Saturday, March 14, 2015

The God of Mercy? 4th Sunday of Lent

In Luke’s gospel (Luke 13.4-5), Jesus reminds the crowd about a recent tragedy in the village of Siloam – a water tower had collapsed, crushing eighteen men to death.

The people of Jesus' day had an easy explanation for the horrific deaths of the Galileans and the eighteen men under the tower: they were "worse sinners" and "more guilty" than those who were not killed. 

This idea of God smiting humans for their sins was popular theology in Jesus’ day, so it was plausible for the crowd and the disciples to think that God had smote the Galileans and the villagers of Siloam. 

This was a harsh teaching that Jesus rejected. We know that some of the greatest saints have suffered and human experience shows us that bad things can happen and do happen to good people; Jesus is the greatest example.

Jesus is challenging his hearers to think about their image of God. His words challenge us to think of our image of God as well.

I recall after the deadly tornado 6 November 2005, there were some Christians who claimed it was God’s punishment upon the States of Indiana and Kentucky for allowing everything from casino gambling and horse-racing to homosexuality and abortion. In some ways it may be tempting to believe such things. 

And there are still Christians who think that God is angry at us and even say that God cursed the poor people of Haiti with an earthquake. This philosophy of believing that human suffering is always caused by sin is a dangerous theology. 

On the problem of evil, Thomas Aquinas wrote, [God does not directly will evil, but] "God allows or permits evil” and can draw forth some greater good out of suffering and death.

But often tragedy, earthquake, disaster, illness, and disease can cause us to question our faith in God’s mercy. 

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In John’s gospel when Jesus met the man blind from birth, the disciples ask Jesus: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents? That he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. (John 9:2). 

In Luke’s gospel James and John were upset that a particular group of Samaritans had not accepted Jesus’ message, so James and John ask Jesus if they can call fire down from heaven to consume those Samaritans (which would have undoubtedly killed them), but Jesus turns and reprimands the disciples for even having such intentions. 

Jesus does not wish for us to talk or think this way. If we do we are in the wrong state of mind; we are living in the state of sin and the kingdom of fear, not the kingdom of God.

God’s love is not the kind that says “I’ll love you if you’re good”; or “I’ll love you if you prove what a great person you are”; or “I’ll love you as long as you don’t disappoint me.”

This image of God is based on dread and fear that God is more apt to curse than forgive. Yet we know that true love casts out all fear!

For our God is NOT in heaven at his computer screen ready to delete us with the first sign of disobedience. We know that Christ came to forgive us and call us to act with mercy, compassion, love, and service. This was Jesus’ Mission, his Message, His Person.

In his death upon the cross Christ puts an end to all human sacrifice. He does not demand a pound of flesh for our sins! Christ is the final sacrifice that saves us from sin! His task was to save the world, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son….”

Nothing we can do can make God love us! He already loves us! That is why God sent His son! And God is so madly in love with each one of us that he longs for us to share that love with whomsoever we meet! And all our works, our prayers, our acts of love and charity are all done in response to God’s gracious love and mercy!! So we rejoice in the mercy of our God! Mercy! Mercy! Mercy! Jesus is our Mercy!

THIS IS THE GOOD NEWS!!! We can never repeat it enough!

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Yet many of us do have fears of failure or rejection, fears of violence or not meeting other peoples’ expectations of us, fears of being used or taken advantage of, or even fear of natural disasters or war. 

Perhaps our fear is not of anything specific – just an overall dread, a feeling that life could fall apart on us at any moment and we wouldn’t be able to cope.
But the good news is that we can respond to our fears with a deepened trust in the love of God – whether it is a fear of violence or a tragic accident such as the stories in today’s gospel. 

Saint Paul wrote that we, as children of God, “did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,” but that we are “joint heirs with Christ,” and if we unite our sufferings with His we will “also be glorified with him.” For the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Rom 8.14-18).

The example of Jesus shows us that when we do suffer we can suffer redemptively; suffering can be transformed into new life. And the foundation of our Christian hope is our belief in the Resurrection of Christ! 

Then as we who grow closer to Christ, we come to trust God more deeply over time. Little by little the fears that grip our hearts lose their power over us. We can let go of fear because we know that God is with us – in and through suffering, death, and destruction, and that despite it all, new Life CAN come forth - for not even suffering and death can crush us completely or destroy God’s love for us! 

Again, Saint Paul wrote: “If God is for us, who can be against us? What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish or distress or persecution or disaster? No!” he says, “[f]or I am convinced that neither death, nor life… nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:31, 35-38).

God will raise us up, turning our “little crucifixions”, rejections, failures, and losses into new life. 

Then, whenever the time of our physical death comes, we will not be caught by surprise or locked in the grip of fear, but we will be living the Kingdom message; God will give us new life, life in union with Him, a life beyond anything we could ever dream of or ever imagine, where He will wipe away every tear – and every fear !

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