanksgiving, based on the Jewish “berakah,” or prayer of blessing. It is a remarkable summary of God’s plan of salvation, focused on four essential realities.
The first is divine election, by which God has chosen “us in him, before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). The mystery of predestination is indeed difficult, for it involves the very mystery of God and his perfect knowledge, which is beyond our understanding. Predestination is a call to faith and fortitude, for those who succumb to presumption may well end in ruin.
The second is divine adoption, by which we become children of God by grace, filled with the life and power of the Holy Spirit because of the unique, saving work of the Son. This remarkable gift is due to God’s mercy and love, and it leads to the proper praise of God and his glory (Eph 1:5-6).
The third is redemption, which is the freedom won by the death and resurrection of Christ, breaking the death grip of sin (Eph 1:7-8). Put another way, redemption is the forgiveness of sins, offered to all men, for God desires all men to be saved (1 Tm 2:4).
The fourth reality is divine revelation, which is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, entrusted to the apostles and made known through the Church to all the world. Paul refers to this revelation as “the mystery” of God’s will and plan, which are finally revealed at the proper time — again, to be completed in Christ, “in heaven and on earth” (Eph 1:9-10). And so the divine initiative comes full circle, sent forth by God and fulfilled by the God-man, so that mankind might return to communion with God forever.
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the July 1, 2015 edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper in a slightly different form.)