Ordinary Time 07, Year C

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Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:20)

On St. Scholastica’s last visit with St. Benedict that occurred just three days before her death, the sister pleaded with the brother that he not leave until the next day (cf. the second reading in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours for the memorial of St. Scholastica). The brother refused; he did not think the holy conversation about the delights of spiritual life that the sister wanted to continue would be a sufficient justification for him to be exempted from a monastic rule. Not giving up, though, St. Scholastica “joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray.” Suddenly “there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain” that St. Benedict’s return was not deemed advisable. Still certain, however, that God’s will demanded that he return to the monastery that very evening, St. Benedict exclaimed: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?”

Apparently, even St. Benedict believed for at least a moment that he had God figured out. Such a belief is not bad in itself, I don’t think. One has it when one discerns how one should act in accordance with God’s will and opts later for one course of action over another. She has it also, the person who gives an explanation to anyone who asks her for a reason for her hope. Through this very reflection, I too claim to have God’s thoughts figured out with regard to what the readings for this Sunday’s Eucharist are teaching. But then, of course, there is always the possibility, not to say probability, that I may be mistaken.

But to err is the least of my problems. A more disquieting risk that comes with believing that I have God figured out is this one that was pointed out by St. Ephrem. Talking of God’s word as an inexhaustible spring of life, the deacon wrote (cf. the second reading in the Office of Readings for last Sunday):

So let his spring quench your thirst, and not your thirst
the spring. For if you can satisfy your thirst without
exhausting the spring, then when you thirst again you can
drink from it once more; but if when your thirst is sated the
spring is also dried up, then your victory would turn to your
own harm.

The victory I feel I have when I assure myself I have God figured out turns into defeat if, because of this self-assurance, I end up losing sight of the fact that God’s word offers various facets, that God and Jesus show different faces. With regard to Jesus, for instance, he no doubt upheld the commandment, “Honor your mother and your mother,” and yet he also told a disciple who would like to go first to bury his father, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead” (Mk. 7:10-12; Mt. 8:21-23; Lk. 9:59-60). Surely, Jesus brings peace (cf. Lk. 2:14; Jn. 14:27). But Matthew and Luke recount also that Jesus stated: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword” (Mt. 10:34; Lk. 12:51). Highlighted especially in Luke is Jesus” mission to the gentiles, but these words to the Syrophoenician woman do not sound to me to be very welcoming: “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” (Mk. 7:27). So then, because the Lord has portrayed himself or his message—as St. Ephrem put it—in many colors, I ought to acknowledge that when thirsty I drink from the fountain, I leave much more than I take in. Woe is me, for I lack that poverty of spirit which, in part, consists of admitting that the mystery of God and his word is never wholly comprehensible and explainable, which make it necessary that one follow the example of St. Vincent de Paul and take all the time one needs to know God’s will so one may allow oneself to be led by Divine Providence.

And woe is me, because presuming to much to know about of God and godly matters and lacking in the self-distrust that, according to St. Vincent, should lead to a greater trust in God, I settle only for what is seemingly the most natural for human beings to do and for what conventional wisdom dictates, for example, to render blow for blow and deny to someone what he denies me. From the human point of view, it is fair to do or not to do to another what he does or not do to me. And nothing fairer than for me to treat or not treat others as I would like them to treat or not treat me. But it is not just to this that Christian righteousness refers. Christian justice goes beyond this because it is not content with the practices of meritocracy, given that Christian justice is based not in human equivalence but in God’s superabundance (cf. Daniel Harrington, “Love Your Enemies” in the February 12, 2007 issue of America).

God’s superabundance is represented in the generosity of the landowner in the parable of the workers in the vineyard; he paid those who arrived last more than they deserved since they only worked for an hour (Mt. 20:1-15). Because of his munificence, God makes his sun to rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Mt. 5, 45). And this generous God gives us the opportunity to be his children.

I will be a child of God if I fulfill what is commanded in this Sunday’s gospel reading and do more than what sinners like me usually do. Mine is the opportunity or the promise to bear the image of the heavenly one, though I am surely earthly—to be that which is hard to figure out since eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and it has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him (cf. 1 Cor. 2:8-10).