It is interesting to note how often our image of God as Father is affected by the type of human father we have had. Psychologists have grouped fathers into four types — and only one of them gets it right. One of these can be labeled as AUTHORITARIAN. This type of father is focused on rules and obedience, and can often be emotionally distant. Too often people can see God in this way — as someone just waiting to punish us for our mistakes. Another type can be labeled as PERMISSIVE. This type of father is often emotionally affirming, but is very weak when it comes to the discipline necessary to raise responsible children. Sometimes people can see God in this way — as someone who doesn’t really care about our big sins and forgives us even if we are not particularly sorry for them. A third type — typically the worst of the bunch — is the ABSENT or DISTANT father. He is simply unengaged and largely uninterested in the lives of his children. How many people in our culture today see God just in this way? If recent studies are correct, most people in our culture see God as a distant Creator or an impersonal spirit that may, from time to time, swoop in to help sort things out.
All three of these types are seriously flawed. The fourth, the one that reflects who God the Father really is, can be labeled as AUTHORITATIVE. The authoritative father both affirms his children lovingly and affirms their value for who they are and not for what they might do or perform. He is very much engaged and interested in their lives. The authoritative father, however, also disciplines. He challenges his children to achieve the greatness to which God is calling each one of them. He punishes in a way that is both proportionate and respectful of their dignity.
We see this type of father reflected in today’s epistle: “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines. God treats you as sons. For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline? At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” What is important to remember here is that we can never earn God’s love. He will love us — even when we have strayed far from him. He disciplines us not from some sadistic desire to see us in pain, but to heal and purify us that we might better reflect his goodness and righteousness.
What God wants most of all is that every human creature should seek Him, ask for His mercy and then LAVISH that mercy on one another. We heard this reflected in today’s psalm: “Praise the Lord, all you nations;glorify him, all you peoples!For steadfast is his [mercy] toward us, and the fidelity of the Lord endures forever.”In the great story of humanity, we can see this dynamic of God’s mercy as a drawing in and a sending out and once Jerusalem became the permanent home of the Ark of the Covenant during the reign of King David, we see that drawing in and sending out focused on Jerusalem, the City of David itself. As an authoritative father, God wants to go out, find and gather His children together. We see this reflected by Isaiah in today’s first reading:
“I come to gather nations of every language;they shall come and see my glory.I will set a sign among them;from them I will send fugitives to the nations that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory;and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations.They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the Lord.”
Paradoxically, this prophecy was made over 2500 years ago when the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel were small and besieged by the Arameans to the east, the Philistines to the west, the Assyrians to the north and the Egyptians to the south. They were struggling for survival. Yet, Isaiah is prophesying about a future when the People of God will be scattered among the nations and God will send out His emissaries to gather a people to Himself from every nation and of every tongue to Jerusalem.
Finally, in our Gospel today, Jesus too references those who will come from the east, west, north and south to the Kingdom of God. He tells His listeners that familiarity with Him is not enough to gain entrance. To those who count on having eaten or been with Him, He says bluntly that He will not even know where they are from. Claims of belonging to a particular nation, group or church will have absolutely no advantage then. The Lord, who identifies Himself with the least among us, will know where we are from if He has EXPERIENCED our love and mercy precisely through the poor, the unborn, the elderly, the immigrant — whether here legally or not — and others who are marginalized. In a world that increasingly sees God as absent or distant, will we proclaim the TRUTH of who God is and who He calls us to be?
As rational creatures, we were created by God precisely to receive and reflect His mercy — and if we freely refuse to do so to the end, in His justice, He will deny even knowing us. Those who seek Him, ask for his mercy and then turn to lavish it upon others will be recognized by the Lord when our hour of judgment comes. Our God is an AUTHORITATIVE Father. He is not a God of EITHER mercy OR justice, but of BOTH. My brothers and sisters, when the last day comes, WILL WE BE READY?