Would God Demand the Impossible?

swing-on-a-cloud

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time


I ask your indulgence for once again wading in the deep end. It’s an annoying habit I picked up in college. But I was wondering. Would God demand of us the impossible? Hang tight. I am hoping this will take us somewhere. Now I am not asking if we think God should or should not demand of us the impossible. I am quite certain that the opinions and sentiments of mortal creatures like ourselves in the matter of what God may or may not think, say, or do are totally irrelevant. So the question is also irrelevant. I mean, does it matter what your neighbor’s iguana thinks? Ever? Exactly. So back to the question. Would God demand of us the impossible?

By definition, God is perfect, uncreated (always is), and eternal (has no limits). And by contrast we who are not God are imperfect, created (presumably by God who is uncreated), and finite (we have predictable limits). As imperfect and finite creatures, we are completely unessential to God’s grand design. Fortunately for us, God did create us if only because God wanted to. But we are still unessential. God alone is necessary. Without us, God would still be. But without God, we would not. Big difference.

Now from our limited understanding of God’s divinity and our own humanity, we know that God and we function totally consistent with our respective natures. I say our understanding is limited because although we can learn more and understand better, we will never learn and understand fully. We know God is uncreated Spirit, eternal, Almighty, All-Knowing. God created the universe and all that is in it. But God is not bound by the limits of time, space, or natural law. Humans, however, are a union of created matter and eternal spirit. We have physical limitations. We are subject to natural law. But we possess the conviction that God desires to draw us into God’s own divine life. Despite that our created nature hinders us from totally grasping the fullness of God, we can grasp some truth, but will never grasp all of it. Still we thirst for it. But would God demand that we grasp totally all that God is? Would God demand we fill a shot glass (our mind) with all that a full pitcher can hold (God’s mind)? If we know our physical limits, we know we will never succeed, no matter how much we desire it. End of story.

pitcher-shot-glass

We read in John’s first letter that “God is love.[1]” And later in the same letter, he tells us we are capable of love only because God loved us first[2]. So when in the gospel Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment—that we love one another[3]—he is merely asking of us what he already knows we are capable of. What God demands of us is not impossible. It might be difficult to accomplish, challenging, foolish, naïve, even reckless, but it is not impossible. If we truly value who Jesus is, if we value the lessons he taught with authority and conviction, if we value the truth he ultimately suffered and died for, then we cannot simply ignore what today’s gospel asks of us. Otherwise, we have missed the point entirely, and we do not grasp at all why we call ourselves his disciples.

Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies.[4]” Now before all else, let’s define who is an “enemy.” A simple online search defines an enemy as a person or group that is actively opposed or hostile to us, a rival, an adversary. If you can’t think of anyone or any group you are actively opposed or hostile to, you’re in luck! You just may have no enemies. But now consider if anyone or any group may be actively opposed or hostile to you, your faith, your values, your way of life, your politics, or your sports team preference. Just because you don’t feel it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Now consider again if you may be opposed or hostile to anyone or any group because of their faith, their values, their way of life, their politics, or their sports team preference. I’m sure Jesus wasn’t referring to some of these. So we should narrow our focus perhaps to those who might wish us harm, or those who would go out of their way to show dislike or contempt, or those who would treat us with condescension or unkindness. Or we them.

chess two rows of pawns with knight challenge centre selective focus

So before we can love an enemy, we will need first to be rid of the anger or resentment we feel toward them. Now our anger or resentment could be completely reasonable and justified. We have been hurt. And we have every right to be angry or resentful. But instead, we can intentionally choose to be rid of our anger or resentment. Being offended happens primarily because we have determined that what was done to us gives us just cause to be offended. And the opposite is also true. We can determine that what was done to us is not reason enough to be offended. When we free our enemies from the prison of our resentment, we set ourselves free. If justice still demands restitution, it can be achieved without bitterness, and we just may save ourselves from getting an ulcer or two. This conscious and intentional act of the will is what forgiveness is.

Only after we have consciously and intentionally set aside our bitterness and resentment can we now extend love. I think forgiveness is much harder since we may have every legitimate right not to forgive. But like forgiveness, love is also an act of the will. It is not a feeling. So if we feel love, that’s an added bonus. Yet we can still choose to love even if we don’t feel very loving. Have you ever had one of those days? So I can still choose to love despite a total lack of warm fuzzies. Love is ultimately the desire for the good of another, not the good we think they deserve, but the good God wants for them. So when we choose to love, we truly want the good that God wants for them.

let-go-of-resentment

And here’s an interesting twist. It can happen that the good God wants for another can only be possible as long as I am nowhere around. Consequently, I can love sincerely and deeply from afar, as much as I want the good that God wants for them.

To reprove or correct a neighbor without incurring sin[5] is to avoid resentment or bitterness. If only we could disagree with others without being disagreeable, we would act toward them with respect and compassion. Instead, social media has enabled us to speak our mind freely, but with complete and utter disregard for our neighbor’s good. St. Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?[6]” When we are confronted, anger and resentment can come easily. But we cannot be like tax collectors and pagans, who love those who love them, and hate those who hate them. Jesus knows we can be better still.

He tells us, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.[7]” The love God demands of us is not impossible, and we are totally equipped to make it a reality.

be-better

Rolo B Castillo © 2017


[1] 1 John 4: 8

[2] 1 John 4: 19

[3] John 13: 34

[4] Matthew 5: 44

[5] Leviticus 19: 17

[6] 1 Corinthians 3: 16

[7] Matthew 5: 48