Today’s reading is from Luke 12:35-48. It is the little collection of parables clustered around the theme of a master who has gone away and how the servants must be watchful stewards. I read Justo Gonzalez’s commentary and found it fascinating. He speaks of God’s absence as a manifestation of God’s parental love.
We often speak of the presence of God, and rightly so. But this other theme or metaphor of absence is also common in the Bible. Even apart from sin, God gives the human creature space, freedom to exercise its responsibility. In the story in the garden, after creating humankind, and giving them dominion over the rest of creation, God lets them exercise that dominion, even though it also implies the possibility of sin. And this absence, just as much as the divine presence, is a sign of love.
He goes on to say how the hovering (helicopter) parent is not a good parent, because the child must learn on her own.
This image of parenthood may be taken one step further. Parental love is not manifested only in the act of procreation, and not only in the many actions of feeding, nurturing, and guiding, but also in a parent’s acts of absence. Out of love a parent finds it necessary to step back and let a child try its wings, even at the risk of pain and failure. A parent who is always present, guarding a child from every risk and every hurt, is not a very good parent. A child whose parents are always hovering around, guarding the child’s every step, will never learn to walk. And a child who is never given the responsibility of making decisions, even at the risk of error, will never grow up. Out of love, a parent must step back. Likewise, God’s parental love is manifested, not only in creation and in sustenance, but also in God’s apparent absence—in God’s letting us run our lives and much of the world by ourselves, even at the risk of ruining both.
We are learning. We are learning to live as God’s children in a world where the hand of our Eternal Parent is not always visible, in a world where God has placed us to be stewards of the absent Master, to grow as we could not were God always holding our hand and guiding our every step.
But then the divine absence has an added dimension: sin has come into the picture. This is indeed God’s world. But it is God’s rebellious world. This world, made by God, is also godless. It is a world of injustice and oppression, of war and prejudice, of hate and falsehood. In this world there is no guarantee of divine approval. The risk is still there. The talents must still be invested in a market that is always uncertain. Faithful Christians do not all agree on every course of action. We each and all must take the risk of acting according to what we believe to be God’s will, like a faithful steward who makes a decision hoping that this is what the master would wish him to do.1
If find this to be an interesting contrast to the daily meditation from Richard for today. Rohr is writing about the Divine Dance of the Trinity and the everywhere presence of God. Gonzalez quotes quotes Henri Nouwen, which, I think, brings these thoughts together.
The great temptation of the ministry is to celebrate only the presence of the Lord while forgetting his absence.… As we become aware of his absence we discover his presence, and as we realize that he left us we also come to know that he did not leave us alone.2
May you feel the presence of God’s Promise no matter how empty the absence may seem today. May we be watchful stewards of all of God’s Good creation.