June 13, 2018
by Kimberly Grassmeyer
Creighton University's Department of Residence Life
click here for photo and information about the writer

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church
Lectionary: 361

1 Kings 18:20-39
Psalms 16:1B-2AB, 4, 5AB and 8, 11
Matthew 5:17-19

Praying Ordinary Time

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

Parenting Our Adult Children
Praying As We Age

For many years, I’ve over-simplified the core of my faith in several ways when in discussion with others – especially if the discussion involves others whose tolerance for the fire-and brimstone of the Old Testament has been an impediment in their faith journey.  I say first of all that I am a “New Testament Christian.”  By that, I mean that it is the message of unconditional love, God’s grace, and the promise of salvation in Christ that form the foundation of my faith and its resulting hope.  As a corollary, I often also say that the image I have of God in my mind’s eye is more feminine than masculine, or perhaps more accurately that my God does not reflect a binary gender affiliation.  In this description, I’m connecting the nurturing, patient loving Christ with a mother-image and the disciplinary, more angry God with a father-image.  That is not to say that I only see my God as either-or, but the God of my heart has clear expectations that are softened on their edges with love, forgiveness, teachable moments, gentle prodding to shake off the bad so that I can try again, and an unspeakable tenderness that makes my mistakes – my sins – less negatively, permanently significant. 

Of course neither of these fallback, simplistic statements are at all fair; I know even as I speak them that I’m revealing more about my inability to manage intellectually or spiritually the complexity of my own faith.  And as importantly, I’m doing a terrible disservice to my own Father and Mother and all fathers and mothers with such stereo-typed, limiting, and unfair use of the language and the words’ related images. 

Today’s Gospel lesson challenges me, then, to break out of the false dichotomy that I’ve created by thinking about commandments, laws, sacrifices and punishments demanded by “Old Testament God-The-Father” from love, grace, forgiveness and salvation offered by “New Testament God-The-Son”.  In the lesson, we read:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law…  until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place…  whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

So what is Jesus saying to his disciples and to us?  What depth is he trying to add to my rather childish tendency toward an either-or choice?  Do I follow the laws and worry less about whether I am deserving of God’s grace?  Or do I accept grace and salvation in my heart and not worry much about following the laws?   

A conversation with a young, faith-filled friend helped to shed some light on this question for me.  We talked about The Commandments as being aspirational, yes, but also a sort of a minimum expectation set by God that helps to bound or guide our free will.  In the developmental process for any human (or even when training a dog, or breaking a horse) we grow through varied stages, ideally adapting and ultimately integrating the external factors and forces into our core beliefs and behaviors. 

Is Jesus teaching us that God – or Parent, or Teacher, or Coach, or Trusted Friend – begins with strength and a tight grip, to then allow for increasing freedom, experimentation, and individual differentiation over time?  That God’s CORE laws (not the human-constructed detailed legislation meant for definition and daily execution of God’s commandments) are meant to become the fabric of our being, so that we can better exercise God’s gift to humans of free will?  So that we might sin and forgive, grow in spirit, love and be loved?  So that we can choose to both incorporate the law and accept the grace?    

This particular reflection has helped me to make more sense of the dichotomy I’ve long projected:  to better understand how I was parented by my own loving father and how I elected to parent my sons, and to ultimately open my heart a bit to the “Old Testament God-The-Father” that I’ve long held at arm’s length; to imagine that God-The-Father was a necessary antecedent to God-The-Son, whose love may have been less visible, welcome or appreciated had it come first; to marvel at the realization – long understood in parenting – that it is the two together that help to form the healthiest offspring. 

For those readers who are still making sense of this all:  you are not alone;
To those readers who have long had this figured out: well done; and,  
To those readers who are able to experience and embrace God-The-Father, God-The-Son, and God-The-Holy-Spirit three in one:  Alleluia!  Yours is the gift of a rich and blessed faith. 

May God’s Peace be with us all.  Amen.   

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