Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday word, 27 Jan 2013

Embodying Mission
Third Sunday of the Year C (27 Jan 2013)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Certain words of other languages refuse translation. For example, Panayotis is a Greek name for a man named after the Blessed Virgin. When my grandfather came from Greece and secured a job in a hotel kitchen, the chef introduced him to the man in charge of hiring. He asked my grandfather his name. After hearing my grandfather answer, Panayotis, the man said to him, “You’re name is Peter.”

Phrases, too, can be used in ways different from the meanings of the individual words. Arabs welcome guests to their home with ah-lan wa sah-lan. Ah-lan means kin and sah-lan means easy: you arrive as part of the family, may your entry here be easy.

Our religious tradition is rooted in Arabic’s cousin, Hebrew. One of its most important biblical words is torah. It gets translated as law, but that does not do it justice. Its root meaning is “to teach.” Translating torah with law limits our appreciation of it; of God, the giver of torah; of the hearers of Ezra and of Jesus; and why their hearers responded so deeply.

We cannot translate torah with an English word. Its root meaning is to teach, yet torah exceeds instruction. The best we can do to capture the sense of this untranslatable word is the phrase “rule of life.” Jews also have struggled to appreciate this. A rabbi once reminded her synagogue that this rule of life is God’s gift. What she said helps us appreciate Jesus way of life and his mission.

A gift is most tended, most cherished, when we know what it is. At its most fixed definition, Torah is the scroll that I read from, containing the five books of Moses. Moving towards a more broad understanding, Torah is also the entire Bible: the five books of Moses; the Prophets; and the Writings. At its widest and most flexible definition, Torah is the entire compendium of Jewish teaching, from the five books of Moses to the most recent commentary.
Ultimately, Torah is the blueprint that guides the Jewish people. Contained within are ethics and moral lessons; a structure for Jewish life, including holidays and life cycle celebrations. From these stories and guidelines, we have derived our world view and theology. When we are able to unwrap it and allow it to inform our lives, change us, and help us to grow into our best selves, then we have fully received the gift of Torah. ...the gift of Torah is not to be stashed away in a drawer, or unwrapped without curiosity and challenge. A scholar, whose name is unknown, wrote in the 18th century: “When one utters words of Torah, one never ceases to create spiritual potencies and new lights...”1

For the Israelites returned to their homeland after their captivity in Babylon, Ezra’s reciting and unwrapping torah moved them to tears as well as shouts of Amen! Amen! and festive celebration.

Torah is not equal to law as we hear the word. It is far richer—a guide for living. Knowing that helps us see Jesus with fresh eyes of faith. Jesus embodied torah and lived his Spirit-anointing by fulfilling, that is, performing his prophetic reminder: all of us are to have especial care for those at the margins; to liberate those who are in bondage; to enhance others’ vision; to relieve those oppressed and burdened. Jesus trusts us to continue his mission. We do it in our circumstances and in our ways.

United with Jesus you and I embody torah, as he performed it. We fulfill it little by little because all of us are anointed with Jesus’ Spirit: his gift; his lasting legacy. We translate torah not in words but by deeds. We are its witnesses. Witnesses are more valuable than the most important teachers.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week

  • Rest in the presence of the Trinity.
  • Ask your patron saint to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with Jesus: Hear him announce his good news to you. Notice what his word stirs in you, to what his word invites you. 
  • Speak to Jesus as one friend to another and ask for the grace to respond more generously to Jesus by responding more generously to others, especially anyone at the margins of your life, of society, of the Church.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words are the best translation we have for fulfilling his mission and becoming new, living lights for our world.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Site accessed in 2007 before Rabbi Allison Bergman Vann moved to Suburban Temple-Kol Ami.

Wiki-image by Chumchum14 of Torah scroll used by CC BY-SA 3.0. Wiki-image of Jesus preaching at Capernaum is in the public domain in the U.S.

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