Homily – August 21st, 2011
HYMN OF PRAISE Romans 11:33-36 August 21, 2011 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
At the Grand Canyon in Arizona, you look over the rim and down to the Colorado River far below; you watch the water crawl along; from the rim to the valley floor, your gaze descends over a mile, some 6,000 feet. And gazing across this natural wonder, your view travels up to eighteen miles. The river winds through the canyon for nearly three hundred miles, exposing us to two billion years of geological history.
The Grand Canyon inspires us to reflect in St. Paul’s marveling:
Oh, the depth of the riches and of the wisdom and of the
knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments, how unsearchable his ways!
Saint Paul catches up his readers and listeners in awe and praise of God’s including all people in His plan for salvation. “God our savior desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2: 3-4). Paul in this letter to the Romans allows that God wills first the Jews to be saved, and after the Jews that Gentiles, too, receive His grace. Salvation—the spiritual completion of us humans—is a divine gift, and God wills this gift to everyone who does not refuse it. God wants you and me to fill up with godliness.
Paul asserts that, in the first place, God’s “ways” exceed the grasp of human understanding. If we humans can reach the floor of the Grand Canyon only with difficulty, how might we reach into the depth of God’s riches, that is, how might we recognize and appreciate the riches of God’s saving power. For God reverses our universal, sinful disobedience. The Book of Genesis mentions the evil in Sodom and Gomorrah; if today we have no such book, still our nightly TV screen depicts enough evil in our day. Yet God summons everyone—those jeering and those loving—Jews and gentiles, to come into His kingdom.
In the second instance, God’s wisdom exceeds our capacity, for God works out the salvation of Jews and of gentiles. If God is “rich” in bringing people to Himself, God is also wise in reversing the announced saving of only one tribe.
And in the third aspect, Paul marvels at the mysterious manner in which God knows or elects the gentiles to join with the Israelites in salvation.
Paul marvels that God’s judgments are “unsearchable,” for we cannot look them over to review God’s thinking. Some time ago I involved myself in reading the written decisions of several State supreme courts. These decisions concern pupils in private and religious oriented schools. The State of Louisiana, for example, finds it legal for the state to give textbooks to private school pupils. The State of Illinois and the State of Alaska in their written decisions will transport pupils to private schools, while our State of Washington prohibits both textbooks and rides. In reading such decisions, we puzzle over the logic expressed, and we argue with the thinking. God’s judgments, however, are “unsearchable.”
Furthermore, God’s “ways” or God’s deeds are “inscrutable,” for God can bring about the redemption of the gentiles, even of those most unlikely. If we cannot inspect God’s knowledge, how can we understand the ways in which God brings about the salvation of people? I suppose that all of us marvel at the stars, especially on those occasions when so many stars clearly appear. One astronomer (cf. friend of Fr. Ken Baker) has likened the number of stars to the number of grains of sand on the beach; both sand and stars exceed our ability to count—even exceeding the national debt—and both overwhelm so that we only marvel. St. Paul finds himself overwhelmed in realizing that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, effects the grace offered to all people. By God’s beneficence, to the extent of our human nature, we attain our godly capacity.
In the final verse of this Pauline hymn, we almost shout the climactic phrases, and we employ a similar expression at each Mass as we conclude the Eucharistic prayer. In the name of all parishioners, the priest raises the host and chalice together and chants “through him, and with him, and in him, all glory and honor are yours, almighty Father, forever and ever, Amen.” This chant emphasizes the work of Jesus Christ. Paul’s chant, while employing similar prepositions, emphasizes the work of God, our Father.
In the expression, “from him,” we praise God as creator from whom all things—stone, plant, human—receive their being. We praise our creating God when we sing that God blesses America, and “From all that dwell below the skies, Let the Creator’s praise arise.” These Pauline verses sing a hymn of praise to the Creator.
In the expression “through him,” we praise our redeeming Lord with our amazing grace that teaches us both to fear and to be relieved of fear. “Through him” we receive our redemption, and we rise in our spirit so that we know the trinity and a holy life.
In the expression “to Him,” our resurrected Christ returns to God the Father as we sing, “Christ the Lord is risen on high. Now he lives no more to die.” In another hymn, we exhort that “All Creatures of Our God and King”—creatures such as sun and moon—all should “praise him! O praise him.” “To him” we return so that we live with God who is both our Creator and our conclusion.
While marveling at our Creator’s unsearchable wisdom, we yet celebrate in word and song that we come from Him, and receive our saving grace through him, and to him we rise. Amen.