First Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9
My Ways Are Not Your Ways
How is our God the God of all?
6 Seek YHWH while he may be found; call you on him while he is near: 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to YHWH, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” says YHWH.
9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts."
World English Bible
Even before the return of the exiles from Babylon, religious thinkers within Judaism tried to reconcile two notions: First, the faithful "remnant," those who remained true to YHWH, were the Chosen. They were a proud sign of God's presence simply because they survived the "bad" times and the "bad" people.
Second, YHWH was the only God. Before the exile, the Jewish God was the national deity, one God among many. A strict relationship with YHWH precluded a relationship with any other god. But, during the exile, Jews were confronted with deities of the regional superpower, Babylonia. Because Jews were a conquered people, they were a weak nation, which reflected on the power of their God. In the face of such power and critique, Jews asked themselves the question: which god is God? YHWH! HE was not only the God of the Jews. He was the only God. Not only did the other gods not matter, they did not exist! While this road to a pure monotheism took centuries, the Babylonian exile was a turning point from a parochial view of God among the Jews to a universal one.
YHWH, the Jewish God of loving compassion, the only God, ruled all peoples. This belief was in tension with the view of the remnant who were to remain pure and reject the evil. If sinners were freely allowed to return to the fold, how could the community remain unique, with its high moral standards?
Writing to the returning exiles, Second Isaiah proclaimed a belief in the compassionate YHWH trumped the need for an exclusive enclave mentality. God welcomed the sinners back because he saw things differently than those among the faithful.
Just because we have a faith life, does not give us the insider's view into God's intentions. Life's unfairness should not discourage us from a faith in a just God. Nor should we hunker down into our self-protected cocoons to keep the evil at bay. Second Isaiah reminded his audience, just as he reminds us that God is the Lord of the good and the evil. And we should accept those who wish to repent. This is God's will.
How do you balance a belief in a loving, compassionate God vs. the notion of a moral Church? How do we maintain the purity of the Church, while welcoming back sinners?