Ordinary Time 24, Year C-2010

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
All who serve idols are put to shame (Ps. 97:7—NAB)

God is wholly other, as indicated probably by the biblical prohibition against both the making of images and the worship of idols (Ex. 20:4-6; Lev. 26:1; Dt. 4:15-23; 5:8-10). The Lord is entirely outside and above nature. Though we can certainly think and speak of divine matters, divinity really transcends us: he is more than what our limited intellect can think of; she is greater than what our inadequate language can say. Hence, it is indeed better to say simply, and in accordance with the divine name revealed to Moses (Ex. 3:14), that God is, a Subject without a predicate, as there is really no end to predicates or attributes that fit. God is absolute, thus rendering relative everybody and everything else.

The truths, therefore, of which human beings are surely capable in thought and speech, both pale in comparison with the absolute Truth and need supplementing, no matter that they may have come to us through divine inspiration and bear the official magisterium’s stamp of approval and guarantee. It is true, for instance, that we can associate awesome divine presence with peals of thunder and lightning as well as with heavy cloud, loud trumpet blast, smoke, fire and earthquake (Ex. 19:16, 18). But it is equally true that the Lord’s presence can also be associated with the tiny whispering sound (1 Kgs. 19:11-13). Moreover, we know there is no one like the Lord, yet we know better and truer to recognize that the Lord has a way of being God-with-us (Is. 44:6-7; 7:14). And while we are not all in agreement, for sure, regarding the location of true worship, no one who truly believes in a God who is Spirit can be closed to the idea of true worship in Spirit and truth taking place beyond geography (cf. Jn. 4:21-24). One, in other words, cannot settle for relative truths or, much less, cling to them at the expense of the absolute Truth. Otherwise, one makes idols for oneself and risks becoming like them (Ps. 115:8)

They are guilty of idolatry and are as unforgiving as their idol, those who complain, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” These complainers may find questionable neither the great lengths a shepherd or a woman goes in order to recover a lost sheep or coin nor the joy and celebration the recovery occasions. But their mental construct of God appears to be limited to and consistent only with the Middle Eastern protocol of a stern disciplinarian of a father who will never welcome a rebellious son the way the forgiving father of the third parable in today’s gospel reading welcomed the prodigal son, and who will refuse to run lest he appears lacking in elderly dignity [1]. Their God is a father in a patriarchal culture who disowns a disgraceful son and rents his garments on account of the disgrace, not a father who displays motherliness and warmly welcomes back a wayward son and restores him to full sonship [2]. And isn’t it suggested in the parable itself that those who complain represent the older son who is suddenly now outside after being inside all this time?

In contrast to those guilty of idolatry, Moses—having met the living Lord and knowing better so as not to be content with just the manifestation of an angry God, whose wrath is ready to consume and annihilate the idolatrous, and also setting aside the familiar idol of concern for one’s own tribe and posterity in favor of the unselfish concern for the posterity of the whole community—rejects idolatry and refuses to reduce God into an idol: he does not take God just as a one-sidedly condemning, punishing and jealous God; he takes the Lord also as an equally merciful and gracious Lord, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity (Ex. 34:6, 14). And true to who he truly and fully is, the Lord relents in the punishment he has threatened to inflict on the guilty.

True to the invisible God of whom he is the image (cf. Col. 1:15), Jesus does not hesitate either to welcome sinners and eat with them and to forgive those who return and repent. He thus also confirms to be trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance both the saying, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and the tradition about his giving his body up and shedding his blood for the forgiveness of sins. But just as the God he images cannot be reduced to an idol, so also is Jesus Christ more and greater than what we can think or say about him. He is, in the words of St. Vincent de Paul, “our father, our mother, and our all” [3].


Notes:

[1] Cf. “Why Pursue Sinners?” http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Luke/Why-Pursue-Sinners (acessed September 9, 2010). See also The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990) 43:147.
[2] Cf. Barbara Reid, O.P., “The God Who Seeks,” America (August 30, 2010) 31.
[3] P. Coste, V, 534.