Friday in the 17th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Readings: Leviticus 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34b-37; Psalm 81:3-4, 5-6, 10-11ab; Matthew 13:54-58
It’s not difficult to identify with the people’s surprise and puzzlement in today’s gospel. I’m reminded of the feeling a student might have when a classmate does especially well in a test or an examination. Everyone goes for the same classes, reads the same textbooks, listens to the same teachers. How did this person do so much better? Did s/he have extra help, extra tuition perhaps? Or maybe s/he’s just much smarter than the rest of us. Maybe s/he’s a genius. Otherwise, where did this person get this?
Perhaps the people in the gospel were thinking along similar lines. Isn’t Jesus one of us? Aren’t we familiar with his background? Didn’t he grow up among us? Didn’t he go to the same synagogue, listen to the same scriptures, hear the same preaching from the same rabbi? Didn’t he celebrate the same ceremonies and rituals as we did (the same rituals that Moses speaks about in the first reading today)? Where did the man get this?
Of course, we might say that Jesus is special. He is the Son of God, the Word made flesh and splendour of the Father. Even so, isn’t it likely that the power Jesus demonstrates in today’s gospel is not simply something that he was born with? Or, even if it was, that there was still a need for him to allow it to develop and to grow? Aren’t we told in Luke’s gospel, for example, that Jesus increased in wisdom (Luke 2:52)? If so, then we might continue to ask ourselves: Where did Jesus get all this…? Even if we acknowledge that Jesus was inspired by the Holy Spirit in a very special way, might we not continue to ask how and by what means did that inspiration take place?
Following this line of questioning, we find ourselves faced with an almost irresistible conclusion. If Jesus was indeed so familiar to his fellow townsfolk, if he was indeed exposed to the same scriptures and rituals and religious practices, isn’t it very likely that it was precisely through these very practices that Jesus obtained the wisdom and power that he manifests in the gospel today? But, if so, why does he seem so special?
Could the answer to this question be similar to the one that might be given to the student wondering about the classmate who seems special? Could it be that this classmate does well not so much because of extra tuition, or a higher IQ, although these may well be possible reasons, but simply because s/he is able truly to pay attention to what’s going on in class? Could it be that Jesus was special because he truly listened to the scriptures, actively participated in the rituals, carefully pondered over the close connection between them and daily human living? In his attendance at all the religious rituals that everyone else attended, the rituals that Moses prescribes in the first reading, could Jesus have been practicing what the Vatican II document on the Liturgy refers to as full, conscious and active participation? Could this have made all the difference for him, as well as for those to whom he ministers?
If so, isn’t this an invitation to us who may often find ourselves in need of wisdom and power to face life’s many struggles? Aren’t we also being called to strive for full, conscious and active participation in the Liturgy? In the words of Luke’s gospel, aren’t we being reminded to pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away… (Luke 8:18)?