October 25, 2020 – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Click here for the readings (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/102520.cfm)
Have you been terrified of God? My childhood memories of God was a terrifying God. I was introduced to a God who will easily get angry over a naughty boy and will deliver a punishment. I grew up in an environment also when corporal punishment was the easy way of discipline. The adults around me that included my parents, siblings, teachers and other authority figures were always ready to strike whenever I become rowdy.
And because a punishment can be painful and shameful at times, I would behave immediately not to anger more those adults around me. In this way, I was also catechized and made to believe that God was like those authority figures around me. My childhood imagination of God was like a grandfather who always has a stick in his hand ready to strike a boy like me who was unruly.
Yet, I was told to love God with all my heart, with all my soul and with all my mind. I found it hard because I was terrified of God. I fear God most rather than love Him. However, as I grew up, I also gradually realized that as I matured in my faith and relationship with God, I found God less and less terrifying. God manifested His love to me in many ways. God showed his faithfulness in me despite my unfaithfulness and sinfulness.
With this deeper relationship with the Lord, the terrifying image of God changed into a Loving and ever faithful God. In this way, it moves me to respond in love to God and to others.
With this kind of transformation, I found it also interesting how the Israelites grew in their knowledge of God. The readings this Sunday reveal to us this development as well as the invitations for us today.
The Israelites, in the beginning, believed that God was just “one of the many gods.” The people recognized that other nations had gods and goddesses and what they had was a good one. Like the others, they too conceived of a god who protects them. Thus, they believed of a “warrior god” who shall deliver them from their enemies.
Hence, the Old Testament has many images of God taking revenge, being vengeful and violent to the enemies of his people and to the wicked ones. The first reading from the Book of Exodus reveals this kind of image of God as it says, “My wrath will flare up and I will kill you with the sword.” And who will not fear this kind of God?
However, despite this violent image of God, the scripture also reveals something of an image of God that people had already recognized. God as a defender against outside enemies, God also assures His presence to those who are struggling in life, the poor, the widows and the orphans.
This is a manifestation of God’s loving care and that character of God that shows compassion and so much love for the people. Indeed, the Israelites over a loooong period of time gradually knew God more and deeper. Israel realized that there is only one God and that God is not a terrifying God, but a loving and caring God.
This is what Paul preached in his travels. Jesus, the ultimate revelation of God’s face, revealed that God even became man and died for his people. This is how much God shows his faithful love to us. The Church in Thessalonica, upon receiving this good news to them, received it with love and devotion.
Moreover, the response of Jesus to the scholar of the law tells us of the right attitude in relating and responding to God. Thus, the question as to what is the greatest commandment expresses a relationship of love and not of fear. Jesus reveals what was behind the law, and that was love – to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We are only able to respond to God with love when we ourselves are conscious of God’s love for us, his goodness and generosity in us. Again, the Book of Exodus tells us how God reminded his people of the many good things he did for them. God saved the people from slavery, from that misery of having no land, no home, and no identity. God heard their cry and sent Moses to deliver them from that slavery. Because of these many blessings they enjoyed from God they too in “gratefulness” shall show compassion and mercy to those who are strangers, to the poor, the widows and orphans.
And again, this is what we find also in the letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. They have showed compassion and mercy to others and with one another. They have imitated Christ in words and deeds because they were convinced of Jesus and conscious of the many good things that God has done for them.
This is what God wants to show to us this Sunday – that as we live our lives as Christians, as we practice our Christianity – our response to Him should be out of “gratefulness” not out of fear that springs forth from our deep love for Him who first loved us. Our love for God will then be shown in our words as well as in our actions. We shall be generous to those who are in need because we are grateful to God who is generous to us. We shall show our concern and affection to our friends because God shows his love to us in many ways. We shall forgive those who hurt us because God has forgiven us first.
In this way then, we will be able to live our Christian faith that truly loves God and our neighbor as we love ourselves. Hinaut pa.
Jom Baring, CSsR