The book of Wisdom can be difficult. At least I have found it so. It is also rich with very lyrical passages. These are well-represented in the Lectionary, notably in the sacrament of Penance and for funerals.
As I was reflecting on the Wisdom author’s meditation on human history, I found an interlude of mercy. This is not in the reconciliation Lectionary. But I wish it were. The writer begins with a perspective I find appealing–how God sees the vast, immense universe around us. Should we be in awe? I would think so.
before you the whole universe
is like a grain from a balance,
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But you have mercy on all,
because you can do all things;
and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance.
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for you would not fashion what you hate.
How could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
This is a Jewish understanding of creation. We see it elsewhere in Psalm 104, that line we might recall from the Pentecost Psalm, “When you … take away their breath, they perish and return to the dust.” If God were to forget us, we would cease to exist. And yet we continue to live and breathe and move in God. So certainly, God must love us … right? Job’s friend Elihu said it, too: “If (God) were to set his mind to it, gather to himself his spirit and breath, all flesh would perish together, and mortals return to dust.” (Job 34:14-15)
So we come to a tender moment in the Scriptures:
But you spare all things,
because they are yours,
O Ruler and Lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,
and remind them of the sins they are committing,
that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, Lord!
This seems to be a good message to preach to penitents. In some circumstances, people in trouble need a gentle and compassionate word. Are people berated for their sinfulness when a reminder would suffice? Turning away from sin and being faithful to God is often a quiet transformation. In a communal setting, this reading might be quite effective, giving believers a perspective on God’s immense universe and our exceedingly small piece of it. And reminding us, as Pope Francis often does, of God’s eternal and ever-willing mercy.