Looking back at it, it was quite amusing. There we were, my classmate and I, having a serious discussion about which of God’s infinite attributes would “win out,” Mercy or Justice. Today’s reading from Exodus seems related to that sophomoric discussion from my college days.
In today’s Mass readings (16th Sun. Ordinary), there’s Abraham, politely but persistently bargaining with the Lord about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. [Genesis 18] And not just bargaining. He’s actually instructing the Lord, challenging him to live up to his promise of Mercy. “Surely you wouldn’t think of destroying these wicked cities when there are innocent people among them! Far be it from you!”
How bold! But obviously the Lord knew that Abraham’s argument was futile: there were not even ten good people in the lot, so the Lord kept his plan and destroyed the cities. (Another situation where a human tries but fails to “change God’s mind.”) Unfortunately, the lesson we’re left with is that this kind of justice wins out over Mercy. Apparently, collateral damage didn’t matter to the Lord of the early Hebrews.
That is, until Jesus came with his message of a liberally merciful Father. We are so ready to punish. It usually helps us feel holier than those other wretches. We can’t understand God wanting to spare sinners, like the woman caught in adultery. The Gospel is full of God being “unfair,” but his brand of perceived unfairness is most often aimed at people who know and admit they’re sinners. No matter what they’ve done, they’re forgiven.
Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians (also read this morning) has this to say on the issue of our sin:
Even when you were dead in your transgressions. . . he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions. He obliterated the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us; he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.
Do I read this correctly? Is St. Paul saying that even though we broke the rules (the bond with its legal claims), Christ erased it all by nailing it, with him, to the cross? Again, St. Paul writes these uplifting words to the Romans (Chapter 5):
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
It’s time to realize that it’s not a matter of our being “worthy.” Once God’s Mercy is experienced, we can’t help but let God take us over completely.
O Lord, I am
not now worthy . . .