Morning sun filters through the humidity. Congregants slip from their vehicles into the cool darkness of the parish church. Eight am, and the few gather in quiet. The Gospel is about Jesus seated with the sinners and berated by the righteous. And there lies the truth of who we are: the presence of God neither abandons nor condemns. People do that to one another, but that Gospel clearly indicates that God’s ways are not our ways. And this Sunday inscribes that lesson with a tenacious alacrity.
It is easy to subscribe to a world of black and white where clarity dwells with one side or the other. It is more challenging to realize that human life belongs to gradients, shades of color, that both shape our lives and decisions and enable us to become whole persons, alive to the wonders and intricacies of the universe. The readings for this week suggest that simply being mindful of rules and subject to norms does not necessarily generate either wholeness or holiness. Instead, it is all about personal relationships and attentiveness to the presence of God in the world, in our lives, and the human capcacity to see that and to accurately perceive who we are as individuals.
Truth and honesty are the key elements in a relationship of love. And in the first reading, from the prophet Ezekiel that is made most clear:
In simplicity, Ezekiel acknowledges the movement of the Spirit and the urging of conscience, thinking outside the box. But that is followed by the Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 123, which echoes one of the intimacies of human relationship: fixing our eyes on another. But it is in the stirring words from Paul’s letter to the Romans that the honesty and interdependence relationships generate:
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.“
There are the echoes of being able to manage in life because of that personal relationship with a God who is completely Other, unlimited by human finiteness or infirmities, callusness or cruelties. This is a God who dares to go far beyond human understandings. And so it is in the Gospel. Jesus is present to the people, but somehow they dare not enter into a connection or a relationship. In full understanding, he moves on. There is no retribution, no cruelty or rejection, just the sense that human limitations actually prohibited a full experience of who Jesus was and what He could do.
Thousands of years later, we wrestle daily with so many of the same things. We negate the possibilities of a Universe bursting with the miracles of life. We adhere to judgemental and costly discriminations; we chose bitter cruelty in communications and attempt to destroy persons in the name of fairness. But here, in these readings, lingers a message far more meaningful. There is no room for malicious actions against one another. There is no place for conspiracies of cruelty or bitter retributions, vengeful purposes. Instead, there is a harbor for the suffering, for those broken by circumstance or even by loved ones. It is not a home built by rules and laws, but one framed by the laws of love founded in truth and honesty where unconditionality is alive and well, where reality has merit and actions have kind purpose and healing is more than a hope.