Sons Out of Stones
Palm Sunday (C) | Fr Leon Pereira ponders the false humility that would limit God and so refuse his divinising love and grace.
From Palm Sunday onwards, the gospels tell us what Jesus did on every single day of this week, Holy Week. The week ends with these words:
‘It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid; then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.’ (Luke 23:54-56)
Jesus’s disciples rest on the Sabbath beginning with His death, because the work of our redemption echoes the work of creation – six days, and on the seventh day, God rested. The resting of God after creation and after redemption shows us clearly that these truly are the works of God.
It takes great humility to do something only God can do, the type of thing only He can do which He nevertheless allows us to share in. Only the humble can do the works of God. The proud consider themselves and what they can do. They consider the skills they have, and what they can offer God – such as I am a doctor, I am a priest, I am a manager, etc. But God does not need our abilities to do what only He can do. He desires our willingness to share in what only He can do. Only the genuinely humble consider God and what God can do.
We do not exalt God by humbling ourselves. This is to define God in terms of His creatures, the mistake of heretics. God is not very, very big simply because I make myself very, very small. God cannot be limited by our conceptions. To say that something cannot be done, or cannot happen is to limit Him in just this way, even if it is couched in terms of humility.
At the beginning of Luke’s gospel, the Pharisees do just that. They use the language of humility, but use it to limit God. They do not want to do the works only God can do: works like repentance and forgiveness. So John the Baptist thunders at them:
‘God is able from these stones to raise up sons to Abraham’ (Luke 3:8).
God cannot be limited, and He can make stones into children for Abraham. In the gospel, the Pharisees try to limit other people sharing in the works of God. When Jesus processes into Jerusalem, and the crowds praise him for the mighty works of God they have seen, the Pharisees want Him to silence the crowds. But Jesus replies,
‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’ (Luke 19:4)
The ostentatious humility of the Pharisees is an attempt to limit God. Yet God cannot be limited, and here the stones themselves would cry out the praises of God. This conflict arises from false humility and the attempt to limit God comes from the refusal to believe that God could make us His children. It is the great error of our times, when the language of mercy is abused to disguise the conviction that we should not expect too much of God, and that God should not expect too much of us. Gone is Jesus’s call that we should be perfect as our heavenly Father.
Since God can make sons for Abraham out of stones, and if stones can cry out the praises of God, a false humility here is really the refusal of God’s love. A refusal to be loved the way God loves us. It’s like refusing a lavish meal to nibble on a bit of celery, saying that’s all you deserve. That’s not humility. That’s foolishness. Scripture says,
‘But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.’ (John 1:12-3)
To say that we cannot share in some way in the divinity of Christ, is to set limits on God and is no humility. This is God’s work, and it is a work He allows us to share in: to become His children, perfect as He is.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a medieval carving housed in the Cloisters Museum in New York.