Wednesday in the 16th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of Ss. Joachim & Anne
The Wisdom of the Ancestors
Readings: Jeremiah 1:1, 4-10; Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4a, 5-6ab, 15 and 17; Matthew 13:1-9
In today’s Mass readings and prayers I am reminded of two points from yesterday’s lectures on Chinese philosophy.
The first is the Daoist notion of Wu Wei. If I understand it correctly, although this notion can be literally translated as the principle of non-action, it doesn’t counsel total passivity. Rather, the idea is that the only kind of human action that can bear good fruit is that which intentionally seeks to cooperate with the natural flow of the Dao or principle of life. To be avoided are the extremes of excessive or insufficient action because both lead to interference with the flow of the Dao.
It’s possible to see an analogous principle in today’s Mass readings. What are the kinds of conditions that yield a rich harvest? On the one hand, all the potential for growth is contained in the seed scattered by the sower. And yet, a key point in the gospel parable is the importance of the soil into which the seed is sown. Only rich soil yields a rich harvest.
The same dynamic can be found in the call of Jeremiah. What are the conditions for a fruitful prophetic ministry? Looking only to himself and his own limited resources in the face of the daunting task ahead, Jeremiah is afraid. “I do not know how to speak, I am a child,” he protests. But God reassures him: “I am with you to protect you… I am putting my words into your mouth.” Like the gospel parable, all the potential for fruitfulness lies in God and God’s word. However, for that potential to ripen Jeremiah needs to accept his appointment as prophet. He needs to cooperate with the grace of God at work in his own life and in the world.
At this point, a doubt may present itself. If so much – indeed everything – depends on the power of God, what assurance do we have that God will keep his promises? This is where a second point from yesterday’s lectures comes to mind: the recognition and respect for the experience of antiquity, the wisdom of the ancestors. Isn’t this what we celebrate in this memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne? This God of ours has a history of relationship with us, God’s people. And it is an impeccable track record. God has always been faithful to His people – even to the extent of sending us His Son. In the words of the psalmist: “O God, you have taught me from my youth and I proclaim your wonders still.”
With this reassurance, like the psalmist, do we not find ourselves drawn to put all our hope and trust in the Lord? Do we not also find ourselves drawn to consider how – like the multitude of ancestors before us: like Jeremiah and Joachim and Anne – we too are being called to cooperate with the grace of God present in us and in the world? And when we do this, will we not also become ancestors – bearers of God’s wisdom – to those who will come after us?
May the prayers of our ancestors help us to attain the salvation God has promised to all of creation.