If we ask ourselves today, “Am I prejudiced in my perception and understanding of Who God is?” “Are my perspectives narrow and rigid or are they broad and balanced?” Like the Jews, I think many of us are not very aware of the type of perceptions we have of God in our daily living. Like the Jews, many of us have a certain “fixed” view of who God is and how we want Him to be. The true image of God of the Gospel is not necessarily the image of God that we have in our lives. We are created in God’s image and likeness, but, many of us may have “created” a God in our own image and likeness i.e. in the way we like Him to be for our life and needs; in most cases unconsciously.
Let us begin our reflection by looking at today’s Gospel for a moment and try to find out what is happening. The Jews who heard Jesus teach in the synagogue where amazed at His eloquence and Wisdom. They were touched and drawn to the Truth that Jesus spoke of, but at the same time they could not believe how Jesus a carpenter and the son of a carpenter could have such eloquence and Wisdom.
Moreover, these Jews had heard that Jesus performed miracles in non-Jewish (Gentile) towns and villages. So, they too wanted Jesus whom they knew very well to perform such miracles for them. Jesus knew what they were thinking and expecting of Him. Instead of giving-in to their curiosity, Jesus courageously exposed the truth that, “no Prophet is ever accepted in his own country.”
This truth was painful to hear, but when Jesus further asserted how the Prophets Elijah and Elisha both also bypassed the Jews and blessed non-Jews (Gentiles), they became furious to the point of planning to kill Him.
All these took place because the Jews had a very fixed and rigid view of who God is. They saw themselves as the Chosen race of God, and if God was for them, then God must be against others who are non-Jews. They could not see a God and a Messiah that came to save all peoples.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as we can all see how blind and prejudiced the Jews were in their perceptions of who God is and we are tempted to condemn them for holding such views. But, before we do that, it is perhaps helpful for us to examine the types of perceptions and views that we ourselves have of God.
How many of us have come here today for Mass because we have to fulfill our Sunday obligation and not because we really value and longed to worship God and receive the Lord in the Eucharist, out of love for Him? How many of us have come to Mass today to avoid having to commit the sin of not fulfilling our Sunday obligation or worse still fear that God would be angry with us and something bad would happen to us if we do not come to Mass today? If we have such and image of God, then such a God is a very negative, authoritarian and demandingly cold God. He is like a policeman waiting to catch us breaking the traffic laws and charge us for our offense. Such a faith in God is superficial and cannot be based on a personal love for Him that He so long that we have.
Let us look at another image of God. How many of us come to Church because we have a lot of pains and needs in life. We find life to be so filled with problems, and in our helplessness, we believe only God can help us out of our problems and solve our needs. While such relationship with God is functional, it is also not deep as our main concern here is not so much that we love God, but that God can provide for all my human needs. He is like a miracle worker that I hope He can solve all my family problems, heal me of my illnesses, protect me from harm, and simply be there for me every time I need Him. While it is still better to go to God for our needs than not to have God at all in our lives, such a relationship is also superficial. We are more interested in loving ourselves than loving the God of our lives. In short, we are actually using God for our needs and for our crises in life, and not really loving Him. So, when things go well, we easily push Him to the background of our lives. Such a God too cannot be very deep.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus was challenging His fellow people of Nazareth to see that God is beyond what we want Him to be and how we want to use Him for our needs. God is for all peoples and He has come to save all peoples because indeed, He loves all peoples, especially the sinners, the poor and the needy of society.
The True and most genuine image of God that we should all adopt and integrate into our daily living is the God of the Gospel that Jesus portrayed and lived to the full during His Public ministry. This is the God who loves us totally and unconditionally to the point that He willingly goes through all His sufferings and accepts His death on the Cross, as a shameful criminal, just so that all peoples can enter eternal life and be able to live with Him in glory for all eternity. This is a God who intimately calls us “friends” and no longer calls us His servants, because He says, “a servant does not know His Master’s business.”
This Gospel image of God is also the God who loves us infinitely and shows us His Mercy and forgiveness unconditionally. This image is not only what Jesus Himself taught when He used the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but also how He Himself forgave all those who cruelly crucified Him – while hanging on the Cross, and before taking His last breathe, He used His last ounce of energy to forgive and said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
This Gospel image of God too is a God who understands that we are each weak and in need of His divine strength as we live our daily lives in this earth’s journey. As such, Jesus gave us Himself to nourish us and strengthen us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist that we are so privileged to celebrate every Sunday and even every day if we wish to. That is why Jesus said, “Do this in memory of Me.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, the real and genuine image of God is God our Lord hanging on the Cross in front of us. Let us ponder on this image and let us allow His infinite Love for us to enter our hearts and transform us so that our love for each other can become more wholesome like Him.
Let us allow His personal love for each of us, to burn away the narrow prejudices we have of His Father as a God who is to be feared and who is there merely to punish us if we do not fulfill obligations. Sunday obligations are instituted by God through the Church, simply because, in God’s Wisdom He knows and understands our human weaknesses and tendency of not to gather to worship Him if we are left to our own discretion. Yes, we have good intentions, we all love God, but also have to admit humbly, that we do not always put Him as our top priority in life.
Let us develop a more personal relationship with God as we do with people we love in our lives. Let us not allow our relationship with God to deteriorate into a functional relationship of God being there for us because we need Him to solve our problems in life and the like.
Let us allow the image of God who is on the Cross, to be our real and genuine image of God, so that our daily Christian living is moved by the Christ-like sacrificing love that we all need to develop in our daily living with one another. St Paul explains so very well what this selfless and Christ-like love means in today’s second reading when he said, “love must always be patient, kind, never jealous, never rude or selfish, does not take offence and is not resentful, takes no pleasures in people’s sins and the like.”
If we can put into practice all these ways of living our faith daily, out of love for God, then we can be sure that our narrow and prejudiced images of God, over time will be transformed into a solid Christ-like image that will be more selfless and life-giving to all peoples and fulfilling at all times .
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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