The federal government shutdown these last 3 weeks is an embarrassment and a massive failure of leadership. Don’t worry. I’m not taking sides. I really have bigger fish to fry. But I think we can all agree this shutdown, impasse, failure of leadership, whatever you want to call it, has to end. And perhaps that’s the only thing that both sides will agree on. And exactly how they get to accomplish this singular objective, not their own partisan political objective, is the $5.7B elephant in the room.
So we take a breath and a break from this more interesting bit of reality drama to recall and celebrate a historical event in salvation history, the baptism of the Lord Jesus by John the Baptist at the river Jordan, inaugurating his public ministry, a rather low key church feast considering it brings the more popular and commercially successful Christmas season to a close. We know it can’t be Christmas all year. So at some point the tree and all the seasonal decorations have to be put away. I’m still working on mine. So I can understand what some of you are dealing with.
I imagine when God was formulating a comprehensive plan to save the human family and reconcile us with himself, he considered all his options, options we wouldn’t even have a clue about. Returning momentarily to the reality drama taking place at our nation’s capital, I was speaking with a young man recently. He suggested we should take all the politicians and lock them in a room at an undisclosed location, feed them only bread and water, and force them to get along and work things out. Wisdom! I then recalled reading somewhere, this was the exact same measure imposed on the college of cardinals at the conclave that stretched from November 1268 to September 1271 because they took too long to elect a new pope. That 18 month conclave ended with the election of Pope Gregory X, but not before 23 cardinal electors died, and one resigned. Then at the Second Council of Lyon 2 years later, Pope Gregory X decreed that when a conclave went beyond 3 days, the cardinals would be served only one meal a day; and after 8 days, only bread and water and wine. Clearly, you don’t mess with the wine. Ever.
Apparently there was a lot of political infighting going on among the cardinals. Imagine that? So arriving at a compromise without arm twisting and death threats is clearly the ideal. But how to make that happen? Eventually someone figured serving them bad food, then restricting their diet, then withdrawing their comforts would do the job. There’s a lesson to be learned here. How about we elect grown-ups next time?
So God and the human race were at an impasse. The sin of our first parents had caused this irreparable rift that no one but God could possibly fix. Throughout history, theologians have attempted to explain this dilemma. In theory, every offense is fixable. But every fix has a price. Now when one created being offends another created being, the price for such a fix should be within easy reach, much easier, that is, than when a created being offends their Creator. A created being and its Creator are not and will never be on equal footing. So any fix would not only be beyond the reach of any created being, but would only be properly accomplished by one who was equal to God. So God sent his Son, totally a free choice on God’s part, to take on the nature of a created being and do the deed. By his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus once and for all reconciled God with all humanity and all creation. No matter how much humanity desired this fix, we were completely powerless and without recourse. God alone could accomplish this fix, if and only if God desired it. And luckily, God desired it. The rest is salvation history.
Obviously the inequality of standing between God and the human race could have presented insurmountable challenges. If sinful humanity remained defiant in their resistance to God’s reconciliation, that reconciliation could never have come about. But by his obedience to the Father’s will, by putting on our sinful nature, being born, being tempted, by experiencing everything we experience but sin, then suffering, dying, and being buried, Jesus articulated on behalf of all humanity our desire to be reconciled with God. “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased; upon whom I have put my spirit,” we read from the prophet Isaiah that scripture scholars tell us refers to Jesus. “He shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. … I have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”
God had every reason to hold humanity in eternal contempt. Yet despite having a much higher standing in that unequal relationship with us, it was God who backed down, withdrawing his right to be offended, because God desired reconciliation with us more than to impose punishment and demand justice. God always knew that bringing about our salvation would cost him more than it would ever cost us. Jesus would work out the details later, inviting us to a change of attitude and a change of behavior, teaching us to extend to one another the same mercy we have received, and challenging us to imitate his graciousness by loving even those who would not return our love.
So in our interaction with one another, we might learn from God’s example. If we truly desire reconciliation with one another, if the good of our neighbor is still a much higher priority than soothing our bruised ego, we might perhaps be open to considering withdrawing our right to be offended or to make any demands all together … IF we truly desire reconciliation, and the good of our neighbor is still a much higher priority than soothing our bruised ego. A big IF, crazy big IF. And for as long as any retreat from what we might see as our legitimate demand for total compliance is seen as weakness, there will not be a resolution to any impasse. A working compromise requires that both sides see reconciliation as the higher good. If God did not choose to back down, we would still be in our sins. Perhaps challenging ourselves or our leaders to imitate God in anything is a bit of a stretch. But it all hinged on God not considering it a defeat that his beloved Son Jesus would embrace his passion and death. God’s compassion prevailed, and humanity was reconciled with God and with one another.
Our leaders must first agree that reconciliation is the higher priority, or this impasse will drag on. We can always force the bread and water solution. But it requires the services of a grown-up. Any volunteers?
Rolo B Castillo © 2019
Isaiah 42: 1-3, 6-7.