Reflection on the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Last Wednesday, Halloween, Roberta and I carried dinner to 15 men in prison to celebrate Wicca with them. Wicca is the ancient worship of the goddess, honoring sky and trees and wind and fire, much like the Mayan practice. After dinner the men prayed in a holy circle, but before we ate I said something like, “We are grateful for the earth that yields life; we are grateful for the sun and the rain; we are grateful for the food we share; and we are grateful for one another.”
Simple, a grounded prayer, you might say. No mention of Jesus or of Christianity. But nonetheless a prayer.
For three weeks I’ve been considering today’s readings: the prophet Malachi tells us God is a great king to be feared; the psalmist says God is a mother holding a child; Paul tells us the word of God is at work in us; Matthew tells us not to be burdened with people’s rules, that God is our teacher, God is our father, God is our master.
So who is this God? Is there a coherent message in this set of readings? Here’s the thing. We can’t say more than one thing at once. So we get a hold of one idea of God, say that God is the mother, holding a small child on her lap. God is comforter. God is the intimate caregiver. That image could serve all one’s life. But there’s more to God than one metaphor. The temptation is to make God in our own image and likeness, confident in war and politics and child rearing and everything else that God is on our side.
Malachi is right. God is to be feared. Would God lay a curse on us for turning our backs on the poor? Jesus does not speak kindly of the Pharisees after all. God is love but God is also power. This understanding of God doesn’t sit well with us. But there it is, inviting meditation.
We were raised in the mode of the psalm. My heart is not proud nor are my eyes haughty. We were taught in the novitiate to keep custody of the eyes, be obedient, suppress any bright new ideas that might come to us. And indeed, being small, sitting in God’s lap, not having to be the one to stop nuclear proliferation – that’s a real comfort to me. But then again, nuclear war could be seen as the curse God is allowing us to bestow on ourselves. Don’t forget Malachi.
And then there is Paul, working his fingers to the bone to bring God to us. I joke but really Paul is impelled to bring us the word of God, and Paul knows, absolutely knows, that the word of God is working within us.
In this context, Jesus’ admonition of the Pharisees is enlightening. Keep your eyes on the prize. Don’t be distracted. Keep up that search for God.