Divine Leniency and the Human Response To It

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19 – Romans 8:26-27 – Matthew 13:24-43.

While I was undergoing formation in Nigeria, seminarians used to be sent out on ‘apostolic work experience’ every year. ‘Apostolic work experience’ is rather like ‘pastoral practice’ in this country, except that it’s more extensive. We, seminarians were assigned to various parishes across the diocese, and each apostolic work experience lasted 6 to 8 weeks. On one of my regular home visits, I encountered a man who informed me that he didn’t like Christianity. I asked him why he didn’t. He told me that Christians preach too much about God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness, and so on – qualities that portrayed God in his eyes as weak and therefore not worth worshipping. He didn’t like the notion of God as lenient, God as unwilling to act and punish the offences of sinners, because he saw God’s perceived inaction as the reason why evil runs rampant in the world. Well, the man was certainly correct in pointing out that God tends to hold back from taking action against sinners. The bible affirms time and again that “the Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love” (Ex 34:6; Ps 103:8; Ps 145:8, to cite but a few examples). What the man missed was that it is characteristic of God to hold back from chastisement precisely because He is Love and because His wisdom is greater than we can imagine with our limited human minds. God’s leniency features in today’s Readings.

It is difficult for us to comprehend why God is so merciful. Truth to tell, there are moments when we resent the fact that God is so kind, so merciful and so lenient that He doesn’t intervene to deal with people indulging in anti-social or plain wrong behaviours. These moments usually occur when we are busy perceiving ourselves as good and righteous Holy Joes. We also have to admit that there are fleeting moments when we are tempted to think that, given the opportunity to ‘Become Hitler For A Day’, we could handle the world better than God. There are people who might be conspiring to wield earthly power mercilessly in order to coerce and conform each and every one of us to their way of thinking in a New World Order. Have you come across the saying that “power does not pardon, power punishes”? The world thinks of power differently from the way that God does. Without God, justice flies out of the window.

WHY IS GOD LENIENT TO SINNERS? Let us have a look at the answers from the Readings.

Divine Sovereignty: The 1st reading traces God’s leniency, mercy and forgiveness towards each one of us back to His Sovereignty. It states that, “Your justice has its source in strength, your sovereignty over all makes you lenient to all. You show your strength when your sovereign power is questioned”. What that means is that God has no need whatsoever to flaunt His power. He is powerful beyond compare, but that makes Him all the more merciful. Why? Because He sees and knows everyone and everything, and misses absolutely nothing. He is aware of all our frailties, all our sins, all our mistakes … He knows everything about us down the minutest detail. He sees the good that is latent in us, the good which needs to be cultivated and nurtured and brought to fruition in order to outshine the evil in us. Take on board these words from the same reading, words that give us hope of forgiveness after repentance from sin: “By acting thus you have taught a lesson to your people how the virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow men”. Indeed, no place exists where we can learn kindness, mercy and leniency better than we can from Almighty God. He is fully aware how weak-willed we are, but He is ever ready to offer us support to become strong and pull through.

So, that’s the reason why God has provided us with support. And what is the support that He has given us? In the 2nd reading St. Paul reminds us that it is God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, active in us, who recognises our weaknesses and pleads on our behalf. Whenever we pray, it is the Spirit who covers for our inability to find the right words by expressing the prayer wordlessly on our behalf in accordance with the Mind of God. Whenever our efforts are pitiful, it is the Spirit who moves within us to make them strong. The Spirit is there to support us whenever we find ourselves flagging and whenever we beg for His help.

God trusts you to overcome evil: Let us look at the leniency of God from the viewpoint of trust. God knows that by the time we have finally managed to overcome the evil in and around us, we will be so great that our early struggles and low moments will be negligible in comparison. Jesus’ parable of the Kingdom of God being like a tiny mustard seed illustrates that phenomenon. In our low moments, our bad moments, the moments when we stray, we are diminished, we become diminutive like the mustard seed. Yes, we all have moments of sin and lukewarmness, yet we are still full of God’s grace. God, who is merciful and just, waits patiently like the farmer until we have grown out of these horrid moments and have opened ourselves up to allow His grace working in us to make us thrive.

This parable assures us of the trust that God has in us: that no matter how battered we are by sin, that His children will certainly come back to Him (cf. Jn 10:27, the sheep that listen to His voice follow Him). Our life today is the way it is because God trusts in our ability to pull through despite every temptation and trial to which the world subjects us. Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Wheat and Darnel confirms that a war is being waged between good and evil, and that we are in the front line! At some point in our life, it may be impossible for us to ascertain whether something is good or evil, because it will look the same from both viewpoints, just as it is impossible to distinguish between wheat and weeds when they are seedlings. There are people out there who might give up on us in the mistaken belief that we cannot change from bad to good, and that there is no redemption for a sinner; they guess that the devil has the upper hand. These people are like the servants who suggested weeding the crop before it was ready for harvesting. God, however, knows the bigger picture, and He trusts us to get our act together, avoid near occasions of sin, and distinguish ourselves from the evil that surrounds us.

God knows that the battle between good and evil in our hearts will continue in the meantime, but He waits patiently for us until the harvest. He gives us the opportunity to distinguish ourselves as good by our deliberate setting-aside of our sinfulness, so that our righteousness can be reaped as a harvest for God’s household and we can take our place in our eternal dwelling.

And finally… The question arises: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace’ (the leniency or mercy of God) ‘may increase?” (Rom 6:1). The answer is: “Do not be so sure of forgiveness that you add sin to sin” (Sirach 5:6)! No, we cannot take God’s leniency for granted, but we should take advantage of such time as He gives us to strive to be as good as we possibly can be.

Let us pray: Thank you, Lord God, for extending your merciful love, your leniency and your forgiveness towards us, your sinful Children. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us, grant us daily both the grace to know how best to live up to the trust you have lavished on us in this life, and also the power to do it. Amen.         God bless you.