20th Tuesday in Ordinary Time
In the closing chapter of the Rule, St Benedict writes: “What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?” This applies to the readings this morning, which are not only about Gideon and Peter. They are in some sense guides for our own life, and they tell us about you and me, as well as about Gideon and Peter.
In the first reading, we are told that the Lord turned to Gideon and said, Go with the strength you have; it is I who send you. Gideon asked, Lord, how can I? The Lord replied, I shall be with you. Gideon then said to him, Give me a sign that you are speaking with me. Do not depart until I bring out my offering and set it before you. So Gideon prepares his offering and puts it on a rock. Fire comes up from the rock and consumes his offering, showing that the Lord accepted it, and Gideon experiences peace.
Now this passage can also be read as a guide to the monastic vocation. Like Gideon, every monk has also received a call from the Lord. In whatever obscure way, he recognizes that the Lord has turned to him and said something like, “Go with the strength you have and enter the monastery”. Often there is an interior protest: “Lord, how can I become a monk? What about my family?” And in some way the Lord responds, “I shall be with you”.
It’s only human to continue as Gideon did, “Give me a sign that this is really a call from the Lord. Do not depart, I pray, until I bring out my offering of myself and set it before you”. And the Lord stays with the person until the community discerns that the call is from the Lord. They allow the monk to make vows and put his profession formula on the rock which is the altar of the church, at a celebration of the Eucharist. Incense is placed on burning coals, and the smoke comes up from the altar, showing that the Lord accepts the monk’s offering. Mercy and faithfulness have met: the mercy of God looks down from heaven, and faithfulness springs up from the heart of the monk.
Then Peter speaks for many monks: We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us? This is the Peter who would later deny three times that he knew the Lord. He had a genuine call from the Lord, but his conversion was a continuous process, and it’s the same with us. God calls us as he called Gideon and Peter, knowing our high aspirations and our failings, our sinful past, our great hopes, and all of our lower tendencies, because all of these must be offered up in a purifying fire, if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.
God wants not another Gideon or another Peter but a real human being to appear in his presence, someone who can react to his purifying grace with tears of recognition (as we heard last night in the abbot’s chapter talk). He wants to see a real person before him, because otherwise there will be nothing to be transformed by grace, nothing to be learned in the school of the Lord’s service. The monastic life is not for saints but for sinners, whom the Lord has called just as they are, because for God all things are possible.
Let us turn to him in our hearts at this Eucharist, and pray that the fire of his love may consume our unresponsiveness, so that we may come to know Adonai-shalom, that “the Lord is Peace”.