One God: Powerful and Merciful

Homily. ADDU Grade School Comunity Association (17 July 2011)

Our Mass readings today give us much to reflect on.

First, from the Book of Wisdom (12: 13, 16-19). “…There is no god but you who have care of all” (13). The statement reminds us of the first three of the Commandments: “I am the Lord, thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.” I am the only God who “have power over all.” I am the Holy One, the source of all. Therefore, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.” Do not speak my name lightly; do not speak lightly in my name; do not use my name manipulatively. And: “Remember thou keep holy the Lord’s Day.” It is important for us to hear this, since today, in this increasingly secularized, agnostic, practically-atheistic world in which we live, despite the plethora of available religious symbols and rites, it is so easy for us to create our own gods that claim our obeisance and worship – gods of power, of comfort, of money, of success. It is so easy for us to create gods who claim our time, attention, energy, thought, reason, because in worshipping these gods we attribute to them all that is good.

The reading from Wisdom continues: “Your might is the source of justice. Your mastery over all makes you lenient to all” (16). Since God is he who “has care of all,” has mastery and power over all, it is he who from chaos calls forth harmony, and he who from disorder establishes order, and he who from injustice establishes justice. It is an awesome fact. If we understand it in the context of our own disorder and sinfulness, it is a fact that is truly fearsome. For what is the Lord’s justice when applied to my injustice? Yet, our reading brings out another fact: “Your mastery over all makes you lenient to all.” The Lord is so powerful, he need not flaunt his power; the Lord is so powerful, even in the establishment of his justice and order, he knows how to be lenient. The Psalm for today says: “Lord, you are good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.” (Ps. 86:5).

“You show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved” (17a). There is much disbelief in God in our world, is there not? Much easier to believe in all that I have learned, in my accumulated wisdom, in the power I have come to acquire. Much easier to believe in my connections and in my ability to convince, cajole, or command. But God knows how to assert his presence and his holiness when he is disbelieved. In an illness, an unforeseen event, a moment at once mysterious and fascinating, he shows his might. He knocks. He says, “Hello, I am here!” “You shall not have strange gods before me.” “Remember: there is Power greater than your power, Reason greater than your reason, Life greater than your life.”

On the other hand, for those who are familiar with God, humility is appropriate: “In those who know you, you rebuke temerity” (17b). A danger, indeed: those who are familiar with God become overfamiliar, so that the holiness, the total otherness and the sacredness of God are disregarded. Instead of “Thy will be done!”, in temerity, overconfidence or shamelessness, it becomes, “My will be done.” In overfamiliarity, it is easy to forget: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy god, in vain.” (Ex. 20:7).

The image is of a powerful God actually involved in our lives, leading us to belief, forming us in our rawness, purifying us in our arrogance, with a mercifulness that only re-affirms his power. “Though you are a Master of Might, you judge with clemency, with much leniency you govern us” (18). In his might, he can be mild and gentle. In his justice, he can will not to impose punishment, but to give people like yourselves and myself, with all our faults and failures, a chance.

Considering all these, what we affirm characterizes God must come to characterize ourselves. “…You taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind…” (19a). As you are, so must we be. As you are good, so must we be good. As you are lenient and kind, so must we be lenient and kind. As you forgive, so must we forgive. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt. 6:12). “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

In all of this, our hope is that against the backdrop of the Holiness of God, who establishes and re-establishes his justice, we might be permitted the chance to repent for our sins: “You have given your children good ground for hope, that you would permit repentence for sin” (19b). In your goodness, kindness and readiness to forgive (cf Ps 86), this hope is given.

The parable of the weeds and wheat in the Gospel reading for today only underscore the themes of God’s power and mercy.

The weeds can be see to be all we experience as evil in our world: corruption, violence against human life, injustice in our courts, summary killings, destruction by an oversatiated society of the homes of the poor. There is no place for the weeds in an order established by the Holy One. The Gospel takes position on Evil. Weeds have been sown “by an enemy.” They are not to be uprooted, lest more injury come to the just. “If you pull up the weeds, you might uproot the trees with them” (Mt 13:29). You might deprive the good of their opportunity for virtue. Or, because in our lives the weeds are so mingled with the wheat, we might be deprived of the opportunity to repent. In the end, at harvest time, it is the power and justice of the Lord that shall be re-established. “At harvest time, I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds, and tie them into bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn” (Mt. 13:30). In time, the Holiness of the Lord remains. Human evil is destroyed. Human goodness is preserved.

We have much to reflect on here, do we not? Our God is holy, powerful, just, merciful and patient. We are invited to be the same: holy, powerful, just, merciful and patient.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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