God may be part of a trinity, but this Sunday’s readings make Him look two-faced. There’s the Old Testament God depicted as mean and vengeful in our first reading (nm 21:4b-9), striking swiftly after Moses’ flock complains about their conditions in the desert:
“In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died.”
Then there’s the New Testament God whom Paul describes as a servant in our second reading (phil 2:6-11):
“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.”
Which is he? Maybe we should ask, “Which are we?”
Which people do we identify with in the Bible? The spoiled brat Israelites who complain to Moses at every turn during their journey out of Egyptian slavery, or the followers of Jesus who often show the immaturity of adolescents in their short memory for the lessons Christ teaches them along their journey? We’re not seeing two Gods in these readings but one Father in the process of raising the human race. We’re still a work in progress.
Think back on your childhood, weren’t there times when mom or dad shouted “Don’t make me come down there!” They often used fear because that’s what our childish minds understood. When we matured into adolescence our parents were a bit more subtle—using our siblings to teach us important lessons of empathy: “Now how would you feel if Billy smacked YOU in the eye?” They may even pay extra loving attention to the care of Billy’s black eye, just to teach you a lesson—maybe to make you feel a bit guilty, but also to feel some responsibility for your brother.
That’s just what Jesus did when he washed the disciples’ feet, then told them to go and do likewise.
Here we are, 2000 years later. Have God’s children grown out of their adolescence? Did our Father’s parenting help us mature into responsible adults who have taken his lessons of love to heart?
Maybe. We still fight among ourselves, motivated by the seven deadly sins. We still devote a good deal of our time to pastimes like “professional football,” where, during the course of a season several of those deadly sins often overshadow the sportsmanship the game’s inventors intended it to cultivate (wife-beating, anyone?). But even during the heat of one of those childish games broadcast on network TV, the cameras will often focus on a sign that pops somewhere in the crowd stating simply: “John 3:16.” That happens to be an excerpt from this Sunday’s Gospel reading (jn 3:13-17):
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
That lesson from Our Heavenly Father has survived the centuries and found a place in our worldly culture. Maybe God’s children have finally grown up. Now if Dad would only give us the keys to his Kingdom.