Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

“‘The one who has the seven spirits of God
and the seven stars says this: “I know your works,
that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die,
for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.
Remember then how you accepted and heard; keep it, and repent.

The great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber is remembered for his book, “I and Thou.” He, John Macmurray and other twentieth century philosophers have tried to reintroduce the spiritual into the scientific, to reinsert such mysteries as love, faith and wisdom into that which we call knowledge. Where the scientist speaks of facts and supposes that all knowledge is factual, these philosophers speak of relationships between human persons.

Buber taught that the human being is found in two relationships, the I-Thou and the I-it. The I-it has to do with they, he, she or it; the I-thou concerns you and me. The I of the I-thou and the I-it are not the same I; and there is no I that is neither I-Thou or I-it. No one can exist in isolation from relationships.

When you and I speak with one another attentively, respectfully and openly we engage in an I-Thou relationship. This conversation has a timeless quality about it for it is an opening to eternity. However, if we attempt to manipulate or use one another, treating each other as objects to serve our own ends, this is an I-it relationship. It may be necessary at times, as when a surgeon works on me. But it’s necessarily a temporary relationship because it has no opening to eternity.

I mention Buber’s insight because it helps me to understand the challenge we have heard today, “You have the reputation of being alive but you are dead.”

The ephemeral I-Thou allows a glimpse into eternity but inevitably passes, becoming only a memory. It exists neither in the past nor the future. There are no souvenirs of past love; and good intentions for tomorrow count for nothing today.

The “one who has the seven spirits of God” accuses the Sardinian Christians of enjoying their reputation for past piety; however they have not remained in the continual presence of God.

This should not sound unfamiliar to anyone who enjoys a mutual relationship of love. Invariably one will complain to the other, “You don’t love me as you used to; you don’t pay attention to me as you did; you’re here but you’re not here with me.” We can hear that sadness in God’s calling Adam, “Where are you?”

This sacred relationship is not subject to the will which might demand its appearance. You cannot say, “I’ve read Buber’s book; I want that and I will have it!” Rather, it is a gift; the best we can do is dispose ourselves to receive the gift.

Apparently the Sardinians had lost their first fervor and had failed to notice the loss. They assumed they were keeping faith despite their growing lassitude. There is no magic formula for keeping one’s edge but a willingness to be rebuked from time to time helps. We have no historical record of the Sardinian response to this Revelation but we can formulate our own.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.