Sunday Scripture readings, July 18, 2021, Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Jer 23:1-6 Psalm 23:1-6
2) Eph 2:13-18 Gospel: Mk 6:30-34
God is here for all of us, even those who are far from him
In our second reading, St. Paul deals with an unexpected development that people in his day were trying to wrap their minds around. After centuries of relating to the Israelites — the Jewish people — as his special people, God was now showing equal favor to non-Jews — gentiles — welcoming everyone everywhere into an intimate relationship with him in Christ.
It is not easy for us to feel any more astonishment at this than we might feel about, say, the fact that Homo sapiens has now spread to every continent. In a church in which, for centuries, the membership has been almost entirely gentile, the issue that believers in Paul’s day were struggling to understand seems very old news indeed.
But, as is often the case, while the situation treated by the biblical author recedes further and further into the past, his treatment of it remains fresh, significant, even surprising.
Paul addresses his gentile believers as “you who once were far off.” That is, far from God. The problem of distance from God hardly seems to have been left behind in the first century. By every indication, it’s as of-the-present-moment as anything being posted right now to Instagram.
“I don’t feel close to God” and “I don’t feel God is close to me” are statements most of us could make most of the time, I suspect. Day by day when I go online to look at the news, I find an unfolding chronicle that, it occurs to me, might be titled “We Who Are Far Off.”
To all of us in Far Off Land, Paul, in today’s reading, makes a simple assertion: “He came.” Paul is saying that God acted. In his son, God traveled the infinite distance from the heart of reality — his own inner life — to creatures who seem to be, in many ways really are, far from him.
He came and did for us what we could not do for ourselves. By his death and resurrection he reconciled us to God, made peace between us and God, opened the way for us to God. Because he came, “we … have access in one Spirit to the Father.”
What this means for each of us far off ones is a closeness to God so exceeding our expectations that even to begin to discover it is the surprise of all surprises.
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.