Wise Creatures

Wise Creatures

Fourteenth Sunday of the Year. Fr John O’Connor finds solace in being a creature.

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the subject of God and creation. More and more the beauty of the world is celebrated in prayer and worship. More and more books appear telling us how the beauty of God is reflected in the beauty of what he has created.

Yet what can sometimes be overlooked is reflection on what it is for us human beings to be created. At times an impression is given that when we speak about creation we are to think chiefly about such wonderful things as trees, mountains, exotic animals and sunsets, almost to the point of forgetting that we too are part of creation.

Perhaps some of this stems from the remarkable advances in science and technology we have achieved, giving us the impression that we are masters of creation, that we are above and beyond it. This is, however, to lose sight of the fact that as creatures, created by God, each one of us owes his or her very existence to God. It is also to forget that each one of us has by nature limitations.

Throughout the Old Testament we hear again and again the command not to give in to idolatry. When we worship false gods we worship gods we have created, gods on our own level that we can manipulate. We can then mislead ourselves into thinking that we are on the same level as God. So to be aware that we are created, that we are limited and that we depend on God for our existence, is to refuse to give in to the temptation of idolatry. It is to acknowledge God as God.

This question of being limited creatures dependent on God features prominently in all of today’s readings. Ezekiel is told by God to go to the Israelites, but he is also warned that he may well fail in his task of converting them. After all, Ezekiel is a man, not God.

St Paul, someone who shows such confidence on other occasions, in today’s second reading focuses on his weakness. Here is a man who is struggling, who is aware of his limitations and flaws, and the insight he draws from this is extraordinary. Instead of lamenting what he is, he boasts in his weakness, that the power of Christ may dwell in him. He rejoices in being a creature, in his dependence on God, that his achievements may be seen as coming ultimately from God. He boasts in not being God, that the power of God may shine forth more clearly.

More astonishing still, we see Jesus Christ, true God and true man, grappling with the limitations of his own humanity and that of others. He preaches in his home town, but does not succeed in convincing those whom he probably knew from when he was a boy. We are told: ‘And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them.’ This may mean that Jesus, shocked and disappointed, felt that a miracle would not be worthwhile because of their degree of unbelief, but did not wish the sick to suffer because of what was lacking in others.

For Christians, to be mindful that we are limited creatures is not to put ourselves down, but is meant to be a source of comfort. In a world where profit and loss, efficiency and productivity, dominate, there is something truly wonderful in knowing that our relationship with God does not work like this.

God has made us as we are. He did not make us super-efficient religious beings that can work wonders at every turn, who always succeed; or beings whose hearts are always turned towards him. Why God created us as we are is a profound mystery, but a mystery that involves sin and our redemption and transformation in Christ.

All this is therefore not meant to be understood as an excuse for resting in mediocrity or worse. It is an invitation to be realistic about what we can achieve and what we can’t, without losing heart. It is an invitation to reflect on our need for God, and what we are called to be in Christ. It is also an invitation to be creative and imaginative in working within the limits of what it is to be a human being. After all, God created us as human beings. He loves us as human beings, even to the point of becoming one.

Readings: Exodus 34:4-6,8-9 | 2 Corinthians 13:11-14 | John 3:16-18

Fr John O'Connor is Regent of Studies of the English Province and Regent of Blackfriars, Oxford.