Disappointments as well as disappointings are, well, disappointing. We get our hopes up for this to happen or that person to show up and “look what happens!” "We disappoint ourselves, our high expectations and dreams. Winston Churchill once said, “Life is just one damn thing after another.”
We can become upset at the way life or others or God treats us. I brush my teeth twice a day, floss eagerly, and last week I had to have a tooth pulled! That isn’t right! Life is just one opportunity after another.
As we prepare for this-week’s liturgy we can pray with all the ways we think life’s moments should unfold. We can pray with the times we disappoint ourselves and the expectations others have of us as well. We can reflect also with how upset we become when those others fail to meet our requests or sense of what’s right.
The first part of our reading for today is a continuation of a communal pep-talk that the people are announcing. They are telling themselves that they will return to the One God and as sure as the coming of the dawn’s light and the spring rain, God will certainly forgive us and return with protection and blessings.
God, through the words of the Prophet laments, “What am I to do with you Ephraim?” As quickly vanishing is the morning’s dew, is your piety. As long as Israel was in trouble, God was important.
“If I have told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times”; this tone begins the final statement, the clear desire that God has for Israel. Lip-service, “Ya, Ya, whatever” is nothing! God is saying that, you think I am pleased with the smells from your burnings of bulls. You think you can do what you think is official. Well I want a personal response of love and knowledge of my ways rather than your meaningless performances. The Prophet is asking the people to return to trusting God rather than pursuing their unjust ways and THEN RELYING on their attempts at manipulating God to be on God’s “good side”.
The Gospel has two separate, but united parts. Jesus calls a customs agent to follow him and Jesus has a little dinner conversation with the Pharisees while eating with tax collectors. The man sitting at the custom post is said to be Matthew himself, the author of this Gospel. A good story would have been about just why he left that money-making position. The reality is that he was collecting money for the dominating Roman Empire currently occupying the country. The tax collectors with whom Jesus eats are regarded by the Pharisees in the same way as they look upon customs agents.
The Pharisees are religious men attempting to hold the nation together under the rule of God’s laws. This apparently legalistic approach drives them crazy when Jesus violates, what they believe to be, God’s law and God’s Will for all Jews. Jesus seems very aware of their annoyance with His ways. We hear His final words to them as a reminder to them of what lies behind the law and will of God.
The Pharisees are aware of His having been doing healings in their district. Sickness was an indication that the sick persons or their parents had sinned. Jesus uses the illness image to summarize what He had been doing and why gathering sinners and curing the sick were really the same work of God. They do not see themselves as sick nor sinners so Jesus is telling them that this is why He cannot relate with them and why they cannot understand and accept Him.
This is one of those little scenes where most likely we are both the tax collectors and the Pharisees. We all have been given such a wonderful intellectual gift of accurate judgment. Our scales of Justice and Rightness get examined every day. Usually we are better at judging the actions, and motives of others, but about ourselves, we are so sure about things that we do not have to spend time judging them. It works very well.
One other gift we have been given is compassion and understanding. Notice please, that I put understanding in second place. When we understand then compassion is not only easier, but automatic. Compassion goes beyond, relies on God’s ways rather than our ability to collect enough information to render, well, a judgment of forgiveness.
“Ah, now I understand why and what you were doing, so I extend my merciful hand to you.” We can sacrifice others with our opinions of them on the altar of our egos. What Jesus is asking here is our giving up that sacrificial option and struggle to take into our interior, the mercy with which Jesus relates to us.
The Pharisees have spent long years learning the laws and the traditions of regaining God’s mercy through the sacrificing of animals. Jesus now advances them a bit. “Go back and learn about mercy.” He tells them to live more from their interior and they will understand the interiors of others. We can hear that as well. If we know we need a doctor we will know the needs of others. I am quite aware of how when I tell somebody that I had a toothache or an appendicitis, I am about to hear their medical history whether I asked for it or not. We do resonate with the physical ailments of others when we have been there ourselves. The interior life is similar. When we have been there needing healing of soul and compassion of heart, we are more likely to extend mercy than demand facts leading to the unspiritual understanding which can appear to be mercy. God does mercy all the time and very well.
“I can rely on the Lord; I can always turn to him for shelter.” Ps. 18, 3
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