I lived for a while with an aged Redemptorist Brother who would study his bible in the afternoons when the sun came through the windows of the Library. At the dinner table he would share with us what he had read and invariably he would offer a question to stimulate our conversation.
“Do you think there are two Gods?” He once asked. “What do you mean?” was my response. “Well it seems that the God of the New Testament is loving and kind, while the God of the Old Testament is angry and vengeful. I think there must be two Gods.”
Certainly in the first reading today we find a God who has met the limits of His patience. The people have once again strayed from the covenant and he is getting ready to punish them for their wickedness. But is such a God really at odds with who Jesus reveals to us in the Gospels?
If we are made in the image and likeness of God then it would seem to make sense that our nature would in some ways reflect God’s own nature. We find ourselves at times tried and frustrated. We find anger welling up inside of us and we want to shout out and confront whatever it is that is making us uncomfortable. It puts me at ease to know that God can also experience “anger” and “frustration”; that God is not immune to the effects which God’s own creation might have upon Him.
But God’s anger is different in some ways. Despite God’s frustration he appears very open to maintaining communication. Instead of immediately smiting the people he listens to Moses who pleads on their behalf. It’s as if Moses calms God down and tells him to take a breath. We are not always so good at this.
In the Gospel today the Pharisees are also frustrated. They can’t figure Jesus out and they don’t know what to do with him. Jesus asks them to examine the evidence, to take a look at the fruit of his work. But instead of keeping the lines of communication open they close their minds and hearts to anything that Jesus has to say to them. In fact they even close their mind on their own traditions which Jesus says will vindicate his work.
How do we express our anger? Do we get our backs up like the Pharisees and refuse to budge from our opinions or do we allow ourselves to be open to movement like the God of the Hebrew scriptures? A relationship that has never been tested by a real argument cannot know the depth of intimacy realized when we can be angry at someone we love and yet still be open to hearing the voice of the other and allowing ourselves to be moved to a deeper understanding of each other.
Do you avoid conflict at all cost?
If you fight, are you able to hear the voice of your adversary?