Our faith revolves around emphasis. Since at this point in history we all basically live in the same world, we all experience a lot of the same “stuff.” It’s up to us to choose what we zero in on and what we ignore. Faith helps us make those choices. Yet, even within faith we have choices. Carroll Stuhimueller often stressed that church reformers never bring new ideas into the community. They simply latch on to something on the outskirts of our daily faith and pull it to the center, while at the same time pushing what had been at the center to the outskirts.
This certainly was the case with hymns we sang before and after Vatican II. I’ll never forget the moment in 1966 when I first heard my seminary classmate Pete Scholtes’ They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love. Having grown up in the Lord, I Am Not Worthy era of sacred music, I immediately did a faith double-take. Not just the music and guitar accompaniment were different, Pete’s now-classic lyrics forced me to “look at things” I hadn’t much noticed before. Instead of just singing God or Jesus’ praises, there was an emphasis on what we could accomplish if we lovingly worked side by side with others and the risen Jesus in our lives.
Of course, when we deal with Scripture’s myriad of theologies, we shouldn’t be surprised to surface a myriad of emphases, some with which we agree, some with which we disagree.
For instance, lots of women today will have problems with our Proverbs author’s picture of the ideal wife, even after our “liturgical selectors” have doctored up the passage by omitting some of the more objectionable lines, e.g. “She is girt about with strength, and sturdy are her arms.” In our two-income, communication- based 2l’ century environment I don’t think many wives would focus on the same elements which our fifth century BCE theologian emphasizes.
On the other hand, Matthew’s Jesus gives us an insight in today’s gospel pericope which is good for all ages. Jesus is demonstrating what it’s like to have God present and working in our daily lives. Presuming all of us have been gifted by God with specific talents and abilities, he stresses that God is most at work in the community when everyone spends his or her life developing those talents and abilities. Those who return them undeveloped to God will have a steep price to pay. I presume God will be just as harsh with those who, because of race, gender or marital status, restrict others from developing and using their gifts for the community’s good.
Paul tells us in our I Thessalonians’ passage that it’s easy for even good-intentioned people to break their concentration on what Jesus believes is important. In this earliest of Christian writers, the distraction is Jesus’ Second Coming. Some in Thessalonica are spending so much time and effort calculating the exact time and place of Jesus’ arrival that they’re ignoring what’s essential to being other Christs.
Paul first warns abut the unexpectedness of the Parousia, then reminds his community, “You are children of the light and children of the day. . . . Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.” God’s light in our lives helps us to see things which those “in darkness” never notice.
I, and many others in the church thank Pete Scholtes for using his God-given talents to shine that light in our direction 42 years ago.