THE JUST LOVE OF GOD: A HOMILY ON THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR B, BY FR. IFEANYICHUKWU HENRY NWOKORO CSsR, ST. ANTHONY’S AND MARY MOUNT, UITENHAGE
There is a very big trap in the bible that we can fall into. We fall into this trap simply because we impose our nature on God and so we create in our minds a God who is just like us. In order to avoid this trap, we have to always be aware of the differences between God and ourselves. Our first reading presents some of these differences very clearly.
GOD IS INFINITE
When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” And Peter opened his mouth an said: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can any one forbid water for baptising these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.: When Conelius attempted to worship Peter, Peter made it clear to him that he is just a fellow man and that there is a big difference between a man and God. There are at least three differences demonstrated here. The first is that God is not partial and God has no favorites. If we read the story of Cain and Abel, we can easily get the impression that God loves Abel more than He loves Cain. But if we read carefully, we will see that in the punishment given to Cain, there is a lot of loving considerations made. For example, God promised cain that a mark will be put on him so that nobody will kill him. Also when we read the story of God saving the Israelites from Egypt, we can get the impression, as the Israelites themselves did, that God loves the Israelites more than He loves the Egyptians. We fall into this trap because we think God is finite like us. God is not finite. God is infinite, and so He cannot love in a finite way. A love that is meant for some people and not for some people is a finite love, a limited love. God is not small minded like us. We need to also know that God is utter simplicity. That is why He describes Himself as ‘I AM’. We even get the impression that God loves those in heaven more than He loves those in hell. Or we get the impression that God does not love Satan.
Because God is infinite, we cannot limit the movement of the Holy Spirit. This is why the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles even before Peter could enter into the debate of whether to baptise them or not. Usually, the Holy Spirit comes upon us at baptism. But here we see the Holy Spirit coming upon the Gentiles before baptism. Peter realised that God had already baptised the people Himself, and so he had to baptise them to fulfill the formalities. God does not play by our human politics, and God cannot be trapped in our sentiments. God has chosen to use the Church in reaching out to the people, but if the Church does not do so, God can still reach out to the people himself. This is the difference between the almighty God and other gods.
When we read the diaries of St. Faustina, Jesus says people should be open to the mercy of God so that they will not have to face the justice of God. This kind of message can give us the impression that God can be caught between been merciful to a sinner and being just to the same sinner. In this sense, mercy would mean letting the sinner off the hook and justice would mean making the sinner face the music. This kind of interpretation comes from a false notion of God, namely that God is divided within Himself. God does not have a division within Himself like we do, having to decide between beeing merciful and being just.
MERCY AND JUSTICE
Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.: In Psalm 85:11 it says “Mercy and faithfulness have met; Justice and peace have kissed”. In Jesus, we see the meeting of Justice and Mercy. But before we do that let us clearify what is mercy and what is Justice. Love or mercy is the decission to work towards the good of the other person. God is committed to work toward our good. Justice is a committment to make all things right. Justice can be seen as a decission to fix it when it is broken. For example, when our relationship with God was broken due to our sins, Jesus makes expiration for our sins, in order to reconcile us back to God. Therefore, God’s love for us is a love that is just. First, it is just in the sense that it is not for some people at the expense of others, and it is not more for some people and less for others. His love for us is also just in the sense that there is a committment to make things right. The only reason God will be committed to make things right is because he loves us, and the way he shows that he loves us is through His committment to make things right.
For example, when a person committs a crime and is sent to jail, we can say the person is facing justice, but this justice will not be justice unless it kisses mercy/love. In sending the person to jail, there should be a decision to seek what is best for that criminal. That is why we talk of restorative justice. This is why our prisons is called correctional service. It is out of love for the criminal that we send them to jail. The jail is not a way of getting back at them. That will be sinful. The jail is meant to be a period of purification, to help them retrace their steps and set things right.
If the court decides not to punish them, and have a so called mercy on them, this will not be loving at all, unless there is a reason to believe that they will not do it again. If someone is doing something wrong, then something is not right somewhere. It will not be loving to just let them carry on like that. Therefore: Love is no love without Justice and Justice is no justice without love. This is why the Church does not support punishments like killing the criminal, because this kind of justice has not kissed love. The ultimate meeting of Justice and Mercy is on the cross of Christ. Jesus dies to make expiation for our sins. God could have just let us off the hook. As much as we may think this is loving, this will neither be loving nor just. If it is not loving, it is not just and if it is not just, it is not loving. God could also in justice condemn us all to hell, but this would not be loving either. Jesus takes our sins upon himself and takes the punishment as well, in order to set us free. But this does not mean we are completely off the hook. This does not mean we can just carry on doing whatever we like knowing that Jesus has set us free. This will neither be loving nor just. In His love, God seeks what is best for us and in His justice, God is committed to making things right with us. If we are still living in sin, then something is not right and that thing which is not right is what God is committed to make right. If you really like your phone, when it is broken, you will not throw it away. Rather, you will do everything possible to get it fixed so that it can do what it wast meant to do. This fixing can be painful to the phone, but it is your own way of showing that you want to abide with the phone.
COMMANDMENTS AS DESCRIPTIVE
At that time: Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may gift it to you. This I command you, to love one another.: We often hear Jesus making a strong connection between loving Him and keeping His commandment. In our understanding of love, we could wonder what could be loving in telling us to obey all these difficult commandments. God could have just made it easy by telling us to do whatever makes us happy. Usually, this is what we say to each other today ‘Whatever makes you happy’. It sounds sweet and kind and loving, but God is not saying that. A good way to understand God’s commandments is that His commandments are not prescriptive but descriptive. What that means is that His commandments are not God’s way of telling us what to do or what not to do. Rather His commandments describe to us what the best image of ourselves would be. He is not just saying ‘do not kill’, rather He is saying ‘You will be a better person if you do not kill’. He is not just saying do not committ adultery, rather he is saying your life will be a lot easier, a lot peaceful, a lot healthy if you do not committ adultery. He is not just saying do not steal. He is saying your life will be better preserved if you keep to what is your own. So, God is not telling us what to do. He is telling us what is best for us. We might think we know better, but the reason our world is messed up today is because we often think we know better than God. His greatest commandment that we should love one another is not so much a prescription as it is a description. He is saying to us that our world would be a better place if it is full of people who love one another. However, this kind of love should be in the way God loves us. God did not divorce justice from his love and He does not divorce love from His justice. The people who are in hell are in hell simply because God loves them. How? If they have rejected God in their choices, God loves them enough not to impose Himself on them. God loves them enough not to take away their freewill. God loves them enough to respect their choices. They are not in hell because God is getting back at them. Rather they are in hell because God is making everything right. God cannot put two things together which does not belong together.
Love cannot be love if it is not just.
Justice cannot be just if it is not loving.
Mercy and Justice have kissed. What God has joined together, let noone divide.