Saturday, March 31, 2007

Saturday in the 5th Week of Lent
Gathering the Scattered

Readings: Ezekiel 37:21-28; Jeremiah 31:10, 11-12abcd, 13; John 11:45-56

Many of us have probably heard the story of the person (we shan’t say whether it’s a man or a woman) who often confessed the sin of gossiping. Finally, the pastor had had enough and asked the person to climb a hill on a windy day carrying a pillow filled with goose feathers. Once at the top, the pillow was to be ripped open so that the contents would be carried away by the wind. The following day the person was to return to the hill-top and attempt to retrieve all the scattered feathers and return them to the pillow. An impossible task, of course!

But no more impossible than what God is doing in the readings of today. It’s quite striking how the same word appears in both readings as well as the psalm. We will also hear it later in the communion antiphon. It's the verb, to gather. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil… He who scattered Israel will gather him and guard him as a shepherd guards his flock… Jesus was to die… to gather together in unity the scattered children of God…
The immensity of this task of gathering all who have been scattered should be quite plain to us. We may consider, for example, the recent happenings in the Middle East, specifically the detention of those British sailors by the Iranian government. The Iranians claim that the British vessel had strayed into Iranian waters. The British claim that it had remained in Iraqi waters. Who to believe? How to resolve the dispute? Along the same lines, I remember listening to a recent convert share with me the pain of being a Catholic child of staunchly anti-Catholic parents. Child and parents love one another dearly. Yet they simply cannot see eye-to-eye. They only want what is best for one another. Yet they continue to cause one another much pain and heartache. And their experience is but a tiny fragment of the wider scandal of a divided Christianity. Even as we consider these examples, more likely than not, each of us will also recall our own particular experiences of being scattered and disunited. Like those feathers blown away by the wind, it seems impossible that we will ever be gathered together again.

Even so, it is precisely this impossible task that God undertakes. And we must be attentive to how God gathers. Often, in the midst of differences and disputes, the natural first reaction is to try to exert one’s own will, to flex one’s own muscles, to pressure others to do that which they are not quite willing to do, to bend them to our point of view. And we continue to do this even when we know that it often leads to further scattering. God’s tack is quite different however. God gathers not by self-assertion but by self-emptying.

In the face of division, God dies.

And it is this divine act of gathering by dying that we will be paying close attention to as we begin Holy Week, as we accompany Jesus into Jerusalem. And even as we witness how God dies so as to gather the scattered into unity, we will be praying for the grace to do the same.

How does the God who dies wish to gather the scattered parts of your life today?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Father Chris!

    Your sharing has prompted me to go reconcile with my father after a quarrel with him today.

    God bless,
    Catholic Writer