Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: 1st Book of Kings 19:4-8
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 34:2-9
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 4:30-5:2
Gospel: According to St. John 6:41-51
There are few things in life that can bring on emotional distress like the knowledge that we have brought grief upon someone whom we love. Seldom do we intentionally hurt a loved one, but even unintended pain makes us want to apologize and do what we can to make up for the suffering we caused.
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” This admonition of St. Paul to the Ephesians, and, by extension, to all in the Church, is one that seldom, if ever, crosses our minds. How often throughout our lives do we ever think that our words and deeds have brought grief and sadness to God? And what does this say about our lived experience of God as One who is loved by us?
Many of us were brought up with a vision of God as a judge or a referee, an objective observer of our lives Whose job it is to identify the infraction of rules and to mete out the just punishment. This God is impersonal, like a referee or a judge, and therefore remains disconnected from us – He’s just doing his job. Imagine a player feeling the need to apologize to a referee because of a foul he committed or a criminal losing sleep over what he did to the judge by committing his crime. For so many of us, God – like a judge or referee – has no personal stake in our wrongdoings.
This understanding of God does not sit well with everyone, and those who disagree with it often swing the pendulum to the opposite extreme by envisioning a God who neither imposes rules nor judges those who break them. Often the rejection of the God who brings down the hammer results in the creation of a God who simply goes with the flow. This God accepts us and loves us just as we are, and all He wants from us is to be true to ourselves and to make authentic choices. In essence, God becomes so personal that He basically becomes each of us and we see God every time we look in the mirror.
In opposition to those two extremes is the God revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ and proclaimed by St. Paul. This God so loved the world that He sent His only Son into it to redeem it. This great truth of the Catholic faith shows the flaws of any other vision of God. A God who is an impartial judge has no need of love, and a God who accepts people unconditionally has no need to redeem them.
Our loving and redeeming God is therefore concerned with those things mentioned by St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians: bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, and malice. He wants us to avoid these behaviors not because like the all-accepting God He wants us to play nice nor because like the judging God He wants to enforce the rules, but because He loves us and wants us to be redeemed through His Son.
Like any good father, God the Father loves His children and is grieved when they act in ways that are harmful for them, ways that un-redeem them. Thus, our role is to respond to the Father’s grief in the way that any good child would – by following the directives of St. Paul: “be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love.”