Straining Forward – Fifth Sunday of Lent –
The second reading for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. It is quintessential Paul. He repeats some of the themes that he covers in other letters. Philippians 3:8-14 is one of my personal favourites from Saint Paul, one of my “go to” passages.
Paul reminds all of us about the wisdom of, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” We all know about Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. If someone so focused on persecuting Christianity could abandon his ways, that path is open to any of us.
There are terrorists and rebels throughout the world who are clearly proactive in their opposition to Christianity. It is an almost daily occurrence for us to hear about people being persecuted or executed simply because of their faith in Christ.
We have to believe that even someone in ISIS could let go of his ways and experience a change of heart. In our culture we are more likely to encounter individuals who are not so proactive in persecution, but, rather, are indifferent to Christianity. Their conversions are more likely.
They could experience a change of heart because of an illness, an encounter with someone close to them, falling in love with a person of faith, becoming a parent and being softened by the experience, encountering a major event such as 9/11 or reading a book which makes them think in a whole new and unexpected way.
The reading from Philippians is strong on Paul’s rootedness in Christ. “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He goes on, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.”
He reminds his readers that he was once solidly rooted in the law. Now he is rooted in the person of Christ. Perfection and righteousness aren’t as easily attained in this new life as they were in his old life.
Therefore, the remaining verses of this excerpt use the language of striving. I think that’s why I fall back on this reading. Like many of us, I desire perfection in my life. But I know that I can’t achieve it. There is always something that keeps me imperfect.
That’s okay. That’s the only thing that can keep me dependant on God. But I can strive for a more perfect life. So, I decide over and over again that starting tomorrow I’ll lead a perfect life.
I’ll eat just the right things. I’ll be better organized. I’ll be a nicer person. I won’t lie. I’ll be a kinder and more compassionate person. I’ll really listen to the other person. I’ll exercise more. I’ll quit drinking.
But that tomorrow is elusive. Okay then, I’ll start on New Years Day. Or I’ll definitely start on Ash Wednesday. I may fail over and over, but it is essential that I not abandon the striving.
Paul had the self-knowledge to be able to say, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached my goal; but I press on to make it my own.”
Are we able to press on? Paul says, “Straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God.”