There are certain books in most of our lives that have a way of staying with us because of the power of their message. During my seminary days, I remember coming across a small paperback by the Anglican writer, J. B. Phillips entitled Your God is too Small. Intrigued by the title I found in this small book insights that have served me well down through the years.
Phillips maintains that far too many people tend to view God in their own image and likeness rather than to realize that it’s the other way around - that we are made in God’s image and likeness. In other words, in the course of our lives, there’s a tendency to make God look like us and how we interact with one another. The example that I’ve always remembered is the image of God as the Resident policeman in the skies. For those who hold to this image, their vision of God is like the cop who is ever so patiently waiting behind the shrubbery on a major highway pointing that machine at you that can detect if you’re going over the speed limit. And if you are, he’s ready to reeve up the engine of his motorcycle with lights flashing ready to ticket you for the slightest infraction of the law.
Phillips uses this example not to belittle the fact that God does indeed challenge us to live moral lives, that we are indeed called to integrate Gospel values into our lives. However, to see God solely in this role as the one who calls us to keep laws - then we’ve focused on only one aspect, one dimension of the richness of who God is to be for all of us.
So often these images that we fashion of God come out of our own experiences - positive or negative - of authority figures in our lives. For the child nurtured in a loving, supportive and challenging family - God as Father and loving parent makes sense. For a child whose family was massively dysfunctional, perhaps tragically scarred by abuse - the image of God as parent may conjure up the worst of images that can psychologically and spiritually cripple rather than bring freedom and wholeness.
It is for these reasons that our image of God needs to be periodically measured against God’s Word. It is in divine revelation that God has shared with us the deepest and truest image of who He is for us in our lives. The stories enshrined in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are like different facets in the brilliant diamond that reflects the God of our lives to us.
Matthew’s Gospel today is a perfect example of shattering an image of God that perhaps some of us may carry around with us. Matthew presents us with the parable of the owner of an estate who pays laborers who worked only a portion of the day the same generous salary as those who worked all day. From our human perspective that owner better hire a good attorney because he’s going to have an employee related suit on his hands!
The Good New in this Gospel, however, has little to do with labor relations but everything to do with a God of generosity, a God whose justice is radically different from the measured out and carefully weighed justice and generosity that so often characterizes our lives.
The mercy and generosity of our God is one that forgives not seven times, but seven times seventy times; it is one that offers a new beginning to a thief hanging next to him on the cross who opens his heart seeking forgiveness even at the last moment of his life; it is a God who dares to embrace the physically unclean knowing that at the heart - all of us are sons and daughters of His Heavenly Father; finally, it is a God who waits with open arms to throw a welcome home party for the prodigal son who in his foolishness thought he could get a better deal somewhere else, but in the end comes to his senses and returns home.
Is our image of God too small? Have we limited the power of his mercy and forgiveness because of the hardness of our own hearts or our own poor self-image? Let us pray for the wisdom and courage to let go of a God made in our own image so that we might surrender and experience the freedom of Him in whose image we are made.