Mercy: Prerogative of the Powerful

Painting by Marcel Witte

Adam and Eve were punished for trying to play God. Their sentence? Parenthood. In his wisdom, God designed for us this lifetime struggle to give us key insights into what it’s like to be God. It starts with birth. Newborn humans are puny and completely defenseless. Their survival depends on the parent’s love. Every nerve-twitching cry from this baby squeezes the parent’s heart, bending even the biggest, most powerful humans into submission. If these noises were to come from cockroaches, humans would have yet another reason to hate them. Instead, parents use all of their powers to answer those cries with mercy and love. Suddenly they’re playing God. How? It’s all there in the Book of Wisdom, from which we take Sunday’s first reading (Wis 12:13, 16-19):

For your might is the source of justice; your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all … for power, whenever you will, attends you. And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind;

But the sentence of parenthood doesn’t end when baby grows up. It just shifts perspective. Now the parents who answered our cries when we were infants enter a second childhood of their own. Old-age reacquaints them with the helplessness they knew as infants. The self-sufficiency they fought so hard to achieve becomes insecurity. The crying and shouting that are the prayers of infants turn into moaning and complaining. The gift of faith must supplement their prayers and support the new parental role their adult children adopt. The prayers of all involved in this closed circuit of care are not necessarily expressed in words but in an instinctual spiritual connection to something bigger than ourselves—a parent who knows and serves all of humanity’s needs, as St. Paul explains in Sunday’s second reading (Rom 8:26-27):

The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.

Finally, through his parable of the mustard seed (Mt 13:24-43), Jesus simplifies beautifully the unwieldy complexity we add to this chain of care that both obligates and frees our spirit. The chain begins with the smallest of potentialities, a being dependent on just the right mix of parental care and shelter to grow into something big that, in turn, offers its impressive properties up for the benefit of the next generation of needy creatures.

He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'”

Parenthood is a complex journey for humanity. Talk about God working in mysterious ways, wrap your head around this:  what started as a punishment for competing with God is now a calling to imitate Him.

–Tom Andel

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