March 21, 2017
Tuesday, Lent Week Three
Remember your mercies, O Lord
(Responsorial: Psalm 25)
During Lent the first reading and the Gospel are chosen to match. The Responsorial gives us the theme of both.
The Gospel is going to talk about a man in an impossible situation. To match it, Daniel 3: 25-43 describes a situation the whole People are in that doesn’t offer any ray of hope — except God:
For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation, brought low in the world this day because of our sins. We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader.
What hope is there for a nation — or a church — that seems to be losing on every level? No competent authorities or government (“no prince”); no one inspired by God to lift up a voice in prophetic witness about the situation (“no prophet”); and no private individuals willing and able to take the initiative for reform (“no leader”).
Were things as bad as Daniel said? God certainly inspired him to describe the situation as he saw it. But that was just the setting for the real message:
We follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame.... Deal with us in your kindness and great mercy.... And bring glory to your name, O Lord!
Do we sometimes feel that Daniel’s description fits the Church? If so, we have a very small field of vision. Even with all the defects and defections we can identify, there are throughout the Church dynamic communities and parishes, initiatives and movements inspired and empowered by the Spirit. One only has to look to see.
This, however, only leads to optimism. And optimism, even well-founded, is not hope. Optimism is a human judgment based on our perception of human abilities and activity. Hope is divine assurance based on the nature of God. Optimists expect something to happen, usually within a time-frame. They can be disappointed. Those who hope in God know something is already happening, but not when it will become evident. They are never disappointed.
God is not an optimist. But Matthew 18: 21-35 teaches us he never fails to hope in our ability to convert to him and “pay back in full” the gift of existence through eternal praise and thanksgiving. We may not actually do it, but he knows we can. He keeps loving us and giving us the grace to do it until our choice is sealed in death.
Jesus teaches that we must love one another as he does, with God’s own “steadfast love,” because we share in God’s divine life. We can never give up on anyone on earth whom God is still choosing to will into existence, because that is to give up on God.
The same holds true for us. When we are “brought low in the world... because of our sins,” we tend to think that what has happened to us through our own choices can only be reversed through our own efforts. We feel like the debtor in Jesus’ story whose resources were hopelessly insufficient to save him. But God has unlimited resources. We just have to ask him to use them. “Remember your mercies, O Lord.”
Initiative: Measure everything by God — whose borders are out of sight.