The Thirty – First Sunday in Ordinary Time
2017 – Cycle A
Malachi 1:14b–2:2b, 8-10; Psalm 131; Thessalonians 2: 7-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12
“I believe in one God, the Father almighty…”
“Our Father, who art in heaven…”
“In the name of the Father and of the Son….”
In the words of our prayers, Jews and Christians have imaged God as a “father”. In Christian art, God is portrayed as an older, bearded man with a full head of hair in long robes. For the Jews, God was conceived as a male deity but unlike the tribes and nations around them, a male God without a female counterpart like Osiris and Isis in Egypt or Baal and Astarte in Canaan. Thus we hear through the prophet Malachi the people of Israel cry out and question “Have we not all the one father? Has not the one God created us?” Jesus teaches us when we pray to call God “Abba”, that is, “dad” and today teaches: “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.”
But how is this image received by women and men for whom their experience of God is feminine, is like a “mother”? How is this masculine image received by people in our churches, whose human fathers abandoned or abused them in some manner? …whose parents are divorced and dad is not present? What about an orphaned person whose father died before they had any recollections; a person who has no experience of a father.
How might these experiences affect a person’s understanding and encounter with God?
Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that faith builds on nature; faith builds on our human experiences. What was, what is, your experience of your father? How has your personal experience enlightened and deepened your encounter with the living God or caused you to keep God at arm’s length? What is it like to pray, “Our Father…” or “I believe, [I trust], in one God, the Father almighty…” in either of these circumstances? Faith builds on nature. And what I am suggesting could equally be said of mothers. Haven’t mothers abandoned and abused their children? God our Mother is not necessarily the antidote to God our Father.
Who are these images really about, ourselves? …or God? And as we are quickly approaching the season when images of family, of mom and dad are prevalent in Thanksgiving and the holy days of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. What is God telling us about God – self?
What is intriguing is that both passages from Malachi and Matthew are similar.
In Malachi, God threatens a curse and condemns the priests for setting aside the covenant of Levi. When Israel entered the Promised Land, the tribe of Levi received no property as the eleven other tribes did because God, and God alone, was to be their inheritance. The passage goes on to condemn the people as well for breaking faith, insincerity and intermarriage. In Matthew, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees, a lay movement within Judaism of the time, and the scribes for not practicing what they preach.
No one comes away from these passages unscathed. God finds fault with all of his people.
We have been praying for five months as we renovate our church building for the spiritual renewal of our parish. What have each of us done to renew ourselves spiritually as individuals and as a Christian community over these months? For if we are not renewed then we have spent and wasted a lot of effort, money and time on a building that will not save us.
Do we live out are baptismal promises more deeply? Have we made an effort to be reconciled and forgive someone we need to forgive in our parish? Are we more sincere in our prayer? Are we less judgmental of others? Have we or are we preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation prior to our Re-dedication? How might the image of an old man, a grandfather if you will, or our own fathers or the fatherhood, the motherhood (?), of God assist us on this spiritual journey of almost half a year?
Or is it the Oneness of God that should be emphasized: “Has not the one God created us” “… you have but one Father in heaven.” Was it that the priests and people were thinking more about themselves than the larger community which caused their behaviours to be condemned by God? Are we ONE in this parish; one in worship, care and service? Is this unity maybe what God really wants us to know about what it is to be God? …what it is to be God’s sons and daughters?
We have a month remaining to Advent, to reentering our church building, to re-dedication.
What will it all mean for us spiritually?