July 16, 2011 - Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The psalm today repeats the phrase: “for his mercy endures forever”, which sounds well enough, until we get to “who smote the Egyptians in their first-born, for his mercy endures forever” and “who swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea, for his mercy endures forever.” The contrast here makes us pause and think about what we believe. Did God really kill all those children “because his mercy endures forever”? Did he really drown Pharaoh and all the soldiers of Egypt “because his mercy endures forever”?

Perhaps we would rather not think about such parts of salvation history; at best we would talk about how different the times were then, but to suggest that not only did God kill all the first-born sons of Egypt but that it was an expression of his mercy is difficult. Yet how else could such a thing be understood? The mercy of our God is infinite. The central point of this psalm is that everything that God does is an expression of his mercy, and that is absolutely true. God did not wake up angry one morning and smite the Egyptians.

But how could thousands, perhaps millions, of dead children be an expression of God’s mercy? We encounter here the mystery. We do not stand in judgment of God; he stands in judgment of us. We are not greater than God, so it is not reasonable to expect to understand his works completely. He is the Most High God, as far above us as the heavens are above the earth. Can your dog understand everything you do? How much more is God incomprehensible to us!

Nevertheless, God has given us reason and the ability to explore mysteries that we cannot comprehend. We know that God loves us, and not only us but all of humanity. God loved those Egyptian boys whom he killed. The history of the universe is a history of God’s merciful plan toward us. We will never comprehend the mystery of salvation, for it is as infinite as God is infinite. Someday, God willing, we will have the rest of forever to consider the mystery. After 10,000 years, we will begin to realize how events that looked so cruel from earth were, in reality, wonderful acts of mercy. For now, although we do not understand why he allows cancer or earthquakes or war, we are certain of one thing: his mercy endures forever.