In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis talked about the unpredictable nature of the Gospel. “The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk 4:26-29). The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking.” The propers for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost speak of this unpredictability.
Unpredictability can be a scary thing for us humans. In this age of Big Data, we like to believe ourselves very adept at predictions. Individuals like Nate Silver have become critically acclaimed millionaires for his systems and algorithms which help predict political elections. Ever since man has discovered events, he has attempted to fit those events within patterns.
While this approach is sensible for the affairs of this world, it isn’t for the Church. The Gospel has the power to reach even the unlikeliest of people. There is no algorithm to God’s mercy. Any sinner, no matter the nature of frequency of sins, can call upon God, and the Introit makes clear God will hear him. The collect tells us that one of the most important (and prominent) ways that God shows His power is by His mercy.
In the Gospel, we hear the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. While we normally hear about the humility of the tax collector and the arrogance of the Pharisee, in what way is he really arrogant? If we are looking closely, he’s trying to predict God. God would forgive him, because afterall, he tithes and fasts, and everyone knows it. Those are the kinds of people God should forgive. That tax collector over there? He’s every rotten word in the book. He wouldn’t be deserving of God’s mercy. I mean, just look at him! Of course, it is the publican who receives God’s mercy, because he doesn’t try to predict. He just asks God for it, trusting in God’s love to forgive him.
Another way we try to predict God is predicting the gifts He gives us. The Church at Corinth had a problem with this. They believed that the best Christians would have the gift of speaking in tongues. Other Christians at various ages have emphasized other gifts as the mark of the true Christian. It approaches God in a very transactional sense. I do this, so I should get this. St. Paul reminds us that is not the way the game is played. St. Paul points out the Holy Spirit blows where it wills, and gifts are distributed to the faithful based on His will, not our actions. If we think about the various apparitions and authentic private revelations throughout history, was there a pattern that developed? These apparitions were given to men, women, children, rich and poor, as the Spirit desired.
Peter, the poor fisherman was given the gift of tongues, as was the rich publican Matthew, and the learned scholar Paul received likewise. Others such as Apollos did not receive tongues, but received the gift of prophesy. Poor individuals have turned into the greatest of saints, but so have wealthy nobles who gave away all their wealth, putting it at the service of the Church. If we’re looking for a pattern on sainthood about these men, we’re likely to be frustrated. You can’t predict sainthood. Yet if we take a step back, we might notice a pattern, not on man’s part, but on God’s. God gives us all of these gifts not because we earn or deserve them, but because they help further his plan. All we can do is accept those gifts, and put them to use in the world.
Often that spirit of prediction is a great hindrance to God’s design. There are those in the Church who want to weaken her teachings and rules, simply for the reason that it cannot be reasonably expected modern man can follow them. We see all these conditions, and we predict it cannot be done. This idea is rationalized by if we get rid of those uncomfortable and inconvenient things, it will allow a chance for God’s mercy to shine brighter. In short, they are trying to predict God, just as the Pharisee. Sometimes we might see family or friends who are ignorant about the faith and do not know Christ, and we decide it wouldn’t be worth it. They wouldn’t get it, and they’d just be angry. Finally, we might even see someone who has had an abortion or a divorce, or in a same-sex marriage, and conclude that they aren’t even worth getting to know and speak to, because their mind is darkened.
God calls us away from this mentality in the propers of today’s Mass. He calls us to share the Gospel with whoever we meet. Rather than judging them by their sins, let us judge God by the power of His mercy. Let us speak to these individuals, understand and help them with their needs, share the good word, and then go to sleep. By sleep we mean let God do His work. Let us stick around to cultivate it if need be, but otherwise, let the Lord work His mercy. The collect reminds us that one of the primary (and prominent) ways God shows His power is by His mercy. From now on, stop trying to predict God. Let the spirit blow where He wills in the Church. Bring the message of salvation to anyone you can, and remember that far from the abandoned and lowly being the ones to avoid, these are the ones we should give the Gospel to the most.