Mercy’s Grand Design

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary


When we read about our first parents in Genesis, though we might not be so inclined to take everything literally, what with a talking serpent and all that casual nudity, we can appreciate the sacred writer’s familiarity with the flaws of human nature and just how predictable people can be when caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Perhaps this colorful narrative is meant simply to remind us that human nature hasn’t changed all that significantly over the years. We are just as flawed as our first parents. But despite us, God works hard to bring about some truly amazing things. We just need to keep training our focus away from what we end up doing to mess things up and more to what God ends up doing to fix the things we mess up.

Take that kerfuffle in the garden we read about today. It appears God liked to stroll amid the work of his hands several times during the day. We can only guess whatever else took up God’s time and attention before humanity was given total access to the entire planet. “The Lord God called to the man and asked him, ‘Where are you?’ Of course, God knew where he was. We only know to read that question like God was fuming and determined to get him. Imagine if we hear that question the way parents address their little kids, “Where are you?” Changes the whole tone, doesn’t it? And like a little child who knows he’s guilty even if he doesn’t know what he did wrong, the man blurts out, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.” Rookie mistake. Whenever there’s a possibility of self-incrimination, you should never volunteer any new information. And the woman was right beside him the entire time. Now he only implicates himself, until God inquires who is responsible, at which point he caves. “She gave me the fruit, and so I ate it.” And God turns to the woman who was just as quick to shift the blame, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.” And the talking serpent is speechless. Seriously?

Philosophers, theologians, scripture scholars, and preachers through the ages have spent much time and energy exploring the implications of humanity’s fall from grace and point to this very moment when God chose to “fix” the disaster that was unfolding before him. By declaring hostilities between the woman and the serpent, and between both their offsprings, God set in motion his grand design to restore the damage and heal the lethal wound inflicted on all creation by the disobedience of our first parents. Was it all a set-up? Did God plan all along for humanity to fail miserably and need rescuing? Was there even the slightest possibility they would successfully resist temptation and set humanity instead on a course of heroic virtue and holiness?

If we consider what God intended all along from the beginning, it might not be too far-fetched that God would call into being and sustain in being everything that God already determined with whom to share his divine life and favor for all eternity. The one encompassing attribute of the Almighty God and Father of Jesus Christ our Lord throughout all of sacred scripture is his incomparable and gracious mercy. God just loves doing incredibly compassionate things. All the negative publicity comes from a grave lack of understanding of God’s purpose, which God is not obligated to divulge, or a reduction of all things mysterious to an irritable and vengeful God. That’s what children are likely to think when grown-up explanations make little sense. Besides, all creation owes eternal gratitude to God for simply existing. Everything else on top of coming into existence is a gift. But with the freedom afforded thinking beings to still turn away in disobedience as our first parents did, God had to preemptively devise a plan to restore the damage and heal the wounds that we would continue to inflict upon ourselves and all creation. Enter the offsprings of the woman and the serpent.

When God addresses the serpent, he tells it “[the woman’s offspring] will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” It appears at first that the woman God is referring to is Eve, the mother of all the living. In truth, God is referring to yet another woman, a second, a new Eve, who in the fullness of time would bear a son. And the son will strike at the head of the serpent while the serpent strikes at his heel. With today’s account of the Annunciation in the gospel, that last piece of God’s plan falls neatly into place. While the first Eve failed to resist the serpent’s falsehoods, the second Eve placed herself at the service of God’s plan so that our wounds would be healed, and any damage inflicted by disobedience would be restored.

Meanwhile today’s Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary celebrates yet another act of God’s gracious mercy on behalf of all creation. There is no gospel account of the Immaculate Conception. So sometimes people get confused. That gospel reading is not about the Immaculate Conception. It’s about the Annunciation, the conception of Jesus. Even before inviting her cooperation in his grand design, God had bestowed upon the humble virgin of Nazareth every grace and favor that supremely qualifies her for the great honor of bearing God’s own son. She would still have the freedom to decline, but fortunately for our sake she consented. And all this to heal the wounds and restore the damage inflicted by disobedience.

So we thank God therefore for choosing Mary to be the mother of our Savior. The wonderful young man she raised has shown us the face of the Father’s mercy, healing our wounds, and restoring us to God’s favor. And for all she was to him, and all she has done for him, we are beneficiaries. And we are eternally grateful.

Rolo B Castillo © 2021

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