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Obsessed with the Gospel
Preparing for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Two Days before Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 119:105-112
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 32:1-10
Epistle: Romans 15:14-21
Psalter: Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13
Old Testament: Isaiah 48:6-11
Epistle: Romans 15:14-21
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. Nevertheless, on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. For I will not be so bold as to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him shall see,
and those who have never heard of him shall understand” (Romans 15:14-21).
Have you ever known someone who was obsessed? Perhaps someone who’s obsessed with making more and more money and seems to live each day with that one purpose in mind. Perhaps others are obsessed with a hobby or playing golf or working on automobiles. Some people become obsessed with other people, a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Some spouses can be controllingly and jealously obsessed.
In general, obsessions are not good. Alex Lickerman writes,
At its worst, obsession is an iron mask that permits us to gaze in only one direction at one thing—or, to use another metaphor, a giant tidal wave that crashes through our minds and washes away all other concerns. We may become obsessed with a person, a place, a goal, a subject—but obsession amounts to the same thing in all cases: addiction.
But can there be good obsessions?
One thing is clear from the letters of Saint Paul. He is Jesus obsessed. The only thing in life that Paul seems to want to know is Christ and to make him known. He tells the Romans at the end of his letter,
I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the gentiles by word, indeed by the power of signs and wonders by the power of the spirit of god.
For Paul, Jesus has so changed his life and so transformed his world that it appears he desires nothing but that which will bring focus and attention to his Lord and Savior.
It’s never a good idea to psychologically profile a person one does not know, particularly an individual long dead; but I have to say that if I knew Paul personally, I would think of him as a high maintenance friend. I might even counsel the great Apostle that he needed a little balance in life. If I were Paul’s friend, I could imagine myself trying to get him to lighten up a little bit. Paul doesn’t strike me as one who had much of a sense of humor. I don’t believe that he was much into small talk. I can’t imagine just asking Paul about the weather. I see him is too intense, too focused, and too obsessed with the mission God has given him to be deterred from it in any way. I wonder if Paul’s physical and emotional health suffered from his obsession? I don’t think Paul was very good at self-care.
But I wonder if Saint Paul was just the kind of person Jesus needed to take his gospel to the larger world, to convince his fellow Jews that the gospel was open to the gentiles. Perhaps only an obsessed Paul could convince the gentiles to believe the scandalous message that a first century Jewish peasant crucified for treason was the Savior of the world? I wonder if only a determined, stubborn, and singularly focused individual was the kind of person Christ needed to break open the gentile world for the gospel?
I don’t believe that obsession in general is a good thing, but I’m open enough to the surprising ways of God to know that God could perhaps and even did use Paul’s obsessive nature to further his mission in this world; and if obsession is the best word to characterize Paul’s life then I say that, at least in this case, thank God for that obsession.
PRAYER: Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
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