by Father Mike Stubbs
Many pieces of cloth make up a patchwork quilt. They may include different colors and patterns, but somehow they work together to make a coherent whole.
In a similar way, the words of the prophets taken separately sometimes sound very different when compared to each other, disjointed almost, but still work together to bring us a powerful message. Sunday’s first reading, Is 55: 6-9, pres- ents us with a good example of how that can happen.
The reading appears to consist of two parts that are making different points. The first part encourages the sinner to turn back to God and repent: “Let him turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.” The second part stresses the vast difference between human beings and God: “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
We might wonder about the connection between the two parts. Does the second part emphasize the difference between God and us in order to draw attention to God’s mercy?
After all, human beings are likely to bear a grudge, to take revenge. They do not always show mercy.
But God is not like that. God will forgive: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” We do not need to be afraid in approaching God to ask for forgiveness. We can be confident that we will find it.
On the other hand, there might be another reason for the second part to emphasize the difference between us and God, a completely different reason. That difference can underline our need for forgiveness. God is good, while we are sinners. God is holy, while we are wicked. God is perfect, while we fall far short of perfection. We are very different from God, who is totally other. That is why we need forgiveness.
All in all, either interpretation fits. Whether the second part of the reading emphasizes our need for God’s mercy, or whether
it instead assures us of the likelihood of receiving it, it makes sense. Both are true.
However we fit the two pieces together, it still brings us a powerful message. The fact that more than one interpretation is possible reminds us of the richness of God’s word.