19 February 2011

God's ridculous demands

7th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

One thing we know for sure about God: He ain't shy about demanding that we do great things. He ain't shy about demanding that we become a great people. But His demands for our greatness always come with an offer of help; He never simply demands perfection and then leaves us on our own. Since His help has often come in the guise of an invading army or a series of plagues or the mysterious puzzles of prophecy, we might think it better that He withdraw His help and let us do the best we can all by ourselves. But divine expectations are best met with divine assistance, especially if we are the ones who are expected to excel. Given our limits, our tendencies to falter, we know that the higher the expectation, the greater the need for help. If what God says to Moses in the Book of Leviticus is to be believed, then the only help for us is for God to make us gods: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” Jesus repeats this demand, “. . .be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” We are to be holy and perfect as God Himself is holy and perfect. Can you imagine what sort of help we are going to need to meet this expectation?! God will indeed have to make us into gods. And this is exactly the help He offered us when He sent His only Son to live and die among us as one of us. He's offered His help—once for all—on the cross. Are you ready to receive it?

The question I'm asking sounds a bit strange, so let me make it perfectly clear: you are ready to be made into God? This really isn't such a strange question. The idea that we “partake in the divine nature” is an ancient Catholic tradition; it's as old as Christianity itself. The idea that the divine can dwell in the human is even older. In the Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ, we have one person with two natures—one human, one divine. If we can believe that the Son of God was born of a virgin and lived and died among us, then it really isn't all that difficult to believe that we are saved from eternal darkness by becoming one with the Father through the His incarnated Son. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul puts the question succinctly: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” What other work do we have as Christians than to allow the Spirit of God to be poured into us, overflowing into anything, anyone we touch? Our wisdom becomes His wisdom; our love becomes His love; our hope becomes His hope. We become holy and perfect in the only way we can: we become God. . .with God's help. Without His help, we fall into the same trap that fell Adam and Eve, that hapless couple who believed the serpent when he told them that they could become gods without God. What did the serpent tell Adam and Eve that they needed? Knowledge. Not divine knowledge but worldly knowledge. Having enough worldly knowledge would not only enlighten them but it would transform them into gods as well.

They fall for it. And so do we. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God. . .” Now, Paul uses “wisdom” rather than “knowledge” here. Knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing. Wisdom comes with the right use of knowledge. Knowledge is a tool; wisdom is an attitude. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in their pride, they came to know the difference between good and evil. What they choose to do with this knowledge is what makes them wise or foolish. Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to reject the kind of wisdom that comes from worldly knowledge alone, that is, wisdom based on knowledge that ignores God as the world's creator. He is not telling them to reject knowledge about the world but rather to reject the idea that you can be wise all the while denying that God is the world's creator. True wisdom—godly wisdom—starts with a spirit overawed by the presence of God in His creation. Wisdom based on worldly knowledge demands that we start with the world and work only within our human limitations, leaving God aside. What God demands of us in our progress toward His holiness and perfection is that we see, hear, taste, feel, and think through our trust in Him. In other words, we start by acknowledging that we are His creatures, and then we see, hear, taste, feel, and think of everything we encounter as a revelation of God Himself. This is how we start. But it isn't how we finish.

The gospel set aside for today is a continuation of last Sunday's reading. That reading ended with “Let your Yes mean yes and your No mean no. Anything else is from the evil one.” Jesus showed us then and he shows again today the difference between worldly wisdom and the wisdom of his Father. He sets one side against the other: “You have heard it said. . .but I say to you. . .” You have heard it said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, “Offer no resistance to one who is evil.” You have heard it said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Why? Why would any sane person living in the real world offer no resistance to evil, love their enemies, and pray for those who persecute them? Jesus answers, “[so] that you may be children of your heavenly Father. . .” Worldly wisdom tells us that it is wise to fight evil, to hate our enemies, and to pray of their defeat. In a world without God, a world where there is nothing beyond death, nothing higher than the law of Might Makes Right, we would be foolish indeed to forgive, to show mercy, and to pray for our enemies. But we have vowed to pursue holiness and perfection with God's help. And this we cannot do if we are mired in the foolishness of the world. Think for a moment about the standard God has set for us. Jesus says that we must do these ridiculous things in order to be the children of our heavenly Father b/c “he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” If can't choose who gets God's sunlight and who gets His rain, how could we possibly decide who it is that He should love and forgive? And if we are saved by becoming God, then our love and forgiveness must fall on the bad and the good, on the just and the unjust alike. That's quite a demand. An extraordinarily high expectation. Thanks be to God that we have His help!

The question remains: are you ready to receive His help and become God? To be holy as He is holy? To be perfect as He is perfect? St. Thomas Aquinas, quoting St. Irenaeus, wrote, “God became Man so that Man might become God.” Our only hope of achieving the holiness and perfection demanded of us is to surrender ourselves to the wisdom of God, and follow His Christ in all things. At the end of the day, our surrender is sacrificial love, giving of ourselves wholly in love for the sake of another. At the very least, this means restraining your pride—hourly, daily—and giving God thanks for every chance you have to be loving, forgiving, and merciful. All of us belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ himself belongs to God.

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  1. Fr. Philip,
    Can you explain this idea “partake in the divine nature” is an ancient Catholic tradition; it's as old as Christianity itself. The idea that the divine can dwell in the human is even older.
    I never fully grasped this concept and then the Mormon's assertion that we become gods when we go to heaven adds to my confusion.

  2. Anonymous3:19 PM


    Research Theosis.

    Mormons believe we are embryo gods. If we are good enough, we attain divinity.

    Chrisitians believe we are created beings that are completed through our relationship with God, i.e. we perform His will by being "filled" by His grace.

  3. But what IS the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Do a search: The First Scandal.

  4. Anon...
    I can't get a handle on the diff between the Mormon & the Christian. Mormons=embryo gods; Christian=will be completed by cooperating with God's grace and then we become divine. Isn't "will be completed" = "embryo?"
    @ Robert Hagedorn What does the First Scandal have to do with the subject?
    I don't see that much diff between the Mormon and Christian view.