Scripture for this Sunday: Genesis 21.8-21; Psalm 86.1-10; Romans 6.1b-11; Matthew 10.24-39
There is a chapel on the road from Mahón to Fornells in Menorca, the Ermita de Fatima. I was told when I first came to Menorca that it was customarily the church where couples would go for a wedding if there had been – well, ‘indiscretion,’ one might say. I suppose one might say that it would have been the chapel for those who could not wait.
That conjures up two associations. One is the rather sad tale of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac, where Sarah and Abraham could not wait for a child and so Hagar was chosen (by Sarah) to bear a child. It did not go well. When God’s promise was fulfilled there was jealousy between Sarah and Hagar, as the result of which Hagar and Ishmael were sent away. Fortunately, God took care of them.
The other association is of my niece as a three year old asserting her independence, proclaiming, “I do it myself!” That is age-appropriate behaviour for a three year old, but not for adults – yet we act towards God like spiritual three year olds. There is a repeated pattern in scripture of people’s rejection of God, but of God’s faithful persistence in longing for relationship with us – a cycle of creation, sin, judgement and redemption.
God does not abandon us, but all too often we turn our backs on God, usually because we think we can manage alone. Which brings us back to my niece at the age of three, proclaiming determinedly: “I do it myself!” We would do well to drop our hubris and acknowledge our dependence upon God and our interdependence upon other human beings.
Another stage in human development is the feeling of indestructibility. Young children have to learn fear; adolescents (and some young adults) seem to feel indestructible; yet we are mortal and vulnerable – which is why we have fear, an instinct that is intended to preserve us. Nevertheless, there are still times – when things go well – when we act as if we are indestructible. It’s another aspect of spiritual immaturity.
Of course, we might wonder whether Jesus encourages this sort of indestructible attitude. What does he say repeatedly? Do not fear. Don’t be afraid. How do we incorporate this into our lives?
Perhaps the best approach is prayerfully to seek guidance as to how best to love our neighbours as ourselves. This means finding a balance point between artificially restricting what other people can do because of our own fear, and taking care of those who are vulnerable – and taking care of ourselves. It means making difficult decisions about how to satisfy one another’s needs: the need for safety and protection, the need for spiritual nourishment, the need for human companionship, and so on.
Fortunately, God’s love is given freely to all, and is capable of surmounting the difficulties of human wilfulness. This does not, of course, mean that we should be going out of our way to give God opportunities to show grace in the world. The idea of giving God more room/opportunity to show God’s grace by committing more sin ourselves is something that the Apostle Paul specifically nips in the bud in writing to the Christians in Rome. Presumably somebody must have asked whether it was a good thing that people committed plenty of sin so that God would have more opportunity to show glory. It sounds silly, but perhaps this is exactly what we do when we try to ‘second guess’ God – when we are inclined to be impatient with God and take things into our own hands.
So, on the one hand, we can be just a little less prone to take things into our own hands – just a little less likely to act as spiritual three year olds. And a little less likely to be among those who cannot wait. On the other hand, God can and will take all of our misbegotten efforts and turn them into something purposeful.
Jesus knew that none of this would be easy, and would cause divisions within families and communities. But he also made it clear that in placing allegiance to Christ first, God’s will can prevail, that God will – in God’s good time – gracefully nudge and nurture humanity in the right direction.
This ought to make us just a little less fearful of trusting in God. Jesus was saying that we cannot let our lives be ruled by fear. So let’s allow some space for faith in dealing with our fears.