“God will not play our games” (351)

Today is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. The Gospel appointed for this Feast Day is from John (1:47-51) where Jesus begins a conversation with Nathanael by saying: “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Upon hearing that rather mundane observation, Nathanael declares: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God.” John’s Gospel doesn’t indicate Jesus’s facial reaction to this, but Nathanael’s reply must’ve amused Jesus. All Jesus said was that he saw him under a fig tree and this so impresses Nathanael that he confesses that Jesus must then be the Son of God. So, maybe Jesus had a smile on his face with a slight shake of the head when he responds to Nathanael, asking: “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?” Without waiting for Nathanael’s response, Jesus simply says: “You will see greater things than these.” Yes, indeed, “greater things than these.”

There’s something in the human psyche that longs for (and, possibly, needs) the spectacular, even the mundanely spectacular, that’ll help us, maybe even convince us, to believe. Nathanael was impressed by Jesus’s apparent clairvoyance (or at least his ability to see around corners!). Because he saw him under a fig tree, that was enough. Nathanael was convinced. This Jesus must be the Son of God if he has that magic trick up his sleeve! This was a recurring challenge for Jesus during his earthly ministry. Whether it was water into wine or healing a man born blind, the crowds just ate that stuff up. He’d be trying to teach folk about the merciful nature of God and how we, too, must learn to be merciful, but everybody would be saying: “That’s all well and good, Rabbi, but how about one of them spectacular signs to bring down the house? Maybe water into beer this time?” This must’ve frustrated Jesus. In some ways, his miracles were getting in the way of his message.

Lest we think we’re beyond that, just read about those who see the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary on a water tower or those who react to a miraculous healing by some religious divine, and see how many flock and respond to such occurrences. We humans apparently need such things for us to muster belief. And because of that need, the simple, straight-forward declaration that God has saved us sinners in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus will always get somewhat lost in our need to be entertained and impressed by a show-stopping extravaganza. But we must not lose that truth. It is, if we ponder it, far more spectacular than anything our imaginations could cook up.

Anyway, mustering up enough belief so we can convince ourselves to believe is beside the point. Do we really think that our belief (or unbelief) sways God one way or the other? God isn’t like Disney’s Tinker Bell whose continued reality is predicated on us mustering up enough belief. God didn’t take a Gallup Poll to field test our belief before God acted. God didn’t deploy focus groups to discover what miracle was necessary to capture our imaginations. Without our permission or participation, God just saved us from our sin through Jesus on the Cross. As Vassar Miller writes in her poem:
God will not play our games nor join our fun,
Does not give tit for tat, parade His glories.



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