02 December 2015

Idolatry and Injustice

1st Week of Advent (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

If we were to draw a graph representing the history of our collective relationship with God, this graph would be a long undulating line with very high peaks and very low valleys. When we are right with God, things are good, very good. However, when we are on the outs with the Lord, we are really, really out. Few Old Testament prophets articulate this riotous relationship btw Creator and creature better than Isaiah. For example, we heard read this morning Isaiah's description of one of those historical moments where God's blessings are being poured out on His faithful people. Isaiah delivers what has become the Father's cardinal promise: “. . .the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples. . .” What will He provide? Rich food and choice wines to celebrate our restoration to righteousness. And more importantly: “. . .he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples. . .he will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces. . .” Not only does the Lord promise to care for the daily needs of His people, He promises to defeat Death and end forever the agony of our grieving. This promise is fulfilled in the advent of Christ Jesus, the food and drink of eternal life. 

If we were to think too long and too hard about the miseries of the human condition, we'd probably spend most of our days in tears, crying out to God for His justice against disease, hunger, and violence. Our supernaturally augmented ability to love one another makes it difficult for us to endure peaceably the savage injustices that nature inflicts on the least of God's children. Add to this misery the human talent to injure and kill, and we are sorely tempted to close our eyes and ears to the suffering that demands justice. The problems are so big, so deep, so vile that we are overwhelmed with their stench. What can we do to put an end to this madness? When we try, our efforts almost always seem small and useless. One reason for our apparent failure is that we often misdiagnosis the disease and apply the wrong remedies. Rather than treat the root cause of the problem, we choose to dabble in treating the presenting symptoms: poverty, social injustice, and ignorance. But what lies rotting at the heart of the disease is not a lack of wealth or racial inequality or inadequate education. The evil men do flows from the sin of pride, the hardening of his heart against God, and needful acts of loving-care and mercy we are commanded to perform.

When God's people in the Old Testament fell from grace, they fell for two reasons: 1) idolatry, a form of adultery committed by worshiping alien gods; and 2) injustice, the oppression of those most in need, a sin produced by idolatry. It should come as no surprise that when we commit adultery with alien gods, we also end up oppressing the least of God's children. What better way is there to express our willful independence from God than to offer praise and thanksgiving to our own creations? So, pride drives us to our knees before the idols of our own making. These gods never tell us anything we do not want to hear. They never demand anything from us that we do already want to give. In fact, they are nothing more than images of our own defective wills: the will to power, to succeed, to accumulate, to dominate, to control. It's just one tiny step from worshiping ourselves to oppressing the least among us. If I must worship me, then so must you. How then do we treat this disease? We come to believe that we are all creatures of a loving God who has commanded us to love one another in the same way that He loves us: sacrificially. He gave us His only Son in death so that death is no longer to be feared. Freed from this awful fear, and knowing that this world is always passing away, we can let go of our pride and receive the Lord's gift of bountiful mercy. This is how He cares for us: by making us like Him, like His Christ, and bringing us—if we will—to the perfection of His love.


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1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Fr. P. I like this homily - it is sensible, logical, straight-forward, and to the point. Nothing fancy. Much appreciated.