Reflection for Thursday, August 17, 2006: 19th week in Ordinary Time.
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Today's readings challenge us by presenting images of God that might at first look confusing. Each image, which seems to contradict the other, is given to us from the Scriptures and must be given careful thought. Much about the Christian faith is profoundly paradoxical _ it appears contradictory when in fact the seemingly opposite poles are in fact mutually informing and supportive. Today's readings give us an opportunity to experience this.||In the prophetic text of Ezekiel, God requires that the prophet basically notify the people that their nation (household is an intimate term for a whole people that in itself is remarkable) is about to be destroyed and they are about to be sent into exile. The prophet is to perform a ritual exit in front of them with the expectation that they will ask him what he is doing. Even when they don't ask, God orders him back to TELL them what God is about to do. The people have grievously sinned and God is calling them to accountability for their sins. This is the picture of a harshly judgmental God it would seem.|In the Gospel, Jesus is confronted with what might seem to be a perfectly sensible question: if someone offends me over and over how often do I have to forgive him or her. Jesus gives an absurd response _ implying that this is clearly a poor question. The absurdity of the response is a code for an infinite number of times (seven being the symbolic number for completion of totality). So the answer is that one is to forgive over and over with no expectation of "cutting it off." Then Jesus uses this occasion to tell a story about a man who is forgiven a huge debt and then turns around and demands a smaller debtor to repay him. The implication, of course is that all of us are the constant (and therefore huge) sinner, while God is the infinite forgiver. So the image of God as one who forgives constantly and patiently is established in the actions of the ruler.|But then . . . yes, but then, the constant sinner goes out and does not forgive a much smaller indebtedness of his co-worker and therefore God's forgiveness is withdrawn. In other words _ because he didn't imitate God's compassionate self he becomes incapable of receiving what God has to offer. ||The image of God as demanding and harsh in both the first reading and again at the end of the second reading, is really an image of a God who wants to forgive all _ who works to forgive all _ but his implacability comes into play when the human who is made capable of responding to his companions fails to do so. We see the "anger" of God in the fact that the Israelites do not even ask what God is up to in the prophet's little drama. They don't "get" that God is giving them a chance to repent. And the debtor doesn't realize that the forgiveness God extended to him makes him capable of forgiving others with the same generosity.|We are confronted then with images of God as caretaking and forgiving, followed by an implacable (and harsh) judge. Does this mean that God is inconsistent? Not at all; His consistency is his radical respect for our personal human freedom. He gives us every support to be faithful to His desires, which are for our joy and peace with him and with each other. God is only experienced as a harsh judge when we freely choose to be harsh and uncaring with our brothers and sisters. If we could read the whole account of Ezekiel we would see that God's warning and eventual enactment of judgment against the Israelites is based on their failure to love their brothers and sisters, especially the poorest and the weakest among them, about which they have been warned over and over.|| We receive God's opportunities of forgiveness. Every time we sin God offers us the capacity to be forgiven and therefore to forgive others. Every gift of creation that we have received God has given to us to enjoy and to share with those who have less. If in our freedom we refuse forgiveness or refuse to care for the poor and dispossessed among us, we can expect God's harshest judgment - he will judge us and punish us as we judge and punish others. That which we measure out will come back upon us.|| Today's liturgy then, as summer slowly moves to fall, reminds us that in the days of our wealth, power and control, we need to pay attention to our own real limitedness by attending to those who need our forgiveness, those who need our compassion, those who need our generosity _ if in the time of harvesting, when we will be held accountable, we hope for a God who will treat us likewise.|Do not forget the works of the Lord! Ps 78.7b
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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