03 June 2013

We don't live rent-free in God's head

Charles Lwanga and Companions 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
St. Dominic Church, NOLA 

Jesus uses the parable of the wicked tenants to retell the story of Israel's turbulent history with God. In a tidy paragraph or so Jesus manages to summarize: 1) the essential relationship btw God and Israel (owner to renter); 2) the repeated failure of Israel to live up to the terms of the lease agreement (refusing to turn over God's share of the harvest); 3) their abuse of God's agents sent to procure His share (rejection of the prophets); and 4) their abuse and murder of the God's son in an failed attempt to steal his inheritance (the Passion and death of Christ). Sad but true: the tenants' behavior probably doesn't shock us. We're all too used to hearing about this sort thing from our fellow human beings. What should shock us, what I hope shocks us, or at least baffles us a little, is God's apparently relentless drive to get His people to hold up their end of the Covenant. Given their repeated fall from His grace and their stubborn refusal to accept His Word, why does God—over and over again—lift them back up, set them back on track, and bless them abundantly despite their disobedience? Why does He do this for us? For you? 

The one word answer here could be: love. He loves us. True. God is love, so it is His nature to forgive and bless. And His patience with our disobedience is surely a by-product of His loving nature. But if forgiveness were just about His love for us, then why do we care if we've sinned against Him? I mean, if we know that He will forgive us everything we do, why does sin bother us? A big part of the answer here is that we love God, so disobeying Him can be painful, spiritually harmful and we feel it. But there's another element at play here that we might not readily call to mind. God's patience with our sin presupposes that we are rational animals; that is, He's patient with us b/c He knows that we are capable of responding to His love rationally, deliberately. Given time with His divine gift of love, we can reason our way out of the habit of disobedience; we are capable of learning not to sin, learning to receive His grace, and working with those received graces to come closer to His perfect Love. Over time, we come to see that sin is not only a violation of divine love, it is also an irrational reaction to the divine word, the Law of Love that Christ himself gives us. The wicked tenants are wicked b/c of their greed, but their greed—given the generosity of the vineyard owner—is irrational, not just illogical, but unreasoning. 

We have long since lost any sense at all that irrational thinking or behavior is a sin. In fact, in our postmodern culture, right reason is considered oppressively patriarchal. “Logic” is not longer logical and “reason” is just an evil way to suppress the glories of emotions. But as followers of Christ the Logos, we are partakers in the divine life, the life of the Blessed Trinity that provides Rightness, Order, Reason, and Truth to the whole of creation. If the wicked tenants had exercised their minds rather than their passions, they might've come to their perfection w/o the threat of death hanging over their heads. Can we say the same? Why do we wait for that nagging sense of guilt to drag us into the confessional? Why do we persist in habitual sin, knowing what it does to our growth in holiness? Why do we refuse to bend our necks to most reasonable rules and treat our freedom in Christ as a license to sin? We can blame passion. But let's put the blame where it belongs: we are being irrational. Not only are we not “feeling right,” we're not thinking right, preferring to indulge the animal part of our nature and letting the rational part wither. Fortunately, God's love for us entails being patient with our thick heads. So, while we enjoy His mercy, let's work on our right reason and make the deliberate choice to live in His love rationally. 

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1 comment:

  1. Hmmm...OK....Hmmm...I've read this several times and still am not sure how to comment. I agree with what you have written, but since I didn't hear it I'm not sure how it worked as a homily. Maybe it's just one of those homilies which leaves me with more questions than answers, which causes me to ponder to what extent it applies to me. . . .