Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4,
The first two readings for today are as
direct as they come: the Lord is patient, the Lord is merciful.
The first has some humor, too. We see Abraham nagging God, and we wonder
when God will tell Abraham to shut up. First, it's 50 good men, then
45, 40, 30, 20, and finally 10 for whose sake God will not destroy the city
of Sodom. It would seem that the Lord had a right to lose His temper
at Abraham's almost childlike questioning, but of course He did not.
Maybe this had something to do with God being a patient and loving father.
Fathers have to put up with a lot of nagging from their children. June
is the month of Father's Day, and this reading from Genesis is appropriate
for that. Children can be disobedient, and at some time all will test
their fathers' patience.
A long time ago, when my now-grown children
were very young, they would come into my den, and I would read them stories,
draw pictures of elephants doing funny things, and sometimes dance with my
daughter under the crystal chandelier while my record player played "Thank
Heaven for Little Girls." We usually had a wonderful time, but on the
other hand, the room was very formal, with antique furniture and lots of
family heirlooms. One time my daughter decided to play frisbee with
a porcelain ash tray, and tossing it with splendid skill, she decapitated
an antique figurine.
My daughter was banned from my den for a month. No stories, no drawings,
no more dancing with dad. But then just about a week later, the President
of the United States pardoned the previous President, who had resigned because
of the Watergate scandal. I decided that if a pardon could be extended
to such a high figure, my little girl surely deserved forgiveness.
She was welcomed back to my den. Now in her thirties, she says she
still remembers those dances under the chandelier, and the pictures of elephants
doing funny things. I know that I wanted her back in that room.
The reading from Genesis makes me think of other times when I have been judgmental,
more terrifying in wish than God himself. My count-down from 50 to
10 has less to do with numbers than with degrees of sin in our world.
First I would punish the international terrorists who have brought so much
grief in recent decades, especially since the infamous 9/11. But I'd
next punish the C.E.O.'s whose greed brought suffering and unemployment to
their employees and the general public. I'd see, too, that corrupt
government officials and police get what they deserve. I'd like to see the
ruin of those in Hollywood who flood our cineplexes and TV screens with
vulgarity, gratuitous sex and violence. I'd call down wrath upon those
who run abortion mills, and on those who sell illegal drugs. I'd ask
for some appropriate punishment for those who allow rusted car bodies to
reproduce on front lawns, and God surely has some penalty for those invisible
creatures of the night who leave empty beer bottles on my front lawn.
Of course there's nothing I'm guilty of, though.
The first two readings bring me up short. God the loving Father has
His own ways. If I want to nag him to make the world the place I want it
to be, he will be patient. His retribution, though, will be according
to His own plan. His kindness, his mercy, cannot really be described
in terms that easily satisfy according to my infinitely smaller standards.
Today's more challenging Gospel passage -- "Let the dead bury their dead"--
seems cold and UNkind by my standards, until I realize that God and His Son
Lord Jesus will deal justly with the concerns of our times. We are
not the ones to decide whether or not 50, 45, 40, 30 or 20 good people are
sufficient for Him to be compassionate. We are not to decide which
sinners most offend Him. Are the worst the throwers of bombs which
kill and maim, or are they the throwers of beer bottles onto a grassy lawn
-- or those who want to take God's place in making condemnations?
For a few weeks I once kept my daughter out of my den. I missed her
more than she missed the room. The Lord, I believe, --because He is
our Father -- misses us, however we offend. And he will take us back.