Friday, July 31, 2009

Sing With Joy to God Our Help

Ignatius ( Iñigo, in his native Basque) was born in the Basque country on the borders of Spain and France in 1491. The son of a noble family, he spent his early years at court, and then became a junior officer in the army of the King of Spain. At the age of 30, he was wounded in a battle against the French at Pamplona. During a long and painful convalescence he read a life of Christ and a collection of the lives of the saints, and became aware of his calling to devote his life entirely to God. He spent some time in a Dominican monastery, and then made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He then studied theology at the University of Paris, where he met his first followers. Later, in Rome, he formed them into the Society of Jesus. His knightly quest for glory led him not to military honors, but to sainthood.

Today’s first reading is taken from the third book of the Torah, the Law which God dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai to guide the people of Israel on their journey to the Holy Land and their pilgrimage to God’s Heavenly Kingdom. This reading is not a trip through space but through time, a calendar of observances to be held throughout the year, beginning on the fourteenth day of the first month, with the weeklong spring festival of Passover, celebrating their release from slavery in Egypt, yet at the same time, eating only unleavened bread in memory of the dangers and difficulties of their journey. On the tenth of the seventh month is the Yom Kippur, when a sacred assembly with fasting and prayer is held to atone for their sins. The reading lists several other readings, festivals and fasts, sacrifices and libations prescribed for every day throughout the year.

Today’s gospel also speaks of a spiritual journey, but from a very different perspective. Jesus returned from Jerusalem to Nazareth, where he taught the people in the synagogue. His neighbors are astonished at how he has changed. “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t Mary his mother? Aren’t James and John, Simon and Jude his kinfolk? Where did he get such wisdom and power?”

Matthew tells us that Jesus “did not” work wonders in Nazareth because of his neighbors’ unbelief. Mark (6:5), the earliest gospel, says that Jesus “could not” exercise his ability to cure the sick and free the obsessed from the power of the evil one in his native village.

The theme of rejection runs throughout the gospels. “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first” (John 15:18), and continues after the Resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. “Was there even one prophet whom your ancestors never persecuted?” asked Stephen the deacon, just before they stoned him to death (Acts 7:52).

Don’t get the impression that Jesus was angry, embittered or disappointed by his treatment in his home town. He probably expected it. In Luke’s account of this incident, he even seems to provoke it. Like all of us, he starts out with ambitious imagination. We expect everyone to love us as our parents did – and if we don’t have positive memories of our youth, we imagine that other people will treat us better than they did. When we learn that the world is not like what we imagined, we are tempted to become bitter and disillusioned, and so we climb aboard the rollercoaster of emotions. If we had no expectations, we would also have no bitterness. But, without faith in God, we would also be without hope. “Father, let this cup pass from me. Yet, your will be done, not mine”, cried Jesus in the Garden. And from the cross, “Eli, eli, lema sabacthani!” (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?) Jesus’ humanity was tested well beyond what his disciples are subject to, Jesus’ trust in the Father can be our guide on your path of discipleship -- and mine.

No comments: