One God

Pentecost 25

First reading: 1 Sam. 1:4-20; 1 Sam. 2-1-10 Alternate: Dan. 12:1-3; Ps. 16 • Heb. 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25 • Mark 13:1-8

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed to the Lord, he gave portions to his wives and to their sons and daughters. He gave, however, a double portion to Hannah, to console her and to express again his favoring affection for the woman whom the Lord had touched. How had the Lord touched her? “The Lord had closed her womb” (1 Sam. 1:5). There is no narrative wavering over this point. “Her rivals provoked her severely because the Lord had closed her womb” (1:6).

Monotheism can break your heart, and often enough it does. There is a certain irrefutable logic that says “the ground of all being” must be the maker of weal and woe. But if this were merely a matter of logic, we would either praise its consistency (“all things come of thee, O Lord”) or we would impugn the identified deity (“Job opened his mouth and cursed his God”). The mind is perpetually strained in holding together theological categories of omniscience, omnipresence, all-goodness with the vagaries and tragedies of life. In this regard, the Bible is more like life than a lineal argument.

The Bible is a theo-drama in which God is the principal actor: moving, speaking, conspiring, even repenting at times. Providence is assumed but not as a tight and consistent logic. If providence thus worked, Hannah would imitate the resignation which not a few saints have commended, or turn from God altogether. Instead, “She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord. She wept bitterly” (1 Sam. 1:10). “I poured out my soul in the presence of the Lord” (1:15). Likewise the Annunciation: “She was greatly distressed” (Luke 1:29), and Gethsemane: “I am deeply grieved even to death” (Mark 14:34).

These sufferings are a gaping wound, raw and vulnerable need. In the language of the Bible, they are an “apocalypse.” “There shall be such a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since the nations first came into existence” (Dan. 12:1). “When you hear of wars and rumors of war, do not be alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is still to come. … This is the beginning of the birth pangs” (Mark 13:7,8). In all this trial and anguish, the Bible insists that God is mysteriously present, moving the story, often in a hidden and obscure way, toward a conclusion. But let there be no doubt that a biblical pilgrimage toward the consummation presumes that this world is literally falling apart. Look anywhere you want: your soul, your home, your community, the world. The integrity of each is a very fragile thing, and, for that reason, to be carefully guarded. Yet this is not where true joys are to be found.

Then where is our hope? Our hope is in the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Let me show you how. Every day and very often priests made sacrifices for the sins of the people, until one day an eternal priest offered an offering eternally pleasing and efficacious. Hanging upon the tree of life, Jesus ripped the veil which sealed the divine presence from the people. He opened a new and living way. The veil through which we look is his torn flesh. Looking from his side into his heart, we go right to God, who has granted us, through Jesus, parresia, free speech and open access (Hebrews 10).

What is our theo-drama saying? In this mortal life, the chalice of God will always be mixed with sorrow.

Look It Up
Read Mark 13:1. The stones are beautiful, and yet they will fall.

Think About It
It’s a cheap theological trick to give God all the glory and none of the blame. Better to weep and cry and crawl to his gored side.

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