Wednesday: Eighteenth Week of the Year: August 3, 2016
Year II: Jeremiah 1:1-7; Canticle: Jeremiah 31:10-13; Matthew 14:22-36
The Responsorial Psalm promises: “The Lord will guard us, like a shepherd guarding his flock” (Jeremiah, ch. 31).
Jeremiah 31: 1-7 gives us an insight into God’s heart that should be the guide and underpinning of all our ministry to others: God simply delights in our well-being — always, no matter how we have acted toward him. He doesn’t hold grudges, has no desire to punish, no compulsion to make us “pay” for our sins. If God ever wants to “teach us a lesson,” that is all he wants to do: teach us, with no overtones of punishment. God will do good for any and everybody at any time in any way they can accept, regardless of what they deserve from him. Memory never moderates his giving.
Israel had brought suffering and disaster on herself by deserting the way of the Lord. Jeremiah described it vividly — and in the Old Testament style, adapted to the preconceptions of his hearers, he spoke as if God had sent their sufferings in punishment for their infidelity. But as soon as Israel is ready to repent and turn back to God, all God focuses on is how good and beautiful and happy his people can be: “You shall be rebuilt…. Adorned once more… you shall go out dancing gaily…. plant vineyards!” He is just happy for them.
All ministry subjects us to the risk of rejection. Failure hurts, and when we fail to convert people or make them better, we can get angry. That is because we are judging by justice instead of lavishing love. We need to simply join God in saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” – and rejoice in all well-being.
Matthew 15: 21-28 shows us Jesus revealing his identity by breaking his own rules. His mission, and that of his disciples before his resurrection, was just to the “lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Matthew 10: 5-6). But when a Canaanite woman keeps crying out to him, “Son of David, take pity on me!” he subordinates policy to need. He looks, not at her nationality or religious orthodoxy—or at the Father’s time-schedule for reaching out beyond Israel—but at her faith in him: “Woman, you have great faith! Let your wish be granted.”
Ministry in the Church has to be guided by policies. But we should never let policy prevent us from responding to faith, hope or desire visible in any person. We ask, not whether a person is “in good standing,” but only whether someone is asking for help to know and experience God’s love. Jesus did not say, “If policy permits, feed my sheep.” He said, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” That includes his “other sheep” who don’t quite fit in the fold. We feed them all.
One of the Church’s great moral theologians, Father Bernard Häring, ministering to soldiers in combat during World War II, wrote that he would have found it “unthinkable, in fact totally abhorrent to uphold any distinctions between Catholics and Protestants” when it came to giving Communion during Eucharist. In the mud and blood of the battlefield—or in any context that makes us aware of life and death, physical or spiritual—love gives new clarity to law.1
Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Give to everyone who asks, guided by God’s love.
1 John 10:16, 21:17; Priesthood Imperiled, page 9.