Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people, for not all have faith. (2 Thes 3:1-2)
The New Evangelization is risky business. We the Church living in modern times are asked to bring modern man into the Church by engaging modernity. Direct engagement by the Church is nothing new. It has been the evangelical approach of the Church ever since the missionary activities of Ss. Peter and Paul. The peril of engagement however has always been (since apostolic times) how to “disengage” when one draws too close to the world and to its spiritually-diminishing influence.
We read in the Old Testament how Israel entered the promised land of Canaan under the instruction of God. The Israelites were directed to destroy all remnants of the pagan faith in order to avoid coming under their influence. Modern sensibilities may find such violence disturbing; however we should understand that the land of Canaan had been irreparably desecrated through idolatry. Israel was sent into Canaan to be an instrument of justice in the same way the staff of Moses treated the heathen pride of Egypt. Israel was forged in the desert of Sinai with God’s law so that it might bring spiritual purity into an land thoroughly obdurate in rebellious impurity.
Upon escaping from Egypt, the children of Jacob formed a covenant with God so that upon entering Canaan they would make it into and keep it as a holy land. Through the sincere practice of the Ten Commandments the Israelites were to purify not only the land they beheld, but the earth itself by becoming a light to the nations (Is 42:6). However, not long after Joshua died the Israelites began to lose their way (Judg 2:1-2). Even their wisest king, Solomon, fell under idol worship (1 Kg 11:1-6). Sadly, the ancestors of the Israelites escaped the bondage of Egyptian paganism only to have their descendants return to it whole heartedly through Canaanite heathenism.
In today’s reading, just as Paul prays for the evangelization of the Word, he also prays that he and his flock may escape the idolatry of the world. Paul makes it clear that those who do not have faith are always at risk of falling into perversity and wickedness. Not only this, but Paul asks for prayers so that he might be delivered from the wicked.
Thus, in accord with our quotation above taken from today’s second reading, we place on our bulletin cover for this 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time a work by the Dutch Master, Albrecht Durer, entitled Lot’s Escape (1496). This work leaps forward out of the somber Northern Renaissance and into the glow of fantasy literature with its mellifluous colors and its fantastic imagery. It as if Durer has painted a fable for us. This is not far from the truth as he uses the historical event of the escape of Lot from Sodom as a lesson of encouragement to all Christians to abandon lifestyles of sin and friendships that trap one in sin.
As we go forward to evangelize the world we must often move among an irrational and faithless people. Therefore, just as Jesus told his apostles to move on and shake the dust from their feet, so too must we never settle down by pitching our tents in sloth among the wayward (2 Cor 5:1-4).
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services