Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Choice of words
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the June 19, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I was in trouble. I could tell from that “dog-look” (you know, that tilt of head and furrowed frown) on the faces of several members of the congregation that my homily had just veered off course. At least, something told me that my choice of words needed a brief explanation before I could move on.
My homiletic sin: referring to the Ascension and Pentecost as essential moments in God’s “economy of salvation.” The aim of my words was to invite the congregation into a richer awareness of how God has blessed us with fullness of life in what sometimes are neglected pages in the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth. The proclamation of the Gospel is incomplete without them. We, the faithful disciples of Jesus, do not give full testimony to God’s saving love if all that motivates us to action in the here-and-now is the mere memory of one who was born, preached, worked miracles, and died. Such an incomplete narrative runs the danger of using the Resurrection as a glorious fade-out of Jesus from human history as he returns to a distant heavenly throne. Indeed, how we believers understand the “economy of God’s salvation” has a direct impact on how we live now in an ongoing relationship with the Jesus of history.
Economy was the stumbling block. In its secular use, economy is one of those general concepts that represents a rather complex interplay of many forces. It isn’t something that one can find sitting on the shelf at the grocery store. The economy is more like a group effort in which everyone gets to play, and which then has an effect on everyone involved (for better or for worse). “The functional arrangement of elements within a structure or system.” That is how Mr. Webster tells it. Now, how’s that for an abstract concept! My head tilts a little at that one, too.
When we hear economy we all automatically think of money, buying, selling, stocks and bonds, banking, and other elements related to financial institutions. So I can understand the puzzlement of folks, then, when I linked God, salvation, and economy in the same sentence.
I clearly remember when I first encountered the concept. One of my seminary professors often referred to the “economy of salvation.” Confused by his rather strong accent, at first I thought he was using some ancient Greek or Hebrew word, but more careful listening revealed that his choice of words was quite purposeful.
Applying the same phraseology in my homily, which obviously had left an impression, I borrowed an image which I had come to appreciate for its richness. But the look I received from those members of the congregation set me to reflecting afterwards about the wisdom of using a word like “economy” to describe God’s unfolding plan of salvation.
Regardless of the choice of words to describe the reality of God’s saving work in the world, the reality remains the same. Further reflection has convinced me that my professor had chosen an absolutely correct word to describe that reality. Salvation, or “economy of salvation,” is indeed a general concept that represents a rather complex interplay of many forces. All of us are participants, and all of us benefit from what God has done for humankind, particularly in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. But must we not add to the narrative his Ascension and Gift of the Holy Spirit? Our understanding of the economy of salvation would not be complete without including them.
The economic structure of any nation has its identifiable parts. The full reality of what’s going on cannot be grasped fully without taking into consideration all these parts and their interplay. So, too, it is with the economy of salvation – as my seminary professor used to insist. It is easy for us Christians to identify a single aspect of the story of salvation, seeing all of God’s action solely from that narrow vantage point. His point was important: God’s action of saving presence in our world must be seen from a broader perspective than just a single one. All of the elements must be seen together. Jesus was not just conceived, born, lived, ministered, died, and rose. Most of us have these parts of the story down well.
If that’s all there is to the story, however, then God’s economy of salvation falls short. There are two more elements: the Ascension
of Jesus and the imparting of the Holy Spirit. Without them, the story of salvation is in danger of being but an historical memory. It would
not be totally without its effect – but there is more. In God’s plan of salvation, Jesus returns to his heavenly Father precisely in order
that the Holy Spirit could be sent upon us believers who, in turn, minister with a living Christ until the end of time. The Ascension of Jesus
and Pentecost are the last chapters in God’s unfolding plan of salvation – until “The End” flashes on the screen of history. The Ascension
and Pentecost are intimately connected with the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. They bless us with partnership with God in the
salvation of the world. They convert the memory of Jesus and his redemption into God’s continuing act of saving grace for our world, precisely
through us believers who have life in God’s Holy Spirit.
There is something very incomplete in our understanding of God’s economy of salvation until it comes alive in us and we are moved into action by the Holy Spirit given by the ascended and risen Lord. That, in fact, has happened. All that remains is for believing disciples to open their hearts, embrace God’s saving presence and get to work. The persisting question to be pondered is not “What would Jesus do if he were here?” (WWJD) but “What is Jesus doing in me here and now?” (WIJD). By the grace of God’s Holy Spirit, we Christian are called to be agents of an economy which does far more exciting things than amass bank accounts and raise standards of living. We Christians are agents of eternal life!
(Father Savelesky is Moderator of the Curia of the Diocese of Spokane, and pastor of the parishes in Oakesdale, Rosalia, St. John, and Tekoa.)
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