I was talking with lady today who has begun to read the bible for the first time. She was aghast at the wrath of God as he punished those who sinned against him. What happened to the love and forgiveness of God, she asked? To her, It was a reminder of her childhood when all she heard from teachers and the church was about the punishment of sin. It is hard to love someone you fear she said. But at the same time there was an acknowledgement that if someone was disobedient, then punishment was justified. So punishment can be avoided by being obedient. She realized that all that did was reinforce the “reward” aspect of our following the law. Somehow living to avoid punishment puts the burden on us to be perfect. Being rewarded for goodness then has us missing out on the free flow of God’s mercy because of his love for us. A love that is not dependent on our being perfect but upon our realizing our total and complete inability not to sin will never change God’s opinion of us nor cause him to love us less.
Today’s readings are so deep in revelation of God love it is a difficult Sunday on which to preach. Understand this about the law; it can only show us where we have failed and can never help us not to fail. We must know that the law was given to give us a moral compass until we find our way to being embraced by a loving God – embraced not punished. The law helps us examine ourselves but it can never change us. So again we live with the burden to change on our shoulders. During these next three weeks the elect begin a process called the scrutinies. It is a time when they are being helped to uncover, and then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in their hearts. Then with the help of this community, they will discover ways to strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good within their lives. There it is again that concept that it is left up to us to strengthen our weaknesses and be freed of them; reward and punishment all over again.
The failure of the law to help us overcome sin or our failures can only create an outward holiness while creating internal doubt. So what can we do to be what God calls us to be? I believe God has shown us a way in the scriptures. It all has to do with why Jesus came and with dependency on God’s ability to change us Today Paul gives us a clue when he says the “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified.”
It is easy to overlook this passage as intended for the Christians in Corinth instead of for us who hear those words today. Think about it, we do chase after and look for signs and we do chase after and seek to grow in wisdom or knowledge of our faith. Just watch as people flock to a healing mass. Auditoriums fill up when Fr. Ralph DiOrio schedules an event. Padre Pio had enormous crowds wherever he went. Watch as thousands of people go to places where apparitions are said to occur. There is always a stream of people flocking to Lourdes for healing. Yes we do seek signs and that is not wrong or sinful. But when the sign becomes our only focus instead of seeking the God behind the miracle; then we are breaking the heart of our loving God who heals us out of love.
We also seek wisdom and if you don’t believe me just look at any Sunday’s bulletin. You will see program after program being offered that allows us to learn more, study more, and become more in tune with our doctrines and theology. We spend a lot of our time and resources teaching and re-teaching Catholic dogma, doctrine and practices. Again this is not a bad thing but like signs if it is only more learning and wisdom we gain and not knowledge of the depth and mercy of God’s love for us then we are missing out on having our weaknesses changed into strength by God’s power.
Jesus shows us a better way than seeking signs and wisdom. He offers us life with a simple but hard to accept invitation. We know this invitation for we have heard it many times. It comes with a warning – unless you die to self you will not have life. It comes with dependency on God to change us – apart from me you can do nothing. It comes with a promise of something we desire – if you drink of the water I will give you will never thirst again.
Can it be that simple and that easy?
Yes and no, for the hardest thing we can do as believers is to surrender our will and let God lead us. In order to surrender, to die to self or to become a disciple we must love God enough to trust him. The way to please the Father is through Jesus Christ; listen to him he told us. God’s love is made manifest in the life, work and in the surrender of Christ to do the will of the Father. To understand the reality of Christ we must begin by embracing the Holy Spirit. The spirit will glorify me, Jesus told us. He will speak what he hears from Jesus in the same way Jesus speaks what he hears from the Father.
This Spirit is the promise of God that every weakness and evil in us can be overcome and we can become new creations. Inviting this Spirit into our hearts comes with a promise that God would change our hearts from fearing God to loving God. This Spirit is the promise of God that were sin permeated our minds that our minds would be renewed filled with wisdom and awe.
What can we glean out of God’s word that we have been given? Nothing less than God has always promised us life. Not because we are good but because we are heirs to the promise.