Sunday, June 21, is the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Jeremiah 20:10-13; Psalm 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35; Romans 5: 12-15; Matthew 10:26-33.
It may be a bit jarring to open with Jeremiah’s denunciation of his enemies and his plea with the Lord to “let me witness the vengeance you take on them” (Jeremiah 20:12). So often we share this sentiment — someone has harmed us, and we all too easily await seeing what harm comes back to them. We may even, like the prophet Jonah, find ourselves disappointed if all seems to go well for our supposed enemies.
The God of Israel is not bound by the economics of humanity, and the very hope that Jeremiah expressed — that the Lord rescues the lives of the poor — is the reason that divine “vengeance” takes the astonishing form of mercy without limits. As today’s Psalm says, “The Lord hears the poor,” and among those poor are both the prophets and their persecutors.
On an even broader scale, what can seem painfully unfair to some — the fact that the sin of Adam and Eve has left an inheritance of original sin that every human shares — only points to the greater surprise of God’s response to this unpayable debt. St. Paul shows us just how unequal the offense of humanity and the remedy are in God’s eyes and in God’s providential plan: “But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many” (Romans 5:15).
The utter disproportion of divine love for humanity is illustrated many times in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus likens God’s love to that of a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to rescue one; to that of a woman who, having lost and found a coin, throws a celebration seemingly worth more than the coin itself in her joy; and to that of a father whose son wasted his inheritance and yet is welcomed home with feasting and costly gifts.
When we are tempted to see God as a strict bookkeeper, noting our debts and tallying our offenses, the images of the parables can remind us of the God who values even the birds of the sky. Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reflect the art of poetry more than the science of economics: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).
Such superabundant generosity should not lead us to wanton disregard of God and his command to love, but should rather cast out the fear that makes us focus only on our own insufficiencies and failings. Jesus calls us to proclaim the merciful goodness of God from the housetops, to fear no earthly powers, and to acknowledge him before others as God’s answer to our unpayable debt. Jesus paid all; he gave all. If we ever doubt our value, we can look to Jesus, crucified and risen. In him we see just how much we are worth to the Father — more than many, many sparrows.
Sister Mary Madeline is a Dominican Sister of the St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville.
She received her doctorate in sacred theology from the Angelicum in Rome
and currently teaches religion and philosophy at Mount de Sales Academy in Baltimore.