June 29, 2008

Poured Out and Scraped Over


In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes that he is "alredy being poured out like a libation". Paul knows that he is nearly done his work and will soon be martyred - his blood will be poured out. The description he uses - poured out like a libation" - is reminiscent of Christ's blood flowing out after being pierced in the side. (John 19:34)

It reminds me, too, of a line from The Lord of the Rings. You need not have read the books (though, why not?) to appreciate the seniment. Bilbo Baggins, nearing the end of his life, describes himself as feeling "like butter scraped over too much bread". I would guess that most of us have felt that way, at one time or another - thin and stretched out, too much given and not enough left. What a contrast to Paul's words at the end!

Both suggest something ending - the butter and wine are both nearly out - but there is a very different character to each description. Bilbo is weary from the (unintentional, unknown) evil infleunce on his life. Paul feels the impact of the influence of the Holy Spirit that has been guiding him. Bilbo is scraped - a harsh word, and one that suggests a lack. Paul is poured - a gentle word suggesting a bounty. Both are running out of time on earth but Paul has finished the race. In his own words, "I have competed well... I have kept the faith."

On this Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, think about the lesson in those words. We are all finite beings, and we all come to an end eventually, as God wills. In the first reading (Acts 12:1-11), we find James dying but Peter being rescued. James' race was over at that point, but Peter had more to do. That says nothing bad about James. He finished the race!

The end comes for everyone, even the holiest of men, hand-picked by God - and even for you and I. We cannot choose to have a longer race, but we can choose how and if we complete it. Our goal is not to cross first but to cross at all - to stumbled over the finish line and fall into the arms of Christ.

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