THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF YEAR A
Questions to Ask Yourself
Do I ever get angry because people resist my efforts to help them, to minister to them? Do the apathy and resistance I see in people incline me to violence of word or action? How do I use whatever power I have?
Ideas to Consider
The liturgy today focuses our attention on God’s restraint. He does not use power against the slow and
the sinful precisely because he has all power — and the infinite wisdom and love that make him (and him alone) able to use it well.
The Entrance Antiphon establishes our relationship with God on the basis of his goodness to us: “God himself is my help. The Lord upholds my life…. I will praise your name for its goodness.” The Responsorial (Psalm 86) highlights forgiveness, without which God could not be good to our sinful human race: “Lord, you are good and forgiving,” And the Opening Prayer, by asking God to let us grow, acknowledges how far we are from God’s level: “Fill us with your gifts; let the gift of life continue to grow in us, drawing us from death to faith, hope and love” [the acts of God’s life within us]. Specifically, we ask God to “keep us watchful in prayer and true to his teaching” until we become like him and his “glory is revealed in us” (quotes include Alternative Opening Prayer). We see ourselves and God under the light of hopeful contrast.
Wisdom 12: 13-19 gives us an insight into God: “Your might is the source of justice; your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.” God refrains from using his power because he has so much. God’s justice, so different from ours, is characterized by patience and leniency precisely because he has unlimited power and “mastery over all things.” We, who do not have such power, act precipitously and are quick to employ violence precisely because our power is so limited that we are insecure. When we are threatened we strike out, and usually before we have to.
God is not like this. The Responsorial Psalm addresses God as “good and forgiving… abounding in kindness to all who call upon you… merciful and gracious, slow to anger.” We obviously have something to learn from this. And Jesus insists upon it (see the parable of the unmerciful servant: Matthew 18: 21-35).
Romans 8: 26-27 takes our weakness for granted. Any time we use power, our presumption should be that the results will be disastrous! The reason is that we have so little knowledge of all the facts in any situation; so little understanding of the issues involved, and of the minds and hearts of the people we are dealing with: their background, woundedness and true intentions. And we have so little wisdom to help us appreciate all the values involved and see everything in perspective, that we should live in doubt of our ability to make prudent judgments about anything! If our response involves the use of power, we can do damage. St. Paul says we “do not know how to pray as we ought.” We don’t even know what to ask for!
This could be paralyzing. But, like it or not, we have to make decisions — sometimes decisions that carry authority (which is power) and will affect other’s lives. So what do we do?
The first thing is to use power as little as possible and violence never. But when we must make decisions that have potential to damage, if we are humble and call on God, “the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness” and “intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” When Paul says, “The one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit,” he may be referring to God or he may be talking about those who try to discern the movements of the Spirit in their hearts.
Christians aware of their weakness do not rely on reason alone; they try to follow the guidance of God. And this is given to us in the “gifts of the Holy Spirit”: Knowledge, Understanding, Wisdom and Counsel. To decide and to act without trying, at least, to use these gifts is stupid. And stupidity combined with power it is dangerous. That is why we ask in the Opening Prayer, “Fill us with your gifts; let the gift of life continue to grow in us, drawing us from death to faith, hope and love.”
The Patience of Power
This gives us an insight into the patience and forbearance of the planter Jesus describes in Matthew 13: 24-43. Since the planter represents Jesus himself, he knows that there will be a harvest; the bad seed in the field cannot prevent that. So he doesn’t have to risk losing some good seed by rooting out the bad. Jesus is basically telling us that no one can destroy any seed he has planted unless the seed itself wants to be destroyed.
He shows the same patience in the parables of the mustard seed and leaven. The life of God is in the Church. It is growing. And it will grow until “the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.” God’s life is active, like leaven. It is at work with divine power. And it will continue to transform human life on earth “until the whole batch is leavened.” There is no reason to panic, to push, or to protect and promote by power and force. Let God work through our ministry with the power of his patience and love.
Do I see a connection between humility and patience? Humility and love?
When fear or impatience inclines you to push things or to use power, surrender all power to God and pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance. Give life by showing love.