Seventh Sunday of the Year A (20 February 2011)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
From Book to Heart
The bible as we have it evolved from spoken word to written text. From spoken to written means that versions of traditions from creation to Jesus’ death and resurrection spread. Eventually certain spoken versions spread the gospel accu-rately; later certain written ones did the same, that is, shaped faith in the mysteries of God. Versions, which differ in a word or phrases, challenge authentic interpretation.
Those who explore different versions in their original languages have standard ways to decide which give true shape to faith. For example, some versions avoid embarrassment. John was embarrassed that Jesus asked to be baptized by John. Jesus would not need to repent of any sins, the reason John baptized. The “harder reading,” Jesus came to John baptizing to forgive sins and asked John to baptize him, is preferred. The fact that the evangelists remembered that embarrassing moment means it is more likely.
Another example. Shorter readings more likely pass on what happened than longer ones. Adding more words may distract from what happened or from the message of a story. So, shorter readings are preferred over longer ones.
A final example. Sometimes shorter readings and harder ones conflict. When Jesus suffered in the garden, Luke remembered an angel from heaven appeared to him...to strengthen him.1 Without those words we have a shorter reading of Jesus in the garden; shorter is preferred. But do the words about an angel make it a harder reading? Some argue the harder reading is without an angel: divine Jesus needed no strengthening help from heaven; an angel was added, they say, to protect the son of God from the scandal of the cross. While Luke’s gospel is full of heavenly messengers, especially at its beginning, modern readers, who have trouble with angels, want to dismiss the angel in the garden. "Harder" points to something about us not only about versions. I don’t offer this as scripture study. I say it because as men, women and children seeking to deepen friendship with Jesus we are tempted to let go or ignore words of his which seem hard to swallow and to practice.
Jesus’ ended his revisiting of the commandments and interpreting them for his disciples teaching them not to rush to defend their honor or to avenge humiliation. To us defend honor and avenge humiliation is what we want to do, and why we have and use courts of law. In Jesus’ culture people were quick to defend honor and avenge shame. Before a person could act, friends and family would stop the person and come between the person and the one hitting with the hand reserved for toilet functions or even offering it to another.
Having a person outside one’s family settle an argument violated the code of right behavior. Resorting to courts was shameful, far different from us. People ought to have settled arguments before the need for courts even if meant to give up one’s last protection from the elements, one’s cloak—think sleeping bag because many had no roof to shelter them. Jesus’ counsel to give up the tunic, the garment next to one’s skin, is more astonishing.
A Roman soldier could demand anyone carry his gear for one mile. Its shame was hated for it served the oppressor. Was suffering Roman retribution, which often was deadly, worth refusing to go the extra mile?
In these public humiliations family or friends would have held back the humiliated one so honor could be restored when tempers cooled for all. Hard as it was to suffer humiliations, Jesus was practical not idealistic. If culture demanded people intervene for each other, Jesus taught his disciples to treat each other by its norms reshaped by his willingness and genuine love. Adding those are hard in any culture. They turn command into practice: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Taking to heart Jesus’ hard blessings is how we refuse to deceive ourselves and, instead, grow more like Jesus. We deceive ourselves when we claim to worship Jesus and refuse his words as speaking to us and for us.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, rest in the Trinity. Ask the disciples to present you to Jesus. Speak with Jesus: Praise him for revealing God’s heart and desires. Ask Jesus for the grace to live by his teaching more closely. Close, saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Each time we live more in and by the spirit of Jesus we hallow the name of his Father and ours, and we imprint on God’s desires the traces of our lives.
1. Luke 22.43.