My friends, this week’s Scriptures call each of us to a concerted reflection of ourselves and to a renewed vision of who God is for us. In the 14 years of my priesthood and as your pastor, it seems to me that I have constantly called us, through the Scriptures, “to know ourselves” and, “to walk with our God” who really wants nothing more than that we would enjoy our human experience here, by becoming our best selves, for ourselves, and for others.
Let’s look first at what today’s Scriptures have to say about who God is. The writer to the Hebrews seems to be, “setting the record straight” where God is concerned. The people, in this writer’s mind have the story on God, all wrong as he/she denies that God is “untouchable” or a being of “gloomy darkness.” Further, the writer states that, our God does not speak words that we would rather not hear.
No, the writer to the Hebrews says, “our God is one of celebration,” a God who has come in the person of Jesus, who, “mediates a new covenant” with us. So where did the Hebrew people get a view of God as “untouchable” or consisting of “gloomy darkness?”
Before I attempt to answer this question, a look at the Wisdom literature of Sirach, which serves as our 1st reading today, is perhaps helpful. The Sirach writer tells us to, “be gentle in caring out [our] business” and that, “the greater you are, the more you should behave humbly.” Now if you were looking for a pattern on which to frame your life, you could certainly do worse.
This Old Testament wisdom is paired well today with the wisdom of our brother, Jesus. Through a parable depicting guests at a wedding feast choosing the best seats for themselves, only to later be asked to give up the coveted seat to someone of more importance, Jesus wisely says, “For they who exalt themselves will be humbled” and the opposite is true as well.
So friends, it would seem that our basic stance in life should be that of “humility.” It would seem that if we as humans could better realize who we are and who we are not, coming to know who God is would be so much easier. I believe that any God worth following would be one who “shows us the way,” as opposed to being one who tells us that we must act in a certain way and that this same God doesn’t act likewise.
Jesus, the face of God in human form certainly never asked us to be or do anything that he was not also willing to do himself. In fact, while with us, he said, “When you see me, you see my Abba God too!” So again the question, why did the Hebrew people have such a skewed view of who God might be? Why would they need to be told that their God was not “untouchable” and “gloomy” and perhaps one to fear unless they themselves were this way? I believe, my friends, and this is often true for us as well, the Hebrews framed their God in their own image, expecting “less” rather than “more” because if God is “untouchable” and “gloomy,” then they don’t have to expect anymore from themselves. But, if as Jesus told us again and again throughout his earthly life, our God loves and cares for us in “an over-the-top” way, in stories like the Prodigal and the Good Shepherd, then much more is expected of us as well.
The psalmist today seems to understand this too, praying, “God, in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor.” The psalmist continues, [our God is] “a protector of the weak,” and “in your goodness, you provided for the needy.”
So friends, not only do we hear confirmation from the psalmist that our God is good and caring, but that our God has a special interest in the poor and the downtrodden. Our mission becomes clear then—we cannot be “gloomy” or “untouchable” ourselves, because God is not; and further, we must face our world as Jesus, our brother did his, with love, mercy, and justice.
And finally, we can’t just hear these Scriptures as “nice stories” about our “loving God” and in particular about Jesus, but must hear them as our call, to do the same.
Friends, we live in different times than that of the Hebrews, the psalmist and of Jesus, but the needs are basically the same. People are still, “poor”—hungry and discriminated against, truth doesn’t stand for much in our present day—mistrust of government, the press, and of each other is more rampant than ever.
And into this mix we find ourselves and we are called to do our part—to speak our truth when we hear lies, to call for humility in those who want to lead us, whether in Church or State and to demand morality in those same leaders. Within ourselves, we have to believe that hope and goodness are stronger than lies and selfishness and all the rest of “the gloom,” because if we don’t, then we can never attain a better world.
I will end with a wonderful message that was given to our grandson Elliot and his third-grade classmates this past week by their teacher, Mrs. Ratz, as a bit of hope and encouragement for us all, and I will paraphrase. When you think, “I can’t do this, I don’t want to do this—or in groups, we can’t, they won’t—any of these negative, defeatist words, invite in the word, “yet” to help bring growth. So, when you feel like, “I can’t make a difference in all that is wrong in our world, think, “yet!” We are always called to more and together, can do it! Amen? Amen!