11 November 2007

Pondering God's Mercy

The following is an excerpt from the sermon preached today at Holy Incarnation Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church. Using the propers for Gregorian Use parishes in the Western Rite Vicariate, the sermon is based on the Gospel reading for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost.

The book of Job invites us to ponder this age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Yet as we enter into the conversation with Job, as we listen to the deliberations between righteous Job and his unrighteous friends, as we hear our own voices in Job’s searching and also in the searing arguments of his so-called friends, we might begin to understand that the real question is not why bad things happen to good people, but rather why the Lord gives good to anyone. For when the words of Job are ended, when he is exhausted and is out of words, when the Lord finally gets his say, then we hear the rat-a-tat-tat of rhetorical questions—questions all designed to ask one thing: Why am I, the Lord and Maker of all things, why am I good? And merciful? And kind?

Job has no answer. And neither do we. But notice the question. It is not the self-centered question we ask: the question about why God lets us or makes us suffer; or why the all-knowing God doesn’t stop the suffering. That is the lesser question because it begins with us, and it is the product of our pride. With it, we presume to question God. And by questioning God we implicitly blame Him. And by questioning God, we go nowhere.

But the question God asks; the question that spring not from us but from Him—this question does not lead us nowhere, but leads us to consider all that we have and all that we are. God’s question—Why am I merciful?—that question leads us not to wallow in our misery, but to reflect upon the Lord, and the manifold ways in which He deigns to have mercy, and—most importantly—why He has mercy at all. For with the patriarch Jacob we must say, “I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, and of thy truth which thou hast showed to thy servant.” (Gen 32.10) And yet, even as we repeat these words, even as we hear ourselves say, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof,”—with those words we must admit that the Lord inexplicably has mercy on us; that He graciously gives us what we do not deserve; that He kindly overlooks our sins and does not deal with us as we deal with each other; and that He not only has mercy, but even also is mercy.

And then, with the patriarch Job, we have nothing left to say except: I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes; for I know that You can do every thing, and that no thought can be withheld from You. And with St. Paul, we can only acclaim the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.

As we acclaim the Lord’s wisdom; as we proclaim that all wisdom is from the Lord God (Sir 1.1); as we confess that the Lord’s foolishness exceeds our wisest wisdom—then, perhaps, we will begin to understand the point Our Lord is making in today’s parable.

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