Friday, July 20, 2012

In the Grip of Tensions

Friday: 20 July, 2012 –– 15th Week in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 38: 1–6, 21–22, 7–8 / Matthew 12:1–8
In the Grip of Tensions
We cannot comprehend God in his fullness.  We can only grasp facets of his being, and then we are often left with bewilderment, wondering how to reconcile what seem to be opposites. Our faith often leaves us in the grip of tensions.
In the Isaiah passage we find King Hezekiah facing his death. The account is very “human.”  When the bad diagnosis is given, he is angry and depressed. He complains that God owes him more than that. We have a different model in the NT with the Apostle Paul. He told the Philippians he was torn, wanting to stay on earth to continue his ministry but also wanting to go be with the Lord (Phlp 1:23–24).  There is a tension between the natural desire to have a long and healthy life on earth and the reality that this world is not our final home.
The story goes on to say that God gave Hezekiah the promise of fifteen more years along with an incredible sign: the shadow of the sun reversed direction!  From a natural standpoint, this implies the earth reversed its rotation. Perhaps there are other explanations (besides denying that anything really happened), but we are left with at least two tensions here. The first is the issue of supernaturalism:  does God, indeed, sometimes suspend the natural order?  Christian faith is established on the belief that he does. The second issue is that of signs: why does God give some people a spectacular sign to encourage their faith, but does not do that for everyone? Or why does God sometimes help us see things so clearly, and yet other times faith is so hard? Why do we sometimes get quick answers to our questions, but other times we wait and wait? Remember my first sentence: we cannot comprehend God in his fullness.
We can, though, embrace a particular orientation. We can choose to have an attitude of faith rather than skepticism. We can choose to be open to what it means for God to be at work actively in our world.  This will help us not hold onto this world so tightly, because our focus will be on the Lord instead of our own perspectives.
But even when we focus on the Lord we will find further tensions. Today’s Gospel illustrates a big one:  are we to have a general orientation toward judgment or mercy?  We find both qualities revealed in God himself. Sometimes it can be good for us to stand up for what is right, even when others think we are judging. But when there is a doubt, especially on a personal level (in contrast to a general, principled issue), it is right for us to maintain an attitude of mercy. Jesus is always showing us that God desires a loving relationship more than strict adherence to a set of principles.  Yes, we believe there some things that are absolutely right and absolutely wrong, but none of us live up to that standard and all of us need mercy.
So, in the tension of life and death, let’s remember this world is not all there is. In the tension of faith and skepticism, let’s be people of faith. And in the tension of judgment and mercy, let’s be people of mercy.  God will take care of the details in his own way, whether we fully understand it or not –– and chances are, we won’t.  Still, we trust....

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