Friday, May 23, 2008
Friday in the 7th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
O Heart Patient and Pierced
Readings: James 5:9-12; Psalms 103:1-2, 3-4, 8-9, 11-12; Mark 10:1-12
Picture: CC Bomb Rosa
What is your usual reaction to difficult situations, situations involving some form of wrongdoing or injustice perhaps even directed at yourself? Let’s imagine for a moment, for example, that you’re a woman whom her husband has deserted for another person. And after the requisite time has elapsed, your wayward spouse files for a divorce. What would you do? How might you react? One possibility is to fight your husband every inch of the way. Bitterly contest the divorce in the courts. And even if the decree is granted, fight over the distribution of the matrimonial assets, the custody of the children. Fight him even out of court. Smear his reputation before his friends and family, his colleagues and acquaintances. In short, harden your heart to stone. Turn yourself into a big stick with which to beat up your tormentor.
Another possibility is to take the opposite route. Give in to the voices, both within and around you, that lay the blame for the difficult situation solely on your own shoulders. If only you had been a better wife, or if you hadn’t gone to work, or such and such, he wouldn’t have left. And give in also to every conceivable demand your soon-to-be ex-husband might make of you. After all, you’re at fault. You deserve it. In other words, soften you heart to mush. Turn yourself into a doormat for others to walk all over.
But, however attractive these options might seem, our readings today show us quite clearly that neither is the truly Christian one. It’s probably more apparent that the first option falls short. As the first reading tells us, do not make complaints against one another… so as not to be brought to judgement yourselves. That much is clear. But doesn’t the patience enjoined by the first reading seem to imply the mushiness of the second option? Not quite. Although the word used does indicate long-suffering, the image evoked by Christian patience is not that of a doormat. For the first reading cites Job as our model. And we all know Job’s story. When everything in his life – his property, family and health – was destroyed, Job’s friends encouraged him to confess his guilt to God and to accept his fate. But Job resisted. He maintained his innocence. He was convinced that he hadn’t done anything to deserve his misfortune. Instead of confessing an uncommitted sin, he chose instead to persevere in bringing his grievance before God. He kept shouting to God for a hearing, even to the extent of wanting to bring God to court. And, in the end, God answered and vindicated him.
The gospel presents us with yet another model of patience. Jesus finds himself in a difficult situation of a different sort. In Jesus's day, a divorce was quite easily obtained under Jewish law, but only by the men. All that was necessary was for a writ to be drawn up and handed to the woman, and she could then be lawfully dismissed. The legal disputes were not over whether divorce should be allowed, but over what constituted sufficient grounds. And it is into this legal minefield that the Pharisees seek to draw Jesus today. What will he say? Will he pick up a big stick and insist on a strict interpretation of the Law? Or will he turn himself and the Law into a doormat for everyone to walk over?
Jesus does neither. Instead he probably recognizes quite well that all the prevailing legal positions actually miss the point. For underlying this Jewish practice is an unjust perspective that tends to view women as possessions that can be freely acquired and disposed off on a whim. Instead of siding with any one of the prevailing views, Jesus instead speaks of the beginning of creation. He reminds his listeners that over and above their own opinions, there is God’s vision of what constitutes true marital bliss. They are no longer two… but one body… Amidst a cacophony of conflicting voices, Jesus, like Job, chooses to turn continually to God. And because he chooses to do so, he will end up paying the ultimate price. He will be killed, but only to be raised up again on the third day.
Quite clearly, the patience that our readings propose to us today is neither like a big stick nor a doormat. The image evoked is instead the very same one we’re recalling at this Mass on this Friday morning. It is the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced through in its patience, and pouring out upon us the blood and water of divine compassion and love.
In the various difficult situations that we might encounter how are we being invited to imitate this pierced and patient heart today?
Posted by Fr Chris at 10:16 am