Thursday, June 24, 2004

Rebelling, serving, arguing, loving, forgiving

In the daily Mass readings, we're going through some detail-heavy and action-packed parts of the old Testament right now. Prophets are lecturing kings, and God is smiting everyone, practically. Lots of rebellion, haircloth, idolatry and penitence: busy, busy, busy.

We're also going through a lot of teaching from Jesus. How to pray, how to give alms, how to forgive, how to do lots of things with His Spirit. Gentle, stern, glowing words.

The contrast in the two reading streams is interesting: on the one hand, people in the Old Testament just weren't getting it. People in the New Testament weren't getting it, either, but God's response and teaching is different.

In the OT, God asked His people to follow His commandments. When they didn't, God got their full attention, dramatically so. The relationship was sort of immature (no, God was not immature, we were): we misbehave and God yells at us. We do it again, and He yells louder.

In the NT, Jesus, God incarnate, explains it where we can see it. He is the model of ALL love, which, since He is Love, is right. He is the Spouse of our soul, and of the Church. He is our Brother. He refers us to the fatherhood of God. He is our Teacher, our Healer, our Shepherd. Every one of those relationships exist in our own human lives, and He models how we are to handle them. It's a fully-faceted, three-dimensional model that we can turn in our hands and examine.

It's as though the yelling parent God of the OT, now thoroughly exasperated, grabs the SOS pad and the dirty pot, scours it, thrusts it at us, and says "THIS is how you wash a dish!" We have to see it happen to understand it.

The infinite patience and love of God!


Henry Dieterich said...

What the Israelites needed to be convinced of was that God was very powerful and that He meant business. The only way they could be convinced of this was by things that happened fairly immediately and tangibly. This is rather like a small child, who will not be dissuaded from misbehavior by punishments at some unspecified time in the future, but only by immediate sanctions. By the time of Jesus, they had pretty well got that part. Jesus likewise proved His power, but mainly by healing and deliverance; but He held out the prospect of punishment too. Most of the references to Hell in the Bible come from the mouth of Jesus. Not to mention that the vision given to John in Revelation is more frightful than anything in the Old Testament. But it is a kingdom that is not of this world. The message of the New Testament is no less than that of the Old Testament a message of total obedience and total reliance on God, but now, instead of visiting us with immediate rewards and punishments on our own worldy level, He brings us the reality of the unseen and eternal world of Heaven through the sacraments that continue the incarnation of Christ through the Church. Our reward is not riches or power but Heaven, and through the sacraments and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we can begin to have Heaven even now.



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