Sunday Sermon for July 23, 2017, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Wis 12:13, 16-19; Rom 8:26-27; Mt 13:24-43
In the first reading today the Wise Man finds himself in awe of God, not so much because of His almighty power, but because of His clemency and leniency. It is precisely because God is all powerful and all knowing that He is also lenient. In other words, He knows perfectly the weaknesses His human creatures struggle with in their attempts to do what is right and just. He knows our limitations while He has none.
One could look at those unfortunate souls on earth who exercise their own strength or position to pick on the weak, the elderly, the handicapped, etc. and suggest that persons who are weak can be violated precisely because of their weakness. We have seen this kind of travesty all too often on the human level, is it possible to suggest God might exercise His power in this same way?
The answer is “no.” There are several reasons for this answer, the first of which is that God does not need to prove His power. On the human level it is people who are very weak (although they may be physically strong) who violate people in a weakened condition rather than protect and defend such people. God does not need to satisfy His own ego nor does He need to to make Himself feel like He is strong. God’s power is absolute and He knows that perfectly.
Think about this in a human manner. If a teacher with a PhD. in mathematics was interacting with a first grade student, the teacher could try to impress the child by showing off her prowess in calculus. The only thing this would do is to demonstrate the teacher to be a fool. On the other hand, if the teacher gently helps the young student with his first grade math problems, it demonstrates to the student the teacher knows what she is talking about and wants him to learn math, she is not lording her knowledge over one who is clearly inferior. Such a teacher would win the approval of all.
Since nothing is difficult for God, and since He also knows how difficult many things are for us, He provides the help we need in the way most beneficial to us. Look at what St. Paul says in the second reading: the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness. St. Paul goes on to say that the Spirit prays in us because we do not know how to pray as we ought. This is the second reason we do not have to be concerned about God exercising His power to violate us: He gave us Jesus to save us and the Holy Spirit to help us precisely because of our weakness.
Of course, we each have a free will, so we cannot presume on the mercy of God. It is true that God gives us the third Person of the Trinity to help us, pray in us, lead us into all truth, to interceded for us, etc., but that does not mean that we will automatically cooperate. God will not force Himself on us; He will offer us His grace, but we have the freedom to accept or reject His assistance.
People who violate others have also been offered the help of God, but they rejected it. This is why Jesus tells us in the Gospel that all evildoers and all who cause others to sin will be cast into the fiery furnace. We can each look at ourselves are realize that we are sinners and we have led others into sin. Does this mean that we are doomed? No, if we cooperate with God’s grace and strive to live a moral and holy life, then, as the Wise Man says, we have good ground for hope that God will permit repentance for our sins.
Unless we achieve spiritual perfection in this life, we will all sin right up until the day we die. This does not imply condemnation without mercy. No, God is lenient because He knows we are weak. He knows our propensity toward sin. He does, as we hear in the first reading, rebuke temerity in those who know Him, so we realize we are held to a higher accountability. But this is not about violating us, but calling us to act in accordance with the grace and mercy given to us. Just as we would hold a high school student to a higher standard that we would a kindergarten student, so God expects more from those who know Him than He does from those who do not know Him. We need to have absolute confidence in God’s mercy and strive with all our might to cooperate with His grace. Then we will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of our Father!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.