Monday, August 11, 2008
Monday in the 19th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of Saint Clare, Virgin
Taxed Unto Glory
Readings: Ezekiel 1:2-5, 24-28c; Psalms 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14; Matthew 17:22-27
Picture: CC Paul Keleher
Your glory fills all heaven and earth… This is our response to the psalm today. It’s a familiar phrase, one that we may mouth with such ease and confidence, without so much as a second thought to its awesome significance. And yet we may well wonder at the extent to which we truly believe what we are saying. Do we even begin to grasp the meaning of what we are proclaiming? By these words, we speak of the ongoing presence and action of God in all of creation. We declare our firm belief that God is to be found not just in the most obvious places and experiences that we commonly consider sacred, but that God’s glory fills all heaven and also all earth. That we are not surprised and even shocked by this declaration is likely a sign of how jaded we are, of how routine our worship has become.
That this is a belief that is far from easy to grasp is clear when we carefully consider our readings today. Each of them presents us with an experience. The one in the first reading is quite obviously a God-experience, what is called, in more technical terms, a theophany. The prophet describes his vision of God’s glory. It is a tremendously awe-inspiring experience. The senses of the prophet are bombarded by extraordinary sights and sounds, and perhaps even smells. There is flashing of lightning, loud noises, strange animals, and a being seated high up on a throne, shrouded in fiery brilliance. The vision leaves us in no doubt that God is far above anything or anyone we poor mortals can ever imagine. We may well imagine how the prophet felt at this sight. Could there have been any doubt in the prophet’s mind that what he was witnessing was anything other than the glory of God? Is it any surprise that he prostrated himself in worship?
Then, in the gospel, we find yet another experience. Jesus tells his disciples, once again, that he is going to be killed, and then raised to life on the third day. And a great sadness came over them. Notice how mundane and down-to-earth is this second experience. A man tells his friends that he is going to suffer and die. And his friends react with sorrow. There is neither fire nor smoke. Apart from Jesus’ reference to being raised again, there seems to be nothing really extraordinary here. Could the contrast with the first experience be any greater? And yet, isn’t this also an experience of the glory of God, an experience of the God who fills not just the heights of heaven, but also the depths of earth, the God who comes to us not just in moments of wonder and awe, but also in times of sorrow and pain? But, unlike the prophet in the first readings, the disciples do not recognize this experience as the theophany that it really is. They neither bow down nor worship. Can we blame them?
Should we not rather empathize with them? For don’t we too find it so very difficult for us to even begin to entertain the possibility that God can be present as much on earth as in heaven, as much in the secular as in the sacred, as much in the midst of pain and defeat as in triumph and jubilation? Isn’t this why someone like St. Clare stands out among us? Together with St. Francis, she was able to find God not just in riches but also in poverty. That we struggle to do the same is a sign of our failure to appreciate what Jesus proclaims in the second part of the gospel today. Through the rather puzzling instructions that he gives Peter in regards the paying of the Temple tax, Jesus demonstrates how closely and intimately God associates with us in His Son. In Christ, we who were once far away have been brought near. We are now no longer foreigners but sons and daughters. We are now even in the same tax bracket as the Lord! Perhaps what we need to ask for is a deeper understanding of this mystery, so that in all things, and at all times, we may learn to prostrate ourselves in worship before the Lord.
What experience of God’s glory are we being blessed with today?
Posted by Fr Chris at 11:00 am