Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker
Walking the Dog

Readings: Genesis 1:26-2:3; Psalm 90:2-4. 12-14.16. R v. 17; Matthew 13:54-58

My family has a dog. It’s a good watchdog. It barks loudly whenever strangers come too near the main gate. But it has one fault. Whenever it’s taken out for a walk – it loves to be taken out – bystanders may be forgiven for wondering if it’s the master who is taking the dog for a walk or if it’s really the dog who’s taking the master for a walk.

This is the image that comes to mind when I listen to our readings on this feast of St. Joseph the Worker. As we heard in the first reading, we’re all meant to be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth. We are meant to fill the earth and conquer it. And, indeed, we do spend much of our lives striving for mastery. From womb to tomb, isn’t human life one long process of striving for mastery – over our own bodily functions, over our studies, our relationships, our careers and so on? And yet, as scientifically and technologically advanced as we are, don’t we often get the feeling that our lives are running away from us, that we the masters are really being walked by the dog? On a global level, aren’t we still at the mercy of tsunamis and hurricanes, earthquakes and global warming? And there is an even more telling sign of our helplessness.

What does true mastery look like in the readings of today? Notice how it is really God’s mastery that stands out most of all in the first reading. God simply speaks and the universe comes into being. And one wonderful sign of God’s mastery is that God is able to rest. He rested on the seventh day. In contrast, isn’t one of the great afflictions of our society the fact that many of us simply cannot rest. Either we don’t have the time to bring our bodies to a standstill, or, even when we do slow down physically, we are often so anxious about so many different things that we simply cannot lay our minds and hearts to rest. Quite clearly, the dog is walking the master.

In contrast, we are presented, in today’s gospel, with the mastery of Jesus. He speaks with such wisdom and performs miracles of such power that even the people of his hometown are astonished. Where did the man get it all? And, of course, we who are Christian know the answer quite well. Jesus’ mastery comes about because he places God above all else. Jesus is masterful because he acknowledges the mastery of his heavenly Father. We prayed for a similar wisdom in the responsorial psalm: make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart. The wisdom and mastery we seek is that which flows from a realization of where we stand before the almighty and ever-loving God who created the heavens and the earth.

But the mastery of Jesus is also a gentle mastery. Notice how the gospel passage ends by telling us that Jesus did not work many miracles there because of their lack of faith. This is the same meekness that sees Jesus walking the road to Calvary and onward to the Resurrection. Indeed, it is when he is led to the Cross, precisely when it seems that the dog is walking the divine master, that Jesus manifests the full extent of his mastery over sin and death.

Sisters and brothers, in our daily preoccupations, are we truly walking the dog? Or is the dog walking us?

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