I was walking with my 16 year old son a few weeks ago. Most of the time the conversation was relatively normal, but at one point he asked, "What do you think about God?" I was a bit surprised and I asked him what he meant. He replied, "Do you think He is a merciful God or a vindictive God?" I had already started to think about today's readings and had realized that I had issues with them. I told him I thought God was merciful. I got a very interesting and challenging reply. He wanted to know what evidence I had for my statement and was I saying this because that was the way I wanted God to be rather than the way He really is. (I was stressed by my son's response and thought about changing the issue. I could ask him why he had used "He" in referring to God. I saw gender issues an easier discussion, but I decided to stay with the topic at hand.)
Consider the first reading. I wanted it to end with the same kind of last minute transcendent intervention as the Abraham-Isaac story. No such luck.
I thought about my own interactions with God. I can recall instances when I was not above bargaining with God. (It may even be a somewhat natural response in a stressful situation.)
In the Gospel, we see a Father with some (but not unlimited) patience; we see a God who is willing to dole out justice.
How do I respond to my son? His next comment was that he hoped God is the kind of father who will always take back a child, no matter what the child did. From a parental role, I would agree with my son, but I need to add sometimes discipline is necessary.
My response was I think we have a God who responds with a parental
His next question did not let me off the hook. He asked what was the role of God in the Tsunami disaster. Was this punishment or does God just let things happen? What ensued was a discussion of the problem of evil that goes too far beyond the scope of this reflection, but it kept me busy for the reminder of our outing.
Did God (or society) have the responsibility to intervene in the first reading? My answer is yes. I recognize this lesson was written by a different people in a different time. The accepted values are not the same. People responded differently. (I am reminded of Ignatius of Loyola ready to kill a Moor who made a rational, but heretical statement concerning the Mother of Jesus.) We have the duty to respond using our will and our intellect.
Where am I left in terms of today's lesson? I think we need to choose what we perceive as right even if it differs with what is in the book. I think we are fortunate that we live in an environment where we are not constrained to literal interpretations of what is given to us. We have a Church whose understanding of "saving souls" has allowed it to evolve from an institution which promoted the Crusades to one which promotes vigilance against a society that often disregards the sanctity of human life, a society that broadly sanctions abortion and the death penalty. We need to be thinking people. Everyone may not be led to the same conclusions, but both readings today give us an occasion to think.
Today I pray in thanksgiving for a dynamic Church. At the same time I ask for guidance.
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