Stewards of God’s Love
What do you see God doing about the suffering in the world caused by “humans’ inhumanity to humans” — war and the causes of war; exploitation of the weak; indifference to the poor; various types of discrimination in social life and business; unjust or unfeeling treatment of employees; irresponsible workmanship, absenteeism, and slacking on the job; continued patronage of businesses that proliferate degrading advertisements, destroy natural resources and outsource to countries whose laws do not protect workers, children or the environment? The list could go on and on. When you see pain in the world, do you look for the causes? God does.
The liturgy today calls us to “rejoice,” but only in a context of “seeking always the face of the Lord” and relying on “his strength” to do what he wants done in the world (Entrance Antiphon, Psalm 104).
The Responsorial Psalm brings into focus what that is: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor” — and wants us to hear it. And do something about it. The way he does. God “confronts the evildoers.” So should we (Psalm 34: 2-23).
In the Opening Prayer we ask God to “strengthen our faith, hope and love” so that we may “do with loving hearts what you ask of us.” In the Prayer Over the Gifts we specify: “Let our service give you glory.” And in the Prayer After Communion we identify what God’s glory is: “Lord, bring to perfection within us the communion we share in this sacrament.” The glory of God is the divine life of God shining out in people. And it does this most evidently when people are brought together in unity and love in the “communion of the Holy Spirit.” The “wedding banquet of the Lamb,” which is God’s image of heaven, will be characterized by the universal forgiveness and reconciliation that we pray for in the Our Father: “Forgive us as we will be forgiving one another….” It was in the context of declaring that God was glorified in him and he in his disciples that Jesus gave his “new commandment” — “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This is how God’s glory will shine out in us: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This love will be manifested in unity of mind and heart: Jesus prayed, “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” In the next sentence he identifies this unity with his “glory” and God’s: “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know….”1
The cry of the poor
Sirach 35: 12-18 tells us one thing we may forget and another we may doubt.
“The Lord is a God of justice…. He is not deaf to the wail of the orphans, nor to the widow….” When we examine our hearts for sin, we may focus on obvious acts of personal misconduct, forgetting to ask about our passive acceptance of the injustice and violence of others.
When we patronize businesses that exploit the poor, pollute the environment and lower the level of our culture by products and advertising that are humanly degrading, whether morally or intellectually, this is sin. It offends God.
So does our complicity in the violence our country is so prone to engage in. We think that because we have more military power than any country in the world we can defend our “national security” by war — extended, in recent times, to officially approved torture of prisoners and violations of human rights. We have attacked when we were not attacked, claiming we were protecting other people. But our military intervention was impotent against the poorly equipped but determined opponents we faced in Vietnam, Somalia and Iraq. We had to withdraw with our tail between our legs, leaving the native populations in those countries to live with the results of our failure.
The way of war is not the way of God. But it is the first way the powerful turn to, and it is the great temptation of our country. Have we, as an obligation of Christian conscience, joined in the outcry against it?
Sirach says, “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds… [and] the Most High responds….” Based on what we see, we may doubt this.
The Responsorial Psalm says, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” But do we see God coming to rescue the sick and starving, the victims of genocide in Africa and the Sudan, and the dispossessed Palestinians in Israel? Does God stop the bombs in mid-air or smite invading army patrols when a village cries out for his protection? Does the Lord truly “hear the cry of the poor”?
No, he does not stop oppressors (usually), but yes, the Psalm is true:
The Lord confronts the evildoers, to destroy remembrance of them from the earth. When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them.
The question is “When and how?”
In 2Timothy 4: 6-18 Paul breaks us out of the narrow time-frame in which we unthinkingly enclose ourselves. We want to measure God’s “response time” in minutes or months. Why not millennia?
God is not limited to the time-frame of our lives on earth. He has made us sharers in his own life, which lasts for all eternity. So “when the just cry out,” the Lord answers in their lifetime. But that gives him all eternity to work with!
Paul wrote Timothy from imprisonment in Rome that he felt abandoned by his fellow Christians: “At the first hearing of my case in court, no one took my part. In fact, everyone abandoned me.” But he declared, “the Lord stood by my side…. That is how I was “saved from the lion’s jaws.” And he went on to profess his faith and hope: “The Lord will continue to rescue me from all attempts to do me harm….”
Shortly thereafter the Romans condemned Paul to death and beheaded him! Was that how God “rescued him from all attempts to do him harm”?
Yes. Paul’s next words were, “…and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever.”
Obviously Paul did not think that anyone who killed him would “do him harm.” In this he was echoing Jesus, who told his disciples: “Do not fear those who kill the body and after that can do nothing more…They will put some of you to death…. But not a hair on your head will be destroyed.” Paul’s perspective, like that of every Christian, extended to include the “end time.”2
The Church places us in the “end time” during the rite of Communion at every Mass. When the presider lifts up the host and declares, “This is the Lamb of God, happy are those who are invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb,” the Church is defiantly proclaiming, “Happy are those who are going to die! To die is to arrive at the wedding banquet. Anyone who kills us is simply putting a beer in our hand!” Just as the crucifixion of Jesus was a triumph only in the light of his resurrection, in the same way, it is only from the perspective of the “end time” that we can say with credibility, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” But since we live in our time, we must hear that cry now.
Two went up to pray
Luke 18: 9-14 calls us to confront the hypocrisy in morality that focuses on keeping all the laws except Jesus’ “new commandment” of love. We will be judged on whether we have loved people as Jesus does. And that compassion must extend to addressing the causes of their pain — working for changes in society. Without this we are simply not living up to our baptismal commitment as “stewards of his kingship.”3
We could read this to mean that human life as such is a vision of God, a visible manifestation of God’s glory; so to see humans alive is to see God. But the context makes clear Irenaeus is saying that what we should recognize as true life in humans is the glory of God shining in them by grace. “The glory of God gives life; those who see God receive life. For this reason God, who cannot be gasped, comprehended or seen, allows himself to be seen, comprehended and grasped by humans, that he may give life to those who see and receive him.” He continues; “It is impossible to live without life, and the actualization of life comes from participation in God [that is through grace], while participation in God is to see God and enjoy his goodness….” This is an echo of John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
1 Revelation 19:9; John 13:31-35; 17:21-23. Saint Irenaeus, born c. 130 AD, a disciple of Polycarp (who was a disciple of the apostle John) and later bishop of Lyon, martyred c. 200 A.D., wrote in Against Heresies: (Lib. 4, 20, 5-7): “Life in humans is the glory of God; the life of humans is the vision of God….”
2 Luke 12:4; 21:16-18.
3 John 13:34
Am I, as a steward of Christ’s kingship, hearing the cry of the poor?
Pay attention to the causes of evil in our society. Do something about them.