Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Lent (Cycle C)
In these readings for the season of Lent, we are joyfully brought to the full realization of the mystery of divine reconciliation. In the revelation to Joshua, the Spirit proclaims, “Today I have removed from you the shame of Egypt,” a declaration of a pro-active God purposefully saving not only individual people from humiliation and suffering which they may have wrought upon themselves, but an entire community or nation from humiliation and suffering they clearly did not deserve to bear.
Our Abba in his divine nature and because of divine love, is liberational. The Spirit is committed to liberate and to preserve the freedom of all creation without exception, regardless of the circumstances of bondage. And not only does God care when we are fully dependent on him, but he also cares that we become responsibly independent of him, as seen in the episode of the cessation of provision of heavenly manna when the Israelites are already able to “eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan.” There is no discrimination nor any lack of consideration in the reordering of the cosmos: God promises, “… no one will be left behind.”
Within the context of this interpretation of divine will, lies the true understanding of our mutual responsibility in the service of divine reconciliation: We, like God, are called to be liberational as well, to support him in the task of re-creation and to help him fulfill the promise that “… no one will be left behind.” Deserving or not, the Apostle Paul writes, “God, in Christ, reconciled us to himself, and entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.” Thus, he passionately exhorts us, “Let God reconcile you; this, we ask you, in the name of Christ.”
There is thus, no room in human life for a silent social indifference nor for a misplaced spiritual pride. We must not be misled with erroneous theological notions that God cares only for those who are obedient and faithful, while neglecting those who are rebellious and unfaithful. We must never think that God should bless only those who remain in the pathway of goodness, while condemning to some form of “divine punishment” those who have succumbed to the pressures of the human condition by turning to the ‘dark side’ of evil. It is fundamentally wrong to project in our conceptualization of God our own self-centeredness, with the ideas that he wishes us to save only ourselves, that he rejoices in the success of those we believe to be ‘deserving’ and that he scorns at the failure of those we deem to be “undeserving.”
Perhaps it is this same misconception of a “Spirit who plays favorites” that shapes and drives our moral priorities. We may be spending our whole lives devoted to seeking preferential treatment from our Lord in exchange for “good behavior.” We may be spending our whole lives devoted to restricting compassionate attention from our Lord for others, through an unhealthy criticism of those struggling to recover from “bad behavior.” We may be spending our whole lives unaware or eventually unwilling to become involved in the deeper question of what really influences “bad behavior,” and of what really causes the actualization of the potentiality for evil that lies in us all.
A silent social indifference and a misplaced spiritual pride is the reason why we cannot comprehend our Lord’s predisposition to openly welcome “sinners” and his equally shocking predilection to happily feast with them. He is setting for us the disturbing example of authentic responsibility in the service of divine reconciliation: To dare ignoring or rejecting from the table of charity those who have been lost and are wishing to return, is to dare the God of justice and mercy. To dare burdening or crushing them, thinking they have earned the penalty to be so burdened or crushed, is to dare the God who avenges and equalizes. To kill them is to invite our own death as a Christian society.
Human civilization as we know it, can be sustained when we can both be faithful to God, and supportive of those who have fallen. It depends largely on how we engage with contrite criminals, and how determined we are to implement a penal system founded on transformation rather than destruction. Our Holy Father Francis – who continues to be active in the ministry of visiting prisoners – once challenged us to philosophically examine why some of us are able to withstand temptation, and why others have become unfortunately more prone to giving in to it. He is discerning for us, and helping us to a reawakening of an underlying commonness, that has been momentarily disrupted by our divergent fates and circumstances, but is essential to the understanding of divine reconciliation: We have all become new; and though some of us are strong while others are weak, the Spirit will still persevere in saving all, even the weak. We are expected to do the same.
So why have we ever concluded that there are those who are and should be deemed unworthy of divine reconciliation? Why have we ever concluded that we can refuse forgiving those whom God may already have forgiven? Why have we ever concluded that we must treat harshly those whom God is already treating with a celebration for being freed from sin? If we are still unbelieving of the enigma of divine reconciliation, consider answering this paradox: Are there transgressions that are so abominable that we can confidently claim to be beyond our capability or willingness to commit? And are there transgressions that are so abominable that we can confidently claim to be beyond our Lord’s capability or willingness to forgive?
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.
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