For Audrey: “Yeah, if I had to stand attentively to Scripture being read for 6 hours, I’d weep… because my Ritalin would run out.”January 27, 2013 – 5:54 pm
Audrey, you should be used to this by now, because it’s the same deal as before: riffing on this week’s readings for Mass.
1st reading, wherein the people listen attentively to Ezra reading The Law (TM) for hours and hours, then begin weeping because they’re so touched by it
Holy attention span, Batman. If I had to stand up and listen to religious stuff being read for 6+ hours straight, I’d weep too, because my Ritalin would wear off halfway through that. But here’s an entire civilization — all the men, women, and children, not just the super-religious ones, we’re talking the whole dang town — showing up at daybreak to hear the Book of Deuteronomy being recited. Voluntarily, I would suppose. I blink at this.
Their reaction is so different to what ours would be, but their times were too — in a society where literacy rates were nonexistent, an out-of-town prophet reading the Word of God to them was the equivalent of their rock concert. They had less information accessible to them, so perhaps they took and absorbed what they did get more deeply, held it more dear — whereas now we live in a deluge of information, and even if we’re literate, skimming is not the same as reading deeply and understanding intellectually, and understanding intellectually is not the same as bringing what we hear into our hearts and lives. It’s not because those ideas are terribly complex (“love one another,” for instance) — it’s because they’re hard to live. What if we read less (crazy idea, I know!) and lived more? What if we decided more consciously to listen to and watch and read things that would help us think more clearly, live as better people, whether they’re internet videos or magazine articles or feature films or scholarly papers or classic novels or essays our friends in elementary school are writing?
2nd reading, wherein Paul makes the famous “there are many parts, but one body” analogy
Perhaps this story is new to you; I’m not sure if you’ve read it in the past. To me, the analogy is quite straight-up. We are a diverse peoples united in one body, each with different talents. It’s a “duh” thing for you, I’m guessing; you’ve been raised to think that way already. But remember the context Paul was writing in — the folks he was writing to were still grappling with the “Jews are better than Greeks/Gentiles!” thing. And we’re not entirely free of that today. There’s still sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, sexism, devaluing of certain career paths (“doctors are better than artists!”), and all sorts of classifications people make, consciously or unconsciously, that see some people as created less as God’s children than others.
This isn’t to say that someone can’t be better than someone else at something — I read faster than my brother, he runs faster than me — and training hard towards winning soccer tournaments and piano competitions and so forth is awesome. Do push yourself and find out all that you can do. But the deal is this: the trumpet isn’t better than the oboe. Soccer isn’t superior to kickboxing. All talents and pathways taken in the service of love are wonderful, so don’t worry about why you are or aren’t taking someone else’s path — sing your song and live your life, however conventional or unconventional it may be. You see your sister grappling with this — and very well too, I might add — as she prepares to chart her course through college, doing something nobody in the family has ever done before — and that’s fantastic, and I am looking forward to continuing to watch her quest towards her calling. Someday it’ll be your turn, and you’ll have your sister and all your cousins here to help you too.
My own reaction to this reading was a bit of a distractomel moment, if you’ll indulge me for a bit. I was looking at the reading passage with some other grad students, but (since I read fast, and am restless) skipped ahead and stumbled onto what came next. Basically, after he goes “we all have different talents, and we should use them,” Paul says “…but I shall show you a still more excellent way…” AHA! A CLIFFHANGER! So what’s in Chapter 13?
Yeah, okay, not the Beatles; they came thousands of years later. But Paul writes about love. And this passage — if you haven’t found this out yet — gets quoted and read in wedding after wedding after wedding after wedding, and it ends with “and these three things remain: faith, hope, and love — but the greatest of these is love.” I didn’t realize those two passages were next to each other; I hadn’t expected to encounter it that day. And maybe someday we can talk about this over hot chocolate, why this passage always moves me, always has moved me, and has hit me harder and harder as I’ve grown up… these are the sorts of conversations that you have with people throughout the years, because it’s not about the informational content or factual statements conveyed but rather about experiencing and expressing the ineffable things about life together. And you and your sister, and all our cousins, are people I would have these conversations and experiences and wordless times and joys with.
Oh. And for a laugh, chapter 14 can be read as (among other things) Paul’s tirade against obfuscation. I chuckled when I came across it, because what stuck out to me was “oi, people! Stop babbling — you have brains and intellects, use them! If you talk in gibberish, nobody else will understand you and you won’t do anybody else any good!” I wish that advice were distributed more widely to academic writers. But I digress.
Gospel: wherein they don’t actually tell you the ending of what happens when Jesus comes to preach in his hometown
In the actual Gospel selection for today, Jesus goes home and preaches in his synagogue and basically says: “Hey, the ancient prophets? They were talking about me, homies.” And that’s where the Gospel ends — so if you stop there, it looks like a pretty happy, placid scene. They don’t tell you what happens next, which is that his neighbors are pissed and start forming a lynch mob.
Interesting contrast there to the first reading, where the reception to hearing the Word of God is “whoa, we’re so enraptured by this that we’re moved to tears!” Interesting contrast there to the second reading, because the town of Nazareth is basically saying “we don’t like you, and we’re going to cut you off,” — a body cutting off its own hand, or head, or whatever organ you’d like to stand in for Jesus at the moment.
Many variants of this still play out today. Crabs-in-a-barrel syndrome. Girls snubbing another girl because she likes math and that’s not a girl thing to do. Families who say things like “oh and now that you’ve gone to college you’re all better than us, are you?” People who refuse to see that those they knew as younger folks have changed, perhaps for the better. Going home is hard, especially if you’ve changed somehow, and/or if you’re doing something different that the rest of the folks back home don’t do. They might not understand. But that doesn’t make you bad, or wrong, or your transformation a bad thing, or what you’re doing different a bad thing, just because folks back home don’t get it or accept it.
So when your friends and family come back home and they are different somehow and maybe say things that are strange to hear — I’m thinking about how your sister will go to college soon — lift them up and love them and embrace them and get to know them all over again. Welcome them home.
That’s not the only lesson of today’s Gospel, but that’s one I’m going to write about today. Feel free to think of others on your own. ;-)