Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost—2 November AD 2014
“All things are in
Thy will, O Lord; and there is none that can resist Thy will;
for Thou hast made
... heaven and earth, and all things ... under the cope of heaven....”
I read an interesting description of today's Mass—one that
described it as the presentation of a tragedy. The first of the variable
prayers, the Introit, is taken from the Old Testament book of Esther. In it the
Jews are being held by the powerful King “Assuerus, who reigned from India to
Ethiopia.” A Jew named Mordachai uncovers a plot against the King, but
provokes the jealousy of an aspiring young prince called Aman. Angry because
he feels disrespected, Aman plots to kill Mordachai and all of his fellow
Jews. But in the end, God intervenes through Ester, Mordachai’s beautiful
niece. Ester charms the King and laments to him that there is a plot afoot to
kill all of her people. In the end, everything is made right and we hear
Morachai's words of rejoicing at the beginning of this Holy Mass: " All things
are in Thy will, O Lord; and there is none that can resist Thy will; for Thou
hast made all things, heaven and earth, and all things that are under the cope
of heaven; Thou art Lord of all.”
Truly, all things are within God's will. Mordachai was
right about that, in that nothing in the universe can happen unless it is, at
least, within God's "permissive will." Without God's permission, at least,
absolutely nothing can happen. But we know that God has created his human
creatures with intellect and free will. Without freedom,
men and women cannot love, and love is one of the three motivations God had for
creating us. We don't think of it as an act of love when someone does something
for us but is forced to do it.
Sometimes man's intellect deceives him. He is misled—or
perhaps he misleads himself—to believe that something is good for him that
actually is not. Often he is confronted with something that is good in itself,
but then he decides that the thing would be even better if misused. Often,
pride leads him—as it did Adam and Eve when it was suggested to them that "they
would be like gods if they ate the forbidden fruit.
But in today's readings we learn that God has given us
various graces which will help us discern what is truly good for us, and
consequently, pleasing to Him. Saint Paul puts it in military terms, because we
are in a dangerous battle with the devil, the prince of this world.
“Put on the armor of God.... having your loins girt about
with truth, and having on the breast-plate of justice, and your feet shod with
the preparation of the gospel of peace; in all things taking the shield of
faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most
wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvations, and the sword of the
spirit which is the word of God.”
Truth, justice, peace, faith and the word of God—these are
our weapons against the devil. But wait. There are a few more. The Gospel
speaks of forgiveness, and implies that a bit of humility might have kept the
wicked servant out of trouble.
And of course patience. The offertory refers to that Old Testament champion of
patience, whom we know only as Job from the land of Hus—the man who patiently
accepted all of the misfortune thrown at him by the devil, without any complaint
that God should have done better for him.
Why then did I refer to this as the "presentation of a
tragedy"? Well, at the end of the Gospel, the wicked servant—and possibly, his
wife and his children—were given over "to the torturers until he paid all the
debt.” And that was likely to be a very long time, indeed, for people being
tortured in prison produce very little that can be used to pay a debt!
The tragedy is that none of this had to happen. A little
peace, a little patience, a little justice, a little forgiveness, and a little
humility on the part of the latter and both servants would have remained in the
good graces of the master. Bad things sometimes happen to good people, but the
tragedy is multiplied if the evil could have been easily avoided.
The wicked servant must have “kicked himself” when he
considered how trivial where the hundred silver coins about the size of a dime,
when compared with the many thousand pound weight of silver the master had been
willing to forgive. Just a little bit of justice, patience, or forgiveness
would have prevented his awful punishment. He could have prevented his own
We are in a very similar situation. All of the
graces—weapons if you follow Saint Paul—are available to us: “truth, justice,
peace, faith, and the word of God, together with humility, forgiveness, and
patience” are enough armament for us to overcome any attack of the devil.
Enough for even our tiny human intellect to sort out what is good for us, and
what will please God when we correctly exercise our free will.
“All things are in Thy will, O Lord; and there is none that
can resist Thy will; for Thou hast made ... heaven and earth, and all things ...
under the cope of heaven....” But God does not impose His will on His
children. It is up to use to make use of His graces to order our wills in
accordance with His. To defy the will of God is always unnecessary—it is the ultimate tragedy.