Saturday, 14 January 2017

Week 1 Saturday (Year 1) - 14 January 2017

The all-seeing eye of God was a device used to remind people that God is everywhere, knows every thought, hears every word and sees every action. He is also aware of every omission so that our confession of our sins to God, whether by thought, word, deed or omission, is not really news to him: he knows it all already.

It can seem a bit terrifying and it did indeed strike fear into the hearts of many, to be under the constant surveillance of a celestial ‘big brother’. ‘I was raised a Catholic and I have the guilt to prove it’, people sometimes say. (The same is said from within various forms of Protestantism and from within other religious traditions also.) It is strange how Christian communities came to position themselves, or to be positioned, at the service of a Victorian and puritan morality that managed simply to reverse what Jesus says in today’s gospel, convincing people that he had actually come for the healthy rather than for the sick. The sick, especially the morally sick, were despised and rejected, cast out by society, a casting out that was often led by Christian congregations serving the interests of that society.

As the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of it, this scrutiny by one to whom we must render an account, can easily be heard as a kind of threat.  It sounds quite surgical: a sword penetrating between joints and marrow, between soul and spirit. However, the universal and particular providence of God, which we hear about in both readings today, ought to be good news for us. We can imagine that the interest which parents and others take in a newborn child is a good analogy for the interest God takes in his children, watching over their every breath and examining every detail of how they are. Every hair on your head is counted: what if this is a testimony to love rather than an incitement to fear?

Hebrews immediately points us to Christ and to the way in which in fact God’s universal and particular providence has been exercised. This providence is working God’s purpose out through one who knows our weakness and has been tempted in every way that we are. Likewise in the gospel reading, we see how his knowledge of sinners leads Jesus to the office of Levi, a tax collector. He is criticized then by the monitors of public morality for eating with tax collectors and other sinners: how can it be that one who purports to be a teacher and guide mixes with such people?

Let us make this simple reversal instead, that the gospel is about love rather than fear, a perfect love that casts out all fear. Jesus really has come for the sick, to call them to be with him and to accompany him in building the kingdom. He has come to carry the Father’s love into the lives of sinners like Levi and if he is to do that he is obliged to mix with them, to live among them, to pass his days in their company. He must know them and in doing so he teaches us that the divine knowledge of all things follows from the divine love of all things. It is the same Spirit who searches the depths of God and who searches human hearts, helping us to see not a sword hanging over us but the gifts we have received, the gifts he yet wishes to bring to us.

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