We are in ordinary time in the Catholic liturgical calendar….and the scripture readings teem during this time with engaging readings. I reflect on some of them in the paragraphs that follow.
The scriptures during this ordinary time present some situations where Christ appears to have been caught unawares and cornered as it were in a tight situation by his questioners/listeners who were anxious to “nail” him and get Him into some sort of trouble, either with the Jewish authorities at that time or with the civil authorities, especially the hated romans.
Let me share a few instances and invite your reflection and comments;
The woman caught in adultery – Christ’s response is challenging. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. As you can imagine, no stones were cast. The inference on the state of cleanliness of the accusers of the woman is clear. ALL, repeat, ALL, have sinned, as Paul clearly points out to us in one of his letters. But beyond this, what is the key message here? Tolerance and pussy footing with adultery? Forgiveness based on the recognition of human frailty? A caution against hasty judgment and condemnation of others? A message against the tendency of seeing the speck in our neighbour’s eyes whilst being blind to the beam in ours? A caution against our feelings of self righteousness and our tendency to what I call pharisee-like behaviour? Or just the case of a social rebel anxious to challenge the severity of harsh laws that do not allow opportunities for repentance and reform? Could the message also be on the power of Jesus to forgive and redeem us? On His tender and loving compassion and His willingness to pick us up at our lowest moments when all have abandonned us and we come to Him with spirits broken? Could the message be that God does not want the death of the sinner but simply desires her/his repentance? And by the way, why the exlusive focus on the woman? It takes two to commit adultery, I am told! Does the story reflect gender relations as at the time of the writing of the scriptures?
Let us move along to another difficult one. The issues of taxes – This is a dicey situation. States collect taxes. Indeed taxes are one of the ways states increase their fiscal space from domestic sources. To refuse to pay tax is tantamount to challenging the authority of the state. It is rebellion. And yet some states are oppressive and use revenues from taxes to increase and sustain some of the state machinery for oppression. And in the context of Roman rule and occupation of Judea, this was case. And tax collectors were hated by the general populace as they were perceived as the associates of oppressive army of occupation. And so the question is asked – should we pay taxes? Can a crusader for social justice, moral freedom and spiritual liberation vote on the side of the hated romans? If He said a direct YES, His mission and moral stature would suffer some considerable dilution. If He said NO, he would be providing fuel for a rebellion that was building up and which was in search a leader. He would also come head on against the Romans. So what to do? His response is a classic. Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. Give to the temporal powers what is theirs and give to the spiritual power what is His! How do you read this? Providing justification for civil authorities? Justifying taxation? Playing the game of His interrogators – note that the intentions of his interrogators were also suspect – they wanted to trap him and He could read this. So intentions of your questioners do matter and can determine the answers you give? Leaving the choices open? or simply passing the buck?
And here is yet another one! Working on the sabbath? What is the message here? Challenging the validity of the jewish holy day? Making the case for an interpretative and flexible approach to the laws? A case against unreflecting legalism in scriptural interpretation? Challenging us to return to a consideration of the spirit of laws and not with a fixation on dehydrated and insensitive formalist attitudes? Placing man at the core of it all by the reminder that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath? a plea for anthropocentricism in responses to laws? A plea to give preeminence to the reality of human needs and to let these override any rigid and doctrinaire attitudes in religious matters?
Other difficult biblical stories include the treatment of the man who responded to the invitation to the wedding but was wrongly dressed (what was his fault? He was invited from the roadside and thus did not have any opportunity to go and get dressed up! what is the message here? Be ever ready? You could be called up any time and when it does happen, have with you or on you some of the basic things that would enable you to observe and conform the basics of formality?)
The equal day rate paid to workers, including those who started at a late hour (what is the key message here? God’s generosity and His right to dispense Grace as He sees fit, the fact that He is not tied to our worldly measures?, That God always keeps His promises to ALL HE calls and who respond to His call, and it does not matter at what hour one is called – what matters is the manner in which we respond? Is this a caution to those who would want to monopolize God’s favors and dispense them according to their wishes and according to the time you joined the church or parish council for example?)
The parable of the wicked servant who made gains with his master’s creditors by reducing their debt to his master and therefore gaining their favors for use and call up when he would have been laid off. His conduct is an extreme case of what in economics and public administration is called a principal agent problem. (What is the message here?) Is this an endorsement of shrewdness? Does this not run the risk of elevating to a norm (and rewarding) being cunning? And note that the scripture says that the master commended the dishonest servanrt because he had acted shrewdly – Now, that leaves me baffled!)
In all of these and other passages where I struggle with finding meanings , my attitude is this – God’s ways are not our ways and His wisdom surpasses men’s collective wisdom. Is your attitude the same? In my confusion, the words from 1 Corinthians console and guide me –
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”
What are your thoughts? Your views could help me achieve greater spiritual clarity. Can you share them? I thank you in advance and look forward to rewarding and spiritually elevating exchange and sharing.