Breaking Open the Word: Revelation Ch. 3


September 23rd, 2018: Rev. Ch. 3

               In our sharing today we picked up the pace, discussing the last three Letters to the Churches. The first of these is Christ’s searing rebuke to the Church in Sardis: “I know the reputation you have of being alive, when in fact you are dead!” (Rev. 3:1) This community is told that “the sum of your deeds is less than complete in the sight of my God” (Rev. 3:2), yet Our Lord does not specify what exactly is lacking. According to one commentary, this is connected to the exhortation at the end of each letter, “Let him who has ears heed the Spirit’s word to the churches!” (Rev. 3:6). While originally addressed to the Christians in Sardis, Our Lord makes His critique general enough to allow the Spirit to move each and every reader to self-examination. We can each ask ourselves, “where have my deeds been ‘less than complete’?” Christ is calling each of us to an ever-deeper conversion; in fact, one translation reads “less than perfect,” recalling Jesus’ command to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”

               We spent the longest amount of time discussing the beautiful Letter to the Church of Philadelphia. One Sister shared how she found Our Lord’s words, “I know that your strength is limited” (Rev. 3:8) particularly consoling. He is not a distant God, but one who knows intimately our frail human nature and has mercy on our weaknesses.  In fact, despite our lack of strength, He wishes to draw us into the life of the Trinity even here on earth! During our earthly lives we do so by minding Christ’s command to “Hold fast to what you have lest someone rob you of your crown” (Rev. 3:11), but in Heaven it will be He who holds us: “My soul clings to You; Your right hand holds me fast.” (Psalm 63:9)

               The theme of the “open door” in verses 7-8 inspired two different but equally beautiful interpretations. One Sister saw it as the “narrow gate” referred to Our Lord, the pathway to salvation. While we are still free to go out (the door is not yet closed), the task of our life on earth is to stay in the kingdom which Christ has opened for us. Another Sister had a different way of seeing this same image, based on her study of some retreat notes written by Pope Francis before he was elected Pope. In classic Pope Francis style, he sees this open door as an invitation to go out and preach the Gospel; we cannot remain locked in by our fear of public opinion, but must leave the safety of the “Upper Room” and bring Christ to the world!

At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.
— Heb. 12:11 (NAB)

               Last of all came what is probably the most well-known of the Letters to the Churches, the Letter to Laodicea. “Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of My mouth!” (Rev. 3:15) Now that can prick anyone’s conscience! However, the true beauty of this letter lies in its depiction of divine mercy in verse 20: “Here I stand, knocking at the door. If anyone hears Me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him, and he with Me.” God does not wait for us to turn to Him; He seeks us out and offers us unconditional love, even when we are utterly unworthy of it. Sometimes we, like Laodicea, have fallen into complacency and gotten comfortable with sin in our lives. In these cases God may have to send us a correction, but we do well to remember His underlying motive: “Whoever is dear to Me I reprove and chastise.” (Rev. 3:19)

               Chapter 3 brings us to the end of the first major section of Revelation, the messages to the Churches concerning “what is happening” (Rev. 1:19).  We hope you’ll join us again next week as we begin to study St. John’s visions of the liturgy of Heaven and “what must happen afterwards” (Rev. 4:1) in Chapters 4-5.