Reading From: Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22
Letter to the Church of Sardis
 "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: 'The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. "'I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead.  Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God.  Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.  Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.  He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'
Letter to the Church of Laodicea
 "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: 'The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation.  "'I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.  For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.  Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.  He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'"
1. Sardis, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south-east of Thyatira, was an important hub in the highway system; it was also famous for its acropolis, which was located in an unassailable position. Herodotus describes its inhabitants as immoral, licentious people (cf. "History", 1, 55). The Christians of the city were probably somewhat infected by the general atmosphere.
Christ is now depicted as possessing the fullness of the Spirit, with the power to effect radical change by sanctifying the churches from within (cf. note on 1:4). He is also portrayed as the sovereign Lord of the universal Church (cf. note on 2:1), ever ready to imbue it with new life.
The church of Sardis is accused of seeming to be alive but in fact being dead: in other words, although its external practice of religion makes it look Christian, most of its members (not all: cf. v. 4) are estranged from Christ, devoid of interior life, in a sinful condition. Anyone who lives like that is dead. Our Lord himself described the situation of the prodigal son as being a kind of death: "my son was dead, and is alive again", the father exclaims in the parable (Lk 15: 24); and St Paul invites Christians to offer themselves to God "as men who have been brought from death to life" (Rom 6:13). Now, in this passage of Revelation, we are told that the cause of this spiritual, but real, death is the fact that the works of this church are imperfect in the sight of God (v. 2); they were works which led to spiritual death, that is, what we would term mortal sins. "With the whole tradition of the Church", John Paul II says, "we call 'mortal sin' the act by which man freely and consciously rejects God, his law, the covenant of love that God offers, preferring to turn in on himself or to some created and finite reality, something contrary to the divine will ("conversio ad creaturam") [...]. Man perceives that this disobedience to God destroys the bond that unites him with his life-principle: it is a mortal sin, that is, an act which gravely offends God and ends in turning against man himself with a dark and powerful force of destruction" ("Reconciliatio Et Paenitentia", 17).
2-3. Vigilance is always necessary, particularly in certain situations like that of Sardis where there was a number of people who had not fallen victim to sin. In this kind of peril, Christians need to be alerted and confirmed in the faith. They need to remember what they learned at the beginning, when they were instructed in the faith, and try to bring their lives into line with that teaching. And so they are not simply exhorted to conversion but told how to go about it--by comparing their lives with the Word of God and making the necessary changes: "no one is safe if he ceases to strive against himself. Nobody can save himself by his own efforts. Everyone in the Church needs specific means to strengthen himself--humility, which disposes us to accept help and advice; mortifications, which temper the heart and allow Christ to reign in it; the study of abiding, sound doctrine, which leads us to conserve and spread our faith" ([St] J. Escriva, "Christ Is Passing By", 81).
"I will come like a thief": an image also found elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Mt 24:42-51, Mk 13:36; Lk 12:39ff; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Pet 3: 10). This does not mean that our Lord is lying in wait, ready to pounce on man when he is unawares, like a hunter waiting for his prey. It is simply a warning to us to live in the grace of God and be ready to render our account to him. If we do that we will not run the risk of being found empty-handed at the moment of death. "That day will come for us. It will be our last day, but we are not afraid of it. Trusting firmly in God's grace, we are ready from this very moment to be generous and courageous, and take loving care of little things: we are ready to go and meet our Lord, with our lamps burning brightly. For the feast of feasts awaits us in heaven" ([St] J. Escriva, "Friends of God", 40).
4-5. Despite the corrupt environment in which they were living, there were some Christians who had not been contaminated by the immoral cults and lifestyles of the pagans: their loyalty is symbolized by white garments. In the course of narrating his visions St John mentions white garments a number of times (cf. 7:9, 13; 15:6; 19:14); this color symbolizes purity and also the joy of victory.
The symbol of the "book of life", which occurs often in the Apocalypse (cf. 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; etc.), is taken from the Old Testament, where those who belong to the people of Israel are described as enrolled in the "book of the living", which is also referred to as the book of the Lord (cf. Ps 69:28; Ex 32:32ff). Those whose names are in the book will share in the promises of salvation (cf. Is 4:3), whereas those who are unfaithful to the Law will be excluded from the people of God and their names blotted out of the "book of the living". Other New Testament texts use the same image (cf., e.g., Lk 10:20; Phil 4:3).
The names of the victors will stay in the "book of life" which lists those who have proved loyal to Christ, as well as those who belonged to the people of Israel.
Finally, on Judgment Day, those Christians who have kept the faith, will be spoken for by Christ (cf. Mt 10:32; Lk 12:8).
14. Laodicea was a city on the border of Phrygia, about 75 kilometers (45 miles) south-west of Philadelphia. It is also mentioned by St Paul when he suggests to the Colossians that they exchange his letter to them for the one he sent the Laodiceans (cf. Col 4:16).
Jesus Christ is given the title of "the Amen"; a similar description is applied to Christ in 2 Corinthians 1:20. Both texts are instances of a divine name being applied to Christ, thereby asserting his divinity. "Amen", so be it, is an assertion of truth and veracity and connects with the title of "the true one" in the previous letter. It highlights the fact that our Lord is strong, dependable and unchangeable; the words that follow, "faithful and true witness", spell out the full meaning of the "Amen" title (cf. 1:5).
The most satisfactory interpretation of the phrase "the beginning of God's creation" is in terms of Jesus Christ's role in creation: for "all things were made through him" (Jn 1:3) and therefore he, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the Creator of heaven and earth.
15-16. The prosperity Laodicea enjoyed may have contributed to the laxity and lukewarmness the church is accused of here (Israel tended to take the same direction when living was easy: the people would become forgetful of Yahweh and adopt an easy-going lifestyle: cf., e.g., Deut 31:20; 32:15; Hos 13:6; Jer 5:7).
The presence of hot springs close to the city explains the language used in this passage, which amounts to a severe indictment of lukewarmness. It shows God's repugnance for mediocrity and bourgeois living. As observed by Cassian, one of the founders of Western monasticism, lukewarmness is something that needs to be nipped in the bud: "No one should attribute his going astray to any sudden collapse, but rather [...] to his having moved away from virtue little by little, through prolonged mental laziness. That is the way bad habits gain round without one's even noticing it, and eventually lead to a sudden collapse. 'Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall' (Prov 16:18). The same thing happens with a house: it collapses one fine day due to some ancient defect in its foundation or long neglect by the occupiers" ("Collationes", VI, 17).
Spiritual lukewarmness and mediocrity are very closely related: neither is the route Christian life should take. As Monsignor Escriva puts it, "'In medio virtus'.... Virtue is to be found in the middle, so the saying goes, warning us against extremism. But do not make the mistake of turning that advice into a euphemism to disguise your own comfort, calculation, lukewarmness, easygoingness, lack of idealism and mediocrity.
"Meditate on these words of Sacred Scripture: 'Would that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth"' ("Furrow", 541).
17-19. The Christians of Laodicea did not realize how precarious their spiritual situation was. The city's flourishing trade and industry, and the fact that the church was not being persecuted in any way, made them feel prosperous and content: they were proud as well as lukewarm. They had fallen victim to that self-conceit the wealthy are always inclined to feel and which moved our Lord to say that rich people enter heaven only with difficulty (cf. Mt 19:23); he often pointed to the dangers of becoming attached to material things (cf. Lk 1:53; 6:24; 12:21; 16:19-31; 18:23-25). The Laodiceans had become proud in their prosperity and did not see the need for divine grace (which is worth more than all the wealth in the world). As St Paul says in one of his letters: "Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ" (Phil 3:7-8).
There was an important textile industry in Laodicea which specialized in the manufacture of black woolen cloth. Instead of wearing that material, the Laodiceans must dress in garments which only our Lord can provide and which are the mark of the elect (cf., e.g., Mt 17:2 and par; Rev 3:4-5; 7:9). The city was also famous for its oculists, like Zeuxis and Philetos, who had developed a very effective ointment for the eyes. Jesus offers an even better ointment--one which will show them the dangerous state they are in. This dire warning comes from God's love, not his anger: it is his affection that leads him to reprove and correct his people: 'the Lord reproves whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights" (Prov 3:12). After quoting these same words the Epistle to the Hebrews adds: "It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (12:7-8).
"Be zealous": stop being lukewarm and enter the fervor of charity, have an ardent zeal for the glory of God.
20-21. Christ knocking on the door is one of the most touching images in the Bible. It is reminiscent of the Song of Songs, where the bridegroom says, "Open to me, my sister, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the might" (Song 5: 2). It is a way of describing God's love for us, inviting us to greater intimacy with him, as happens in a thousand ways in the course of our life. We should be listening for his knock, ready to open the door to Christ. A writer from the Golden Age of Spanish literature evokes this scene in poetry: "How many times the angel spoke to me:/'Look out of your window now,/you'll see how lovingly he calls and calls.'/ Yet, sovereign beauty, how often/I replied, 'We'll open for you tomorrow',/ to reply the same when the morrow came" (Lope de Vega, "Rimas Sacras", Sonnet 18).
Our Lord awaits our response to his call, and when we make the effort to revive our interior life we experience the indescribable joy of intimacy with him. "At first it will be a bit difficult. You must make an effort to seek out the Lord, to thank him for his fatherly and practical concern for us. Although it is not really a matter of feeling, little by little the love of God makes itself felt like a rustle in the soul. It is Christ who pursues us lovingly: 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock' (Rev 3:20). How is your life of prayer going? At times during the day don't you feel the impulse to have a longer talk with him? Don't you then whisper to him that you will tell him about it later, in a heart-to-heart conversation [...]. Prayer then becomes continuous, like the beating of our heart, like our pulse. Without this presence of God, there is no contemplative life; and without contemplative life, our working for Christ is worth very little, for vain is the builder's toil if the house is not of the Lord's building (cf. Ps 126:1)" ([St] J. Escriva, "Christ Is Passing By", 8).
Jesus promises that those who conquer will sit beside him on his throne. He gave a similar promise to St Peter about how the Apostles would sit on twelve thrones to Judge the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Mt 19:28; 20:20ff). The "throne" is a reference to the sovereign authority Christ has received from the Father. Therefore, the promise of a seat beside him is a way of saying that those who stay faithful will share in Christ's victory and kingship (cf. 1 Cor 6:2-3).