When I was younger, I had a bad habit of comparing how my parents raised my younger sister to how they raised me. I was often quick to point out when punishments did not match those I had received. And when I would mention these discrepancies to my mom, she would typically respond with a rhetorical question like, “Well, Sarah, I can’t think of any daughter whose bed is not perfectly made every morning, can you?” or “Do you know any daughter around here that would ever lose her temper?” Her skillful message was clear: I was far from perfect and she loved me anyway and so too, loved my sister.
I couldn’t help but think of these sibling squabbles as I read the First Reading today. And just like my mom, I imagine Saint Paul to be a little sassy in the part of his letter where he asks the rhetorical questions.
“For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given him anything that he may be repaid?” (Romans 11:33-35)
In a perfect world, the answers to these questions would be “no one.” But sisters, how many times have I impatiently asked God to remember something I’ve asked for, and in a way attempted to “be his counselor”? And certainly there have been moments where my prayer has looked like a transaction. “Lord, I promise to ‘fill-in the-blank’ if you could please ‘fill-in-the-blank.’” You know, as if there was some key to unlock the mystery of our Creator and fulfill our every wish . . . .
Even the Responsorial Psalm today demonstrates our human desire for knowledge and habit of demanding a response from God, “Lord, in your great love, answer me.” (Psalm 69)
Saint Paul was aware of these human tendencies and also of the animosity felt by the Israelites towards the Gentiles. Just a few verses earlier in his letter, he explained the salvation of the Gentiles to the Israelites who struggle to accept that they, the chosen people, were not the only ones to be shown God’s mercy.
And just as my mother skillfully pointed out that her love was beyond my understanding, Saint Paul did the same for the Israelites as they tried to understand the ineffable power and reach of God’s mercy and love which was generously shared with all of humanity, not just in Biblical times, but also today.
God is big enough for all of us. If there's someone in your life you're feeling mildly or widely competitive with, remember that God's love covers both of you and say a prayer for him or her in your heart.
Sarah Stanley is a small town Ohio girl who is mildly obsessed with all things Ignatian and is very passionate about faith, social justice, and the intersection of the two. She recently earned her Master of Divinity and now serves as the Director of Christian Service at a high school in New England. When she’s not working, she enjoys contagious laughter, travel, clever puns, and finding the good in all things. You can find out more about her here.