10 Jul 2011
“‘Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.’” (Matt. 13:16)
In the name …
The just completed Casey Anthony trial had captivated the attention of an awful lot of people. Kristin and I seldom discuss the news, but the first thing she said to me getting into the car after work on Tuesday was that the mother was found innocent of murdering her two-year-old daughter. The next night I’m watching the 9th inning of the Red Sox game and her friend Lauren comes in, again a person with whom I don’t think I have ever discussed the news, and the first thing she says to me is about the Casey Anthony trial. The thought of a two year old’s death hits us at a visceral level. It bothers us from the gut. Then when you throw in the possibility that the mother and maybe even the grandparents may somehow be involved in her murder and may have gotten away with it, well then, that just makes people angry. But there’s one more ingredient that makes this story so sadly compelling, and it’s that we don’t have an ending. We don’t know.
This past weekend there was another horrible story in the news. A mother from Fall River was vacationing with her boyfriend down in Pennsylvania, and her two-year-old son was with her. The story goes that her boyfriend had double-crossed another guy who ended up going to prison. When he got out, he swore revenge. He goes to the other man’s home and starts shooting, including the execution style murder of the child. The police track the psychopath down and he dies in a shoot-out. A child dies just like in the Casey Anthony trial, but this time we know who is responsible and we know that he got what’s coming to him in the end. This case is just as heinous as the one in Florida, but this one has an ending. We’re not left wondering. And because of that it doesn’t eat away at us the way the other story does. No one, for example, has come up to me and mentioned this second story. That not-knowing is what seems to bother us so very much.
Not-knowing. That can be a haunting experience. Almost everyone was offended by Casey Anthony’s partying when she testified that she didn’t really know where her daughter was. Everyone can empathize with a mother haunted by the experience of a missing child, but likewise, everyone is offended when a mother doesn’t seem too bothered by not-knowing. We can empathize with an anguished parent and we can be disturbed by a cavalier one because the pain of not-knowing is universal. We can all put ourselves into another’s shoes in such a situation. Not-knowing is a shared human dilemma that can torment all of us.
We had an exciting discussion about such human limitations kind of spontaneously at our Bible study group this past week. We’re finally at the end of Matthew’s Gospel and we were talking about Jesus’ crucifixion. Before He dies, He screams out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How much human confusion and doubt was loaded into that cry from the lips of Jesus of Nazareth, the man, the human, the one who had emptied Himself of His divinity at birth? He seems to die like all humans are compelled to die: with some degree of unavoidable uncertainty about life and death. Part of the human condition is that there are limits to what we can know, and doubt and uncertainty are realities that spring from this fact. Jesus, therefore, seems to understand and even experience the human limitations that emerge from not being able to know.
Think about your own reactions to the Casey Anthony verdict. Think about how troubling it is to you personally to know that the child is dead, but to not-know who is responsible. Realize, as well, that Jesus of Nazareth faced these same human limitations. Then listen to His words to us today in that same context. Listen again when He says, “‘Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.’” Jesus is telling us that in His teachings and example not-knowing is forced to retreat before God’s revelation. If we choose to believe, we have an alternative to not-knowing. All questions don’t automatically disappear, but we are started on the right path. Think about the fact that this statement is offered in the context of the disciples’ question to Jesus about why He preaches so often in parables. Why does Jesus tell simple-sounding stories that everyone can relate to when He is asked about profound mysteries? Why doesn’t Jesus just tell us the answer? Why doesn’t Jesus just make not-knowing go away? Why can’t He give us certainty?
The simple answer is because it’s impossible. Even Jesus had to face down the fact of doubt and uncertainty. It’s part of the human condition. Plus, there’s the other reason that it just can’t be done for us. We have to participate in our awakening. The parables remain simple stories to those who hear, but who do not work at their meaning, who do not try to adapt to their teaching. The parables become revelation only when we share in the process of reaching out and grasping the wisdom of Christ. Then it’s not only something learned; it’s something felt. // The last shuttle mission is up above us as we speak. I remember the space shuttle Challenger disaster because I walked into a parishioner’s hospital room in Scranton and watched it unfold on their television. That was 25 years ago. The emotional power of that day has stayed with me for a quarter of a century. More than my mind was invested in that memory. Likewise parables draw the whole person into Christ’s revelation. They make us think about what Jesus is trying to say to us. We become a part of the revelation. This is why earlier in the Mass we spoke of the “living and abiding Word of God.” The parables work in us still. The not-knowing constantly has to give way before the continuous revelation of Jesus’ words if we believe, if we work at them. This is why Jesus says to us today that we are blessed. We know the agitation of not-knowing, just remember your reaction to the jury’s verdict of Tuesday, but let us pray that we can trust in the power of Jesus’ teachings and in our willingness to work with them so that we can also know that doubt and confusion will give way to the gift of faith’s knowing when we commit ourselves to Christ and His word. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo