Have you ever made a decision that led to difficulties for others? Maybe, no one knows your involvement. You could even be in the dark about the consequences for weeks, months, or years. Then comes a pivotal moment of choice. Seeing the consequences, you can alleviate some of the difficulties you caused, but you will begin to reveal your level of responsibility. Do you step in and possibly face scorn and reproach? Do you leave it quietly between you and God hoping you never have to explain your silence and inaction? These are the thoughts triggered in me by today’s readings.
In the first reading we see the ramifications of obeying the serpent instead of God. God confronts Adam and Eve about their disobedience. After Adam and Eve try to parry, dodge, and evade every ounce of responsibility we see the curses that God delivers. The one that will have particular note as we continue this reflection is,
Cursed be the ground because of you!
In toil shall you eat its yield
all the days of your life. …
By the sweat of your face
shall you get bread to eat.
This whole scene reflects our hatred that actions have consequences.
From bad moves in board games to criminal activity; from not studying to neglecting the care of our neighbor, we have an almost natural inclination to try and shy away from negative consequences and our responsibility for wrongs. I am no different. My litany of excuses might be shorter than it was in my teen years, but still exists. This is problematic for me. Not because my end goal is to be regarded as a ‘responsible adulthood’ or ‘respectable citizen,’ but because, as a disciple, I want to imitate my master; a man who doesn’t make excuses.
The gospel reveals Christ’s integrity. He takes responsibility. Through his preaching, signs, and wonders He drew a vast crowd to Himself. They followed Him for three days and were hungry. Instead of deflecting responsibility and concluding that they should have planned accordingly, He took pity on them and fed them. What a convicting model for when I want to discard responsibility for others! On a human level, Christ’s action is enough for me to look inward. However, this all seemed secondary after it struck me, Jesus is not merely human, He is God incarnate.
As God, Jesus is in some way involved in the hunger this crowd is facing. He issued the punishment that promised the toil and struggle for food. This isn’t to say that He was unjust, but He is involved in a way unknown to the crowd. So what does He do? He orders them to sit and take rest on the ground that exhausts them. He miraculously multiplies the bread that eludes them. Thus, in His miraculous feeding of the crowd, Christ does more than show us that He is a stand-up guy. He reveals himself as the One who knit together clothes for Adam and Eve. He sets the standard that taking responsibility is not merely a good human action, but transcends into a divine prerogative. He has come to mercifully save us from death — a death His justice promised — and He foreshadows that salvation as He mercifully relieves Adam’s curse; the crowd’s hunger.
Christ’s mercy doesn’t undermine His justice, it informs us of His love. He didn’t proclaim punishments and then leave us to rot, but He sought us out to restore our relationship. Is there an issue in your life, maybe with a spouse, child, co-worker or friend, where you have allowed your sense of justice to make mercy impossible? Can you, in love, extend mercy? Can a relationship that has been justly severed be mended? Can we follow the divine prerogative, and take the first step toward reconciliation?