It was 7th grade. We were sitting in line waiting for our name to be called to go out to our cars. I had something pressing to tell my friend, probably something about the Pokémon I was looking for (yup we were playing that when I was in middle school too). Knowing we weren’t supposed to talk, I folded my hands over my face so my palms covered my mouth and my fingers met on the bridge of my nose. I was mid-sentence when my teacher crouched down right in front of me, hands just like mine telling me, “I can still see your mouth moving.” That’s what he said, what I heard was, “I see you trying to be clever which means you know the rules, but you’re not that clever, so stop playing games with me.”
Similarly, I think God is telling us in today’s readings to not play games. Listen to these words: “Are you to steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal, go after strange gods that you know not, and yet come to stand before me in this house which bears my name, and say: ‘We are safe; we can commit all these abominations again’? Has this house which bears my name become in your eyes a den of thieves? I too see what is being done, says the LORD.”
We cheapen God’s mercy when we presume upon it, forgetting that it comes to us through the cross. Jeremiah could as us: Do we tithe with the money we saved by buying sweatshop products? Do our judgements and stinginess push scared mothers toward abortion? Do we make the faults of our spouse or significant other the butt of our jokes with friends? Do we have our morning devotion to our smart phone, burn incense to our flag, bow down to our politics, or ‘tithe’ to our own comfort while neglecting prayer, the Kingdom of God, putting on the mind of Christ, and giving to the poor? Do we look at all these, shrug and say, “It’s ok, God understands?”
It is true God understands! But we need to lift up a cry of, “Thank you God for understanding,” not dismiss him with the mindset of, “Forget God, He understands anyway.” God is merciful when we fall, not merciful so we’ll fall. The book of Wisdom says it this way, “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance” (11:23).
Through Jeremiah God essentially tells us, “I wasn’t born yesterday, so please, don’t play games with me.” We play games with God when we ‘prepent’ (sinning counting on repentance later, “Father forgive me for what I’m about to do). Or when we make a God a fool to manipulate. Or in these striking words from Fr. Larry Richards, when we claim love for the Eucharist, but neglect one another (Fr. Larry is admittedly a little brash, but sometimes we need the challenge): “Do we see Christ, really see Him, in the people around us? Or do we come in and say, ‘Oh, I only see Jesus in the Eucharist and I bow down and worship Him. Oh Lord, I love you.’ But then I hate the people next to me. Oh am I sick of that. If you can’t love the person next to you, don’t play games saying that you love Him. Don’t even begin to do it because you are a liar. Don’t play games with God. If you sit there and you see Jesus here, then you darn better well see Him in the person next to you, whether you like them or you don’t like them, Christ is there. Stop judging them. Stop putting them down and stop saying all of these things against them. Christ is in the person next to you just as real as He is in the tabernacle and that take’s eyes of faith. Do you have the eyes of faith?”
Lord, help us to rejoice in your great mercy because we take you seriously and comprehend how great of a gift it truly is.