26 Jul 2009
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14:17, taken from the Propers of today’s Mass) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
Today’s Gospel is taken from John, and John’s account of the miracle of the loaves mentions one rather special detail that the other Gospels do not. That one detail is found in the last verse. It says that the thousands of people who were miraculously fed by Jesus were so amazed by His power that they were getting ready to forcibly carry Him off to make Him their king. They were sure that Jesus was the Messiah who would lead them to first oust the Roman occupiers and to then re-create the kingdom of David with Jerusalem as its capital. For just as we read in the first prayer of today’s Mass from the book of Psalms, God promised that “Zion is my resting place forever.” (132) The thousands of stunned people who had witnessed the miracle of the loaves were so convinced of Jesus’ God-given power that they would have marched behind Him all the way up to Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem to fulfill that prophecy. So Jesus had to somehow sneak away for as would become clear by the time of St. Paul: “The kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy.” The last time we heard talk like this about the coming idyllic kingdom of God was at Christmas when we celebrated the birth of the newborn king. Now in the depths of a pseudo-summer, we re-visit the themes of Christmas, concentrating less on the moment of birth and more on Jesus’ lasting human nature.
And since it is summertime, my family and I went away on vacation for three days this past week. As always happens on Calvo vacations, it rained. I was wearing a Red Sox slicker and baseball cap to have a fighting chance against the weather. While wearing all of this Red Sox paraphernalia, we decided to visit the Witch Museum in Salem, MA. Now mind you this was after the Red Sox had fallen out of first place to the New York Yankees of all teams. The guy at the ticket counter at the Witch Museum mentioned my Red Sox attire, to which I replied, in my frustration, that I am now a Chicago Cubs fan, and I continued to say disparagingly that I have more faith in witches than I do in the Red Sox. I was surprised by his offended reaction to this comment.
I thought the museum was going to be about the religious hysteria that led to the unjustified execution of innocent people who were falsely charged as witches. As a matter of fact, one of the jurists, Rev. Samuel Sewall, who convicted his neighbours for the crime of witchcraft eventually came to repent his role in these matters. Five years after the proceedings in 1698 he made a public apology for his previous actions. A painting depicting this scene hangs in the chamber of the Massachusetts House of Representatives with the caption: “The dawn of tolerance in Massachusetts.” But he was never once mentioned at the Witch Museum. The theme of hysteria was down-played.
Instead, I got the impression that the Museum was about trying to refashion the idea that while witches are real they’re not broom-riding, child-eating, Halloween figures. To do this they tried to tie those unfortunate victims of Salem’s hysteria in with everything from ancient female earth goddesses to modern-day women’s rights movements and court rulings that recognize the Wiccan religion. The Museum wasn’t professing that the victims of the Salem witch trials were convicted unjustly as witches, but that it was unjust to convict witches. This is why I think the guy at the ticket booth was a bit upset with my comment about not believing that witches were real, but much more importantly, I wonder why there is this need to return to the idea of the earthly-supernatural, of religions that worship nature and the seasons, and the mediums who can tie in to these natural powers. Those 20 some odd people executed in Salem back in the 17th century may have been eccentric or may just have had powerful enemies, but for them to be recreated in the 21st century as real witches says more about us than them.
This is one reason why I think it’s actually healthy to celebrate a Christmas-in-July every once in a while. It gives us a chance to think about the essential humanity of Jesus free from all the excitement and fanfare of the Christmas holiday season. If we limit Christmas to stories of angels and guiding stars, then the ordinary humanity of Jesus can get swallowed-up in the idea of His extraordinary divinity and actually disappear. Stripped of poinsettias, mangers and presents, however, Christmas-in-July moves beyond Jesus’ birth to remind us of His everyday human nature that is exactly like ours. When we think about what Christmas means without all the seasonal fanfare and celebration, we hit upon the ordinary human nature that in Jesus brings God and humanity together here on earth.
This may be helpful to a better appreciation of our faith because if we isolate our talk about Jesus’ human nature to miraculous stories about His birth, then it’s maybe no wonder that some people go looking for a god who is closer to our everyday circumstance, maybe even a god of nature and mother-earth. Maybe this is an indication that we as church have not spoken enough about the real humanness of Christ, and all of the empathy and sanctity that He brings to our world. Maybe people are looking for another god, or at least answers, that are based on what we see and feel because we have not talked candidly enough about Jesus as one of us. He has walked in our shoes. And now as God in heaven, He remembers! Jesus’ own experiences of temptations, frustrations, doubts, fears and pain, help Him to understand our plight; and His own experiences of friendship, love, faith, forgiveness and peacefulness help Him to better appreciate those things in us. His humanness should not only be emphasized at His birth, but always. Just as Jesus remained fully God in His humanness, we must remember that He remains fully human in His Godness. This is why we can always turn to Jesus in trial and in triumph and be certain that He understands. He is not a god of nature nor a god locked in heaven. He is a God who shares in our human nature, and this brings us into direct contact with God. That we may appreciate this message of Christmas-in-July, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)