The readings today speak of God’s providence often displayed in humble, hidden and mysterious ways. While it is true that God and does work in overpowering ways, yet, his more common method would seem to be using the humbler and even unlikely things of the created order to accomplish his goals.
For we who are disciples, there are three related teachings given us that speak of how God will make use of us and others. It will also be good to link these teaching to Father’s Day which occurs this weekend in the US. In a word, each of these three teachings are described as: Adaptability, Awe-Ability, and Accountability.
I. ADAPTABILITY. We hear in both the first reading and the Gospel how God can take what is very humble, and adapt it to be something very mighty and powerful.
Perhaps it is the tender shoot of the first reading that becomes a mighty oak: I, [the Lord], will take from the crest of the cedar…a tender shoot, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain;…It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar. (Ezekiel 17:22-23)
Perhaps it is the mustard seed of the first reading which becomes a great shade tree: The…kingdom of God…is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade (Mk 4:32-33).
Yes, God adapts us for his purposes and no one should say, I cannot be used. An old song says, “If you can use anything Lord, you can use me.”And old litany says,
The next time you think God can’t use you, remember:
Noah was a drunk
Abraham was too old
Isaac was a daydreamer
Jacob was a liar
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses was murderer had a stuttering problem
Gideon was afraid
Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
Rahab was a prostitute
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
David had an affair and was a murderer
Elijah was suicidal
Isaiah preached naked
Jonah ran from God
Naomi was a widow
Job went bankrupt and depressed
Peter denied Christ
The Disciples fell asleep while praying
Martha worried about everything
The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once
Zaccheus was too small
Paul was too religious
Timothy had an ulcer.
Lazarus was dead!
No excuses then, God chooses the weak and makes them strong
In fact, it is often our very weakness that is the open door for God. In our strength we are usually too proud to be of any use to God. Moses was too strong at age forty when he pridefully murdered a man, and thought he was doing both the Jews and God a favor. Only forty years later, at age 80, was Moses weak and humble enough to depend on God. Only then could God use him.
Yes, God often uses the humble things, and the humble people of this earth to do his greatest work. St Paul says,
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Cor 1:25-29).
Therefore, we are invited in this principle to consider that it is not merely the biggie-wow things that we do, where God can work. It is also in the humble and imperfect things about us, the mustard seed faith, the tiny shoots and humble growth, that God can magnify his power.
When I think of my father, I do not remember all the wise sayings he bestowed, but I do remember who he was: a man passionate about what was right, a man who did what was right, often a great personal sacrifice. I remember how he fought for my mentally ill sister when the insurance company wanted to forsake her. I remember how strong and manly my father was. I remember that I always had food, clothing and shelter. I remember that I had a college education, all paid for. I remember his love for learning and his capacity to speak and write with persuasive power. I remember how he cared for my mother in the struggle of her final fifteen years and how he almost never left her side.
In all these things, great and small, but especially in the small, daily duties, that God worked through my father to sustain his family and give us the most lasting example of what it means to be a man, a father and a disciple.
My Father was not perfect. Among other things he struggled with anger, but it was also that anger that made him passionate about what was right and which pointed to his integrity. Yes, even in the humblest things, our shortcomings, God can work and bring forth mighty things.
So the first principle is adaptability, that God can take and adapt even the humblest, ordinary and lowly things and bring forth might and lasting fruit. Never despair of what is most humble about you, or that you are of little account on the world stage. It is precisely our humble state which God will most often use to bring forth his greatest and most lasting works.
II. AWE-ABILITY, the capacity to reverence mystery and to have wonder and awe at what God does. In the Gospel Jesus emphasizes that, though a man plants seeds he does not really know the deeper mysteries of life and growth:
This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. (Mk 4:26-27)
Despite our often self-congratulatory celebration of our sciences, and of how much we think we know, there is much more we do not know or understand. We do well to maintain a reverential awe of the deeper mysteries of God’s works, and his ways. We are also rather poor at assessing whether, and how effective, our methods may be. We may come away from a project and consider it to have been very effective, and little comes of it in the long run. And then too, some of what we consider a poor effort, and ineffective, may often bear great fruit. God works in his own ways and we do well to remember that God may well surprise us and remind us he is able and is in charge.
Some years ago, a friend of mine had at her desk a “God can.” In was a metal cookie box, and on the cover was the saying, He worketh in strange and mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. Into this box she would place slips of papers on which were written the challenges, struggles and failures of her life. These were the things where, when she met the limits of her strengths and abilities, she would say, “I can’t…..but God can.” And into this metal “God can” went the slips of paper, placed there in hope that God could make a way out of no way. And, quite often He did.
We do well to cultivate a sense of wonder and awe and who God is and what and how he works. Not only does this bring us joy, but is also opens us to hope, and to the possibilities that God can work in hidden ways to exult what is humble and to bring great transformation to those who are cast down and troubled, including ourselves and our culture. As we saw in point one, it is often in the humblest things that God does his mightiest works.
III. ACCOUNTABILITY. If it is true that we can’t, but God can; if it is true that God can use us mightily despite our humble state, our weakness, and even our sin; if all this is true, then there can be no excuses for not bearing fruit in our life. And, to one extent or another, all of us are accountable to the Lord as to how we let him use us and work through us, to further his Kingdom,
The second reading reminds us For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor 5:9-10)
For, as we have seen God is able to adapt, and to work in wondrous and hidden ways to lift us up, even if we are humble and struggle. Given this capacity of God, we must one-day render an account to how we have responded to God’s grace and his invitation to be exulted.
On that day of judgment the expression “I couldn’t” will ring hollow, because as we have seen: “God CAN” Today’s readings remind us to be open to what God can do, often in mysterious ways, and even with the most humble things in our lives.
On this Father’s Day’s, all men who are fathers are asked to stand up and be counted; to stand up and receive a blessing. Fathers, of course, have great obligations. But as we have seen, God can do mighty things even in our imperfections and struggles.
The first thing every Father must do is turn to God and say, “If you can use anything, Lord, you can use me.” He then has the obligation to let God go to work through him and to realize that he will be held accountable if he blocks God’s grace or refuses to let God work.
My father, in his later years became something of a penitent. He had been away from the Church for more than twenty years, and returned in 1989, the year I was ordained. I know my mother and Grandmother had surely prayed for his return.
But my father never did anything halfway. When he returned he went to weekday Mass (never missed a day, even on vacation), daily rosary, daily Stations of the Cross, daily Chaplet of Divine Mercy. One day I said to him, “Wowsa Dad, that’s really high octane!” He said, “Listen son, I did a lot of sinning early on, and I’ve got some serious ground to make up!”
Yes, for all the prayers he had not said and all the masses he missed, he surely made up lost ground, and then some. And while one may argue as to the theology of grace operative in his thinking, he surely had his judgment in mind and knew that, whereas once he had blocked God’s grace from flowing through him, now he would open the floodgates and let God’s work flow through like him a mighty stream.
I know his family and this world benefited enormously from his largely hidden hours in Church and at other hours of the day. I have little doubt that I am in great debt to him for his many prayers for me, and now I render some of the debt by praying often masses for the repose of his soul and that of my mother.
In my own parish, I am calling the men to account in this year. I am summoning them to spend a year preparing, with prayer, Bible study and fellowship to make the following pledge:
I DO solemnly resolve before God to take full responsibility for myself, my wife, and my children.
I WILL love them, protect them, serve them, and teach them the Word of God as the spiritual leader of my home.
I WILL be faithful to my wife, to love and honor her, and be willing to lay down my life for her as Jesus Christ did for me.
I WILL bless my children and teach them to love God with all of their hearts, all of their minds, and all of their strength.
I WILL train them to honor authority and live responsibly.
I WILL confront evil, pursue justice, and love mercy.
I WILL pray for others and treat them with kindness, respect, and compassion.
I WILL work diligently to provide for the needs of my family.
I WILL forgive those who have wronged me and reconcile with those I have wronged.
I WILL learn from my mistakes, repent of my sins, and walk with integrity as a man answerable to God.
I WILL seek to honor God, be faithful to His church, obey His Word, and do His will.
I WILL courageously work with the strength God provides to fulfill this resolution for the rest of my life and for His glory.
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. —Joshua 24:15
This resolution comes from the movie Courageous, which I strongly recommend you see, if you have not already done so. We will gather with men from, I pray, five other parishes, study, pray and prepare, so that the men can knowingly, and with reflection. make this resolution.
Indeed, all of us, men and women will be held accountable. For even if we can’t, God can. And even if we feel too humble and insignificant, God does his greatest work with humble things and people. For us it is simply to say that we have an adaptability that God can use, and this should inspire in us an Awe-ability that joyfully acknowledges God’s often secretive and hidden power. If that be the case, then, knowing our accountability, it simply remains for us to say, “If you can use anything, Lord, you can use me!”