It's fitting that St. Paul would quote Isaiah to express his amazement at “what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). What is so amazing about God’s plan, Isaiah promises immediately before the passage quoted by St. Paul, is that he will “come down…to make [his] name known to [his] adversaries” (Isaiah 64:1-2 NRSV)!
Hey, readers, wake up! You can’t be paying attention if you are not gasping at what I’ve just said! Think about it: God coming down to us? Can you imagine? But come down he did! His “coming down”, as we know, has been miraculously accomplished by his only Son through incarnation. The incarnate Son, in other words, is the visible “image of the invisible God”, the Father (Col 1:15). What God has done for us truly is “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart” (1 Cor 2:9, Is 64:3). Who would have thought that God in his majestic glory and almighty power would humble himself to descend into the lowliness and disorder of our world, subjecting himself to the power of unjust rulers? But it’s exactly because of our lowliness, disorder, and the unjust rulers that God in his unfathomable love and supreme wisdom would come down. It’s the only way to save us from chaos, disorder, and suppression; to transform us and help us soar to lofty heights “on wings like eagles” (Is 40:31)!
What does “God’s name” mean? Who are “his adversaries”? God’s name represents his very being, which explains why he called himself “YHWH” – “I am who am” – when Moses asked to know his name (cf. Ex 3:14). God simply “is” – he is the reason why anything “is” or “exists” at all. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What we live for and strive to achieve, our Christian calling, is for God’s name - his very being, his love and will - to be proclaimed, received, and glorified here on earth as it is in heaven. In addition to Satan, who resists God’s name together “with the principalities, with the powers…[and] with the evil spirits in the heavens” every step of the way; we, the descendants of Adam and Eve, are also God’s adversaries in the sense that we also resist his name due to our sinful inclination (Eph 6:12).
How does God make his name known to us? Ever a good teacher, God’s pedagogy is to hold our hands and lead us methodically and gradually into the truth. “You need milk, and not solid food” (Hebrews 5:12). He began with the law, asking Israel, the ancient, typological image of the Church, to observe the commandments: “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you”, so we read in this Sunday’s first reading (Sir 15:15).
How well did Israel keep the commandments? Not well, to put it mildly. Soon after entering into a covenant with God at Mt. Sinai and swearing to do everything that God had commanded them to do, they openly disobeyed him by worshipping the golden calf (cf. Ex 19:8, 32:1-6). As late as Jesus’ time, the righteousness of even their spiritual leaders, the scribes and Pharisees, remained less than desirable (Mt. 5:20).
What’s God’s solution when his people proved incapable of following the commandments? Abolish them? Relent and come up with a watered-down version? No! He doubled down. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Mt. 5:17-18). In fact, Jesus went on to make the commandments even more demanding, using a number of “you have heard…but I tell you…” statements that effectively made compliance even harder, if not impossible. For example: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5:27-28).
If you’re wondering how this approach can be a good idea, you’re not alone. Like a 2- year-old who is stumbling badly as he struggles to learn to walk, God’s people have already demonstrated that they are incapable of following God’s commandments on their own. Why not soften the law’s requirement and make it easier to follow? It’s only practical. But God will not back down. It’s his will that we “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). We are, after all, his children, a relationship so noble and holy that most people fail to appreciate and live accordingly.
But God is not a bully – by no means! He is a loving Father, so much so He decided to do it for us when we couldn’t do it ourselves! Through his only Son, God did make it easier and possible for us to follow his commandments. Jesus’ saving grace, already secured for us through his incarnation, i.e., his “coming down”, death and resurrection; is more than enough to lift us up and take us there. It’s as though we were flying on eagles’ wings! The only remaining question is: Are we ready to get on board and take flight?