The small group of pebbles huddled together in the miner’s pan. They shivered with fear in anticipation of the miner’s huge fingers dipping their way into the pile. Many of them had been through this before. They knew that certain members of their group would be picked up and removed from them forever. They heard rumors of what happened next to their selected “buddies.” A white-hot furnace was waiting to consume them for some unknown reason. This furnace was called the “refiner’s fire.”
Why were some of them “punished” in such a terrible way? Why didn’t the miner just leave them in their comfortable bed at the bottom of a cool, flowing stream? None of them were able to come up with an answer to this question.
The miner, however, saw a much bigger picture than the rocks were able to see. When he dipped his huge fingers into this little assembly of rocks he looked for those that had gold buried inside them. By selecting the “golden” ones, he was honoring, not punishing, them. These were the chosen ones who, after going through the refiner’s fire, would be handed to a goldsmith, who in turn would form them into part of a beautiful icon surrounding the face of Jesus.
In today’s first reading (Wisdom 2:23-3:9) the inspired author tries to give us human “pebbles” God’s loving vision for our lives—including a perspective on suffering and death.
“God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made them. But by the envy of the Devil, death entered the world…But the souls of the just are in the hand of God…their passing away was thought an affliction…But they are at peace.”
Death was not part of God’s original plan. Every pebble was golden, and refiners’ fires did not exist. In the midst of death, however, God planted seeds of hope. When his huge fingers dip into a pan of pebbles, he is lovingly selecting those who have the gold of his presence hidden inside them. What the community of pebbles thought as a tragedy was, in fact, hope coming to fulfillment. The “just” pebbles were taken to a realm of peace.
“For, if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.”
God is picky. He uses only those metals that are worthy of surrounding the face of Jesus. And even gold must first be refined so as to become worthy of him—a sacrificial offering. Words like “tried,” “proved,” and “tested” refer to the process of refinement, not to some kind of challenge or test that God gives people.
His sacred art is ever growing. He is always in need of more gold to glorify the face of his son. Daily he dips his huge fingers into the sea of humanity and selects pebbles to be put at his service. Though the world interprets this process as punishment, those who are selected realize that it is the invitation to immortality. Those pebbles that remain in the miner’s pan are tossed back into the stream and, there, submitted to the process of erosion. They become just a part of the minerals of nature—merely mortal.
“Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect.”
What words of hope—especially for those of us feeling the pain of the refiner’s furnace! We holy ones trust because we understand the miner’s purpose. And, we are never alone, even in the most intense heat of life. He never leaves us; we abide with him in love. We are bathed daily in his purifying grace and mercy, and never leave his caring hands. Yes, the miner’s fingers hold us in the palm of his hand even while we are in the furnace. Once he selects us, he will be with us and see us through until we become pure gold worthy of his palace.
We pray today that God will give us a fuller portion of the gift of hope.
“When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them” (Ps 34:18).