Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sunday reflection: Some know the mind of God

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given him anything that he may be repaid?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36)

Who has known the mind of Lord? Paul answered the rhetorical question he poses in his Letter to the Romans years before in his First Letter to the Corinthians: "no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:11). More importantly, St. Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth that "we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God" (1 Cor. 2:12).

This week on Peter Herbeck's radio program, Fire on the Earth, which, along with Sr. Ann Shield's Food for the Journey, I listen to everyday on the way to work, or, failing that, the podcast before or after work, Tom Naemi, a Chaldean Christian from Iraq, who immigrated to Detroit at a young age, told his story of conversion. Prior to his conversion, Tom had been a "practicing" Chaldean Rite Catholic his entire life. It was not until he went to prison for trying blow up the store of a business rival that Tom came to know the Lord.

In the final installment of his week-long appearance on Peter's program, Tom describes his own Pentecost, which is what St. Paul describes to the Corinthians and shows that his question in Romans is really a rhetorical question, at least for those who know the Lord. While in prison, after his conversion of sorts, he attended one of Renewal ministries Life in the Spirit seminars. The next morning, as he watched television news in his cell, listening to it through an ear bud, as his Chaldean cellmate, Ray, was laying on his bunk, Tom heard the word "God" from a person on t.v. On hearing "God" he said he felt the Lord in his body. His body temperature raised and he stood up and shouted, "Jesus is in the house!" He then prayed over Ray's ailing ankle, which was healed.

The part of Tom's experience that has bearing for us today, the part transcribed, is that after praying, touching, and healing Ray's ankle, Tom relates,
"And I turned around and I could hear the Bible calling me. I pick up the Bible and it opens up to John chapter 3. And I look and Nicodemus says 'What must I do to be born again?' And Jesus says to him, 'You must be born of water and Holy Spirit to enter the kingdom of heaven.' And Nicodemus says, 'How can a grown man, an old man like me, enter his mother's womb again?' And Jesus to him, 'I truly tell you, unless you are born of water of Holy Spirit you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.' And Jesus says to him, 'Do you know where the ru'hah [which means "wind" or "Spirit" in Aramaic] comes from?' Nicodemus thinks he's talking about wind. He says, 'No, I don't know these things. How do I know where the wind comes from and where it goes?' Jesus says to him, 'You don't understand about earthly things. How will you understand if I tell you about the heavenly things? For we truly know what we're talking about.' Jesus is one person there, but He speaks in plural with Nicodemus...
All of the sudden, everything came clear. I knew the Scripture could not be written by no man. I mean they wrote it with the finger of the apostles, but it was inspired by God. God put it on their heart. I knew at that moment as though I had written that Scripture myself. I knew the Holy Spirit wrote that Scripture. And then I was in love with that Bible. I couldn't let go and I started reading for hours and hours. And my friends even came up and would literally pinch me and they were like, 'Hey, who are you?' I said, 'I'm Tom, wadda ya mean "Who are ya?".' And they were like, 'No. You're not Tom. You became a Bible-thumper. What happened to the other Tom? The tough, the angry guy who wanted to fight in the weight pit...? I said, 'That guy doesn't exist anymore.'
Tom shows us what it means to know the mind of God, through Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. He also shows us why and how we must die and be resurrected, or, using Jesus' words to Nicodemus, to be born again by water and Spirit. Those who know the mind of God, to whom the heavenly things have been revealed, don't think like those in the flesh, in the world, because they perceive differently, seeing with new eyes, the eyes of faith.

Tom goes on to say that after experiencing the love of Christ, he couldn't believe how he had lived before. He says, "I'm God's child and I was livin' like a heathen. I went to church and never knew what it meant. I never had a relationship with Christ. And now, thank you Jesus, that I'm in prison and come to know You." Tom is out of prison now and ministering, as a layman, teaching the Bible, preaching, praying, and healing.

This brings us to what Paul is saying in our passage from Romans for this twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time: To know the mind of God is grace, pure and simple. You can't earn it. You can't buy it. The Spirit, the ru'hah of God, blows where He will. Those who have opened themselves and let God in are forever in God's debt, but, paradoxically, it is a debt that makes us rich. "To him be glory forever. Amen." Alleluia!

In addition to listening to Tom's story via Fire on the Earth, Peter interviewed Tom for the 21 August 2011 episode of Renewal's television program, The Choices We Face.

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