We please God with forgiveness

By 
  • May 22, 2008

Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) June 1 (Deuteronomy 10:12-13; 11:18, 26-28, 32; Psalm 31; Romans 1:16-17; 3:20-26, 28; Matthew 7:21-27)

What is most pleasing to God? Deuteronomy insists that loving and serving God alone, walking in God’s ways, brings happiness and gives life. The author defines loving and serving God as absolute loyalty and a refusal to incline one’s heart or mind towards other gods. Indeed, the Deuteronomist considers idolatry the worst of all possible sins, provoking God’s anger and punishment.

There is much of spiritual value in Deuteronomy, but it must be understood in terms of a 21st-century experience and understanding of God. The words of God must influence human activity, sight and understanding. In other words, no area of human activity can be separated from God. This admonition has special significance now, with our modern tendency to compartmentalize God and privatize faith.

As for idolatry, this failing is all the more insidious in our own time because it is not as obvious. We might not literally worship other gods. Idolatry, however, can be defined as giving more importance, time and energy to anything other than God. It is clear that people are often guilty of this failing, for success, physical appearance, wealth, possessions and power are often at the centre of human lives. 

Living a life in harmony with God is certainly life-giving and empowering. But this is woven into the moral fabric of the universe. God does not sit on a throne in heaven granting rewards for good behaviour and draconian punishments for mistakes or infidelity. That image of God is a reflection of the ancient image of the gods as the dispensers of reward and punishment whom humans had to please and placate. We are active moral agents, bringing reward and punishment on ourselves as the consequences of the choices we make. God does not need to bless and curse in the way the Deuteronomist describes: we do that ourselves for we live in the world that we create.

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a theological masterpiece. He is breaking new ground, bringing all of humanity into God’s plan of salvation. First, however, he must demolish all human smugness and claims to God’s particular favour, so Paul puts all humanity on trial. Pagans should have known better — God is revealed in the created order and God’s law is written in human hearts. Pagans fell into idolatry and its resulting loss of awareness of God — guilty! The Jewish people have even less of an excuse for sin, for they had God’s revealed law. They too failed to live up to the law that they had received — guilty! The human race clearly does not have a lot to be proud of, and it does not appear that we have changed all that much. But God’s compassion and desire to save is much stronger than all human sin, and this is manifested perfectly in Jesus Christ. We please God when we humbly admit our need of forgiveness and healing, and accept salvation as an unearned gift that bears witness to God’s compassion.

There is a great difference between conventional religiosity and true discipleship. The first is often content with outward displays of piety and devotion laced with liberal doses of god-talk. It can be used to bolster one’s own opinions, fears and prejudices. Jesus praises another approach: taking His teachings to heart and applying them in one’s daily life. This is discipleship and its goal is spiritual, moral and psychological transformation.

Unfortunately, we have too much religion in our world and not enough transformative spirituality. There are no shortcuts to God, and it is only in showing love, generosity, humility and a desire to serve in the details of day-to-day living that we acquire the likeness of Christ.

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