The Lord Showers the Blessings We Need

The Lord Showers the Blessings We Need

The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time shed unsettling light on a corner of our heart that we might have left unexplored.

Whenever we witness a blatant injustice unfolding before our eyes, our blood boils. “What a disgrace” we shout or mutter. Our verdict is swift and precise. Well, today, God’s Word proposes to us to probe our hearts and identify what we find hidden in there. It might be the same drive that prompted the people of Nazareth to shift their mood abruptly and go from being amazed at the gracious words uttered by Jesus to sheer rage and murderous thoughts. 

In the Gospel passage (Luke 4:21-30), Jesus reminds his fellow citizens of Nazareth that the Father’s heart has no boundaries and that it is all-inclusive. Hence, God is totally free to cure Naaman, a Syrian, and to reward the generosity of the widow of Zarephath, another non-Jew.

Any claim on God’s love and care is and remains baseless; and no one can reserve the right to tell God whom to include and whom to exclude from his favors. What we find in that remote corner of our heart is a residue of original sin. It is arrogant self-centeredness. It is the conviction that we deserve first and special consideration over most other people. What we might find in that remote corner of our heart could be also a list which includes only those whom we consider entitled to be favored and blessed by God.

Generally speaking, the narrower our views, the more qualifications we require of potential members, so as to keep our elitist group as small as possible. However, in such a case, we would seem to lack what St. Theresa of Avila calls “self-diffidence.” 

Self-diffidence is a form of concrete, applied humility which enables us to be self-effacing and docile to the light of the Gospel, eager to learn new aspects of our faith, and magnanimous enough to rejoice that God finds infinite ways to reach his beloved sons and daughters across the globe. Self-diffidence would make us comfortable with the idea that any member of a group and a group, as a whole, are among those that God is free to choose as the objects of his love and care.

But, from the look of things self-diffidence must be in short supply. In spite of subscribing to the original meaning of the term “Catholic,” (universal), we might detect in our heart blatant contradictions to that very name. Hence, within the huge group making up the Catholic Church, we might pick our “comfort group” and, basically, expect two things of God to which we feel entitled: firstly, to give evidence that he is partial to us (do here what you did in Capernaum) and, secondly to put his seal of approval on what our group stands for.

As the result of that contradiction, we have conservatives, liberals, mainstream Catholics, “Orthodox Catholics” and other sub-groups within the same Church! But the Catholic Church is not the only major group of religious people to be divided. There are about 30,000 different Protestant splinter groups, five major Muslim groups, there are Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist groups in Judaism, Buddhists and Hindus are also divided in different groups. 

There are diversities in all religions and among animists… but all are secretly or, overtly, confident that they know how to benefit best from heavenly favors.

We have divisions also along political party lines and within them. We have divisions according to sexual inclinations and any other personal preferences and persuasions. 

If we stop and think about all these divisions and marked differences, we must conclude that, while it is natural for human beings to acknowledge their finitude and, therefore, their need for completeness through divine favors, what stands in the way is a wound caused by original sin. It is excessive self-importance or, to put it differently, lack of healthy self-diffidence.

Right before the narrative about original sin, the Book of Genesis speaks of how the Lord God formed human beings from the dirt of the ground. He is the One who has given life and value to “the dirt” he had formed. Hence, every single Hebrew, every single inhabitant of Nazareth, but also Naaman, the Syrian, and the nameless widow of Zerephatah, every inhabitant of every nation on earth, the Pope, our President, faceless people the world over and the most famous Hollywood stars are all God’s children; all in need of his love and care, but also of his compassion and mercy.

The truth that was so hard for Jesus’ fellow citizens of Nazareth and for countless others, across the millennia, to accept is that dirt, from which the Lord God formed us, has no appreciable value in itself. But it should be slightly easier for us disciples of Jesus, who have been inculcated about our inability to do anything good on our own (cf. John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”) to honor God’s absolute sovereignty over all of us and the rest of his Creation.

In his absolute sovereignty, the Lord God remains totally free to execute his plan of salvation as he sees fit. From cover to cover, the whole Bible makes this fact perfectly clear and inescapable: “He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.” Luke 1:51-53; “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6.

Our innate tendency marred by the consequences of original sin, resists the lesson we need to embrace and to live out. Far from claiming preferential treatment, we should rejoice with anyone upon whom the Lord God bestows his favors and we should live with the unwavering certainty that, if we possess a humble heart, he will continue to shower on us, too, all the blessings we need.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin