The Bishops Homily – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2017

21st Sunday In Ordinary Time
Cycle A | 27 August 2017
Is. 22: 19-23
Rom. 11: 33-36
Mt. 16: 13-20

INTRODUCTION: Let us concentrate on a very brief but punchy passage from the end of Romans 11: “How deep are the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How inscrutable his judgements, how unsearchable his ways.” This passage completes a major section of the Letter from Chapters 9-11.

(1) In those chapters, Paul treats about Israel, God’s Chosen People, in relation to the Church. Do not forget that Paul was a devout Jew. In the meantime, he received the revelation of Jesus. He knew then that he had to re-think much of his religious beliefs as a Jew. What is the effect of Jesus’ Resurrection on the ancient Jewish tradition? How do we make sense of the old Jewish religion in the light of Jesus’ dying and rising and gloriously reigning as King? How do we understand Gentiles (Greeks and Romans) coming to the faith when salvation was supposed to come through the Jews many of whom were rejecting the Christian Faith? For a Jew who has become a follower of Jesus, this becomes a cause of great confusion. This question is being treated in Chapters 9-11. At the end of the discussion, as a theologian, Pauł throws up his hand in self-surrender or rather exalts in wonder and worship and says, “I don’t really get it” and blurts: “How deep are … the wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable his judgements, how unsearchable his ways.”

(2) Similar theological issues exist! How do you reconcile God’s foreknowledge and human freedom? If God knows everything beforehand and his knowledge can’t fail, am I really free? If I am not free, am I responsible for my behavior? Or how do we reconcile God’s universal wish of salvation with damnation? If God’s love is infinite, why are some lost? Or if God’s love is infinite, how do we reconcile this with human suffering? How could God allow the innocent to suffer so much? How do we square God’s love with a child having leukemia? This is what a theologian does for a living but at the end of the day many times the theologian concludes as Paul did “How inscrutable his judgements, how unsearchable his ways!”

(3) This is not fundamentalism or fideism or superstition. This is not giving up in unbelief or in God’s non-existence. Rather it is a prayerful surrender at the end of a long struggle to know. Here are two examples to illustrate! First, a person you have known for a long time and lived with at close range; yet he will still surprise you when he says and does things that remain inscrutable to you. I have known couples married for more than 50 years who become more mysterious to each other than they were when they started their married life. Second, children trying to understand the motivations of their parents and yet huge swatch of their parents’ actuation remains inscrutable to them. The friend in the first example and the parents in the second can say in the words of St. Paul: “How inscrutable are his/her/their judgements, how unsearchable his/her/their ways.”

CONCLUSION: When dealing with God, we are dealing with a person. Persons are always mysterious. Now we deal with an infinite divine person! Our minds are finite; compare that with God’s infinite power. Multiply that chasm in an infinite degree. God is “inscrutable in his judgements and unsearchable in his ways.” Do we just give up on him? We surrender in faith in the manner of a child.

Most Rev. Antonio R. Tobias, DD
Bishop of Novaliches

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