We all love parades, don’t we? We can’t get enough of the large floats, huge banners, loud music, dressed-up people, and outlandish characters all competing for our attention and hold it for as long as possible. Sometimes, we watch unmoved; other times we might be moved to join in the fun. That is why parades are always public.
In “Call It Grace,” author Serene Jones relates a pivotal point growing up when her grandmother, Idabel, had shown her a copy of John Calvin’s 1559 version of Institutes of the Christian Religion. So important was this book that Idabel would not allow Serene even to touch it. Idabel explained that Serene’s grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather had all turned to this book for comfort and clarity:
Today’s readings feature the well-known story of the Prodigal Son, wherein a young man takes money from his father in order to lead a life of debauchery, but when the money runs out he returns home willing to take the lowest place in the household, only to find that he’s fêted and celebrated instead, much to the chagrin of the Other Brother.
Today’s Gospel concerns Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. Jesus and his disciples were traveling through Samaria (an area not extremely friendly to Jews). Jesus stayed in the center of the town and sat down by a well mid-day because he was tired. While he waited a Samaritan woman approached the well. As she approached, Jesus asked her for a drink of water. This was very unusual.
Years ago, friends of ours had a destination wedding at a small, private, beachfront resort in Mexico. My husband and I made a vacation out of it, and arrived days before the wedding, before most of the other guests had arrived. One night, after a late dinner, we took a stroll along the beach. It was quiet, except for the sounds of the wind and the waves, and quite dark out. At some point, I paused to look up into the night sky, and was stunned. There were an incredible number of bright stars surrounding me.
One of the wonderful things about our liturgical calendar is the opportunity each year to walk through the life of Jesus. From his birth in a manger to his resurrection from the tomb, we meditate on the mystery of the incarnation and reflect on the reality of our own redemption. But because these events feel both intellectually familiar and historically distant, it can be easy to go through the motions. Like re-watching a TV episode you’ve seen dozens of times already knowing the outcome. Or listening to a story about a grandparent that’s been retold at family parties for decades.
Have you heard the aphorism “you spot it, you got it”? Maybe you know the one “when you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” Or “that’s the pot calling the kettle black.” One of my favorites is “Never start a sentence with the words ‘no offence.’” You probably have a favorite too. Does it intrigue you, as it does me, that we are so profoundly interested in and devoted to the finding of faults in others? Why is that? Aren’t we all One Human Family? Do we believe we can diminish another human being and yet remain untouched by the effect?
We all seek to improve ourselves in one way or another. We also seek to move away from old symptoms of our past person hanging on. Perhaps experiences of abuse, health issues, economic struggles, racism, sexism, the child who won’t study or the marriage that has become dull, distant or even that has failed. All of these experiences stick with us and make us protected, cautioned, closed off, bitter or even lacking empathy and embodying hate.
It seems to me that many I know are going through dark, “when it rains, it pours” periods of their lives. Diagnosis of cancer and daily struggles with side effects, job insecurity or deep-seated frustration, car accidents, mounting bills, hospice, loneliness. Struggle after struggle.
I might be a Church nerd, but I love it when all of the readings for Sunday Mass coalesce around a single theme. Usually, the first reading and the Gospel have some parallel, but it’s not often that the second reading gets in on the action too. Today is one of those lucky days!