WORD OF FAITH
Gifts seen and unseen
REV. ROGER KARBAN
"Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the
mountains quaking before you..." Isaiah 63: 19
Both Paul and Mark work from a
premise most Christians today don't hold: that Jesus is returning in the
Parousia during our lifetime. At the same time, both presume something
all Christians through the centuries should believe, yet find difficult
to accept: that God has given us specific talents to build up the Body
of Christ, no matter when Jesus returns.
Throughout history, followers of Yahweh have been convinced that God
expects them to do certain things and not others. Five hundred years
before Jesus' birth, Third-Isaiah, like Paul and Mark, expects a moment
of judgment (Isaiah 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7).
Though not on the level of Jesus' Parousia, the prophet is convinced
Yahweh will do something dramatic to demonstrate His presence among His
people. When that salvific event takes place, Yahweh's people will stand
out in contrast to others by the actions they perform.
"Would that you would meet us doing right," the prophet pleads, "that we
were mindful of you in our ways!....We have all withered like leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls
upon your name, who cause themselves to cling to you."
Though Paul agrees with Third-Isaiah's warning, as a follower of
Jesus he adds another dimension to what God expects of us (I Corinthians
1:3-9). The problem he faces in Corinth is that some have used their
gifts not to build up the community but to tear it apart.
Paul never "prays for vocations." He's convinced what the community
needs from God, the community already has: "The witness I have to Christ
has been so confirmed among you that you lack no spiritual gift as you
wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The Apostle would be amazed that when our children are confirmed they're
taught to memorize not his "gifts of the Holy Spirit" which we find in I
Corinthians 12, but the gifts of the perfect Jewish king which we find
in Isaiah 11. Instead of prophecy, healing and administration, they're
expected to learn about piety, counsel and fear of the Lord. Makes us
wonder if we really know what gifts the Spirit is providing us.
In Paul's view of the Church, all his I Corinthians 12 spiritual gifts
are already present in every local community. Leaders simply are
expected to have the gift of first recognizing others' gifts, then
employing their talents and abilities for the good of all.
That seems to be one of the reasons Mark's Jesus makes an issue of
watchfulness (Mark 13:33-37). Mark warns, "Do not let Him come suddenly
and catch you asleep. What I say to you, I say to all: Be on guard!"
Integrating Paul and Mark's insights, we better understand how God works
in our lives. Instead of prayerfully demanding God provide us the gifts
we think we need, in the way we need them, we're to be alert to a God
who constantly showers us with the gifts He thinks we need, in the way
He believes we need them.
St. Louis University Scripture professor Frank Cleary once remarked in
class that we often find ourselves praying fervently for rain while
we're standing in the middle of a downpour holding an umbrella over our
heads. Perhaps we should pray more fervently for leaders who will help
us fold up our umbrellas.