Do you ever look at others and think to yourself, “I don’t understand why they make the choices they make. If I was in that situation, I would make a totally different decision.” Sometimes the things we make judgments about are small in nature.
We wonder why a neighbor picked a particular color for the outside of their house. And we wonder why someone wears the clothes they wear, or wonder why they got a particular tattoo. We wonder why our boss hired the person she did. And we wonder why our daughter is dating a particular boy and wonder why our son is dating a particular girl.
But we also wonder about big things too. For example we see that our friends keep letting their troubled, drug-addicted twenty-something back in the house over and over and over again. “I would never ever do that,” we think to ourselves. But some people do.
Or we know someone who patiently houses and cares for their elderly parent who has severe dementia. “I don’t know why they do it. I’d just let someone else deal with it.” But some people don’t. Or our sibling’s spouse cheats and cheats and cheats again, but somehow the couple manages to stay together. “If that was me, I’d kick her (or him) out and change the locks.” But some people simply choose a different path from the one we would choose.
And in each of the three examples above there is a common theme, a common reluctance. And it is this: When people love someone deeply, there is a deep-seated desire to never give up on them. And sometimes, kicking someone out, or separating, or letting someone else care for a person can feel a lot like that – as if we are saying, “I’ve had enough. I can’t give you a second chance.” I’ve my life to live. And that’s a hard thing to do.
In fact, for God, that is (in a sense) “impossible” – not in the sense that God CAN’T, but rather because he WON’T, or is seemingly unwilling to do. Another way of putting it is that God can never deny himself, can never go against who he is (by definition). God believes in us. God wants the best for us. God holds out hope that we will one day become the men and women he created us to be. And in this life, there is absolutely no time limit. God is just that patient with us!
We see that on display in each of our three readings today. In the First Reading from Exodus we see a kind of “conversation” between Moses and God. God seems ready to pounce on the Israelites for worshipping a molten calf (making God even angrier since he had just delivered them from Egypt). Moses “reminds” God of his promises to the people of Israel, and God relents, choosing NOT to show them his wrath. It’s easy to see this story as Moses “changing” God’s mind, when in actuality it may be that Moses was convinced in his heart of one thing, while God was able to teach him another kind of lesson – one in which God simply loves and loves and loves some more.
And so, despite how the narrative is structured, it might have been simply that Moses was fearful of what God MIGHT do, or COULD do. Yet, God surprised Moses by doing the opposite, by caring for them despite their infidelity. Imagine that.
In the Second Reading from Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, he reminds Timothy of his ( that’s Paul’s) own spiritual journey, how he was a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man, and yet God somehow never gave up on him. He puts it this way:
“ . . . I was mercifully treated, so that in me . . .
Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example . . .”
And of course, we see it clearly on display in our Gospel Reading from Luke. A man leaves ninety-nine sheep to search for the one that is lost. A woman searches relentlessly to find a lost coin, even though she has nine others. And a father forgives a son who has run off and lived a shameful life – an insult and disappointment of great proportions. Imagine that. We have a God who NEVER gives up on us. He loves us just that much!
Can we say the same? And I don’t mean about other people. I mean about God. Do we not sometimes give up on HIM? Each time we turn our back on someone who could really use our help. Each time we refuse to forgive someone who has wronged us. Each time we rejoice when someone is treated harshly (as long as it’s not us).
Each time we cling to our money as if it were more precious than just about anything else. Each time we fail to try to place ourselves in another person’s situation, another person’s shoes – refusing to consider how someone else might be thinking or feeling or what they might be experiencing.
Lots of ways to give up on God.
My dear people of God, being the person God created us to be is not easy. It’s easy to simply sit back and make judgments about others – thankful that WE are not like THEM. And yet, that sort of attitude is actually the opposite of gratitude. Rather, a grateful person is one who never stops forgetting that God never gives up on us, never stops forgetting what God has done (and continues to do) for us, not once in a while, but always.
May that truth, that understanding, that realization, that reality, help us be that same kind of person to others. The world needs it. God wants it. Isn’t that enough?