Memorial of Saint Anthony, abbot
January 17, 2020
Today, in Mercy, our first reading startles us with how foolish the Israelites are about their leaders. Oh, wait a minute, why are we so surprised? Don’t we see the same dynamics all around us?
Israel is desperate for a “strong man” who will mimic the tyrants leading their enemies. They say a king will “rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles.” They begin to envision a nation of their own design, not God’s.
They believe that having an absolute leader will make them strong. They are indifferent to Samuel’s warnings that such a choice will usurp their freedom, and lead to their devastation and enslavement.
God tells Samuel that, in rejecting the choice for responsible, spiritually-grounded, and mutually sustained leadership, the people are rejecting God and God’s plan for them.
In a nutshell, Israel’s problem is this: they have forgotten who and whose they are. For the sake of expected political dominance, they are willing to sacrifice their identity as a people formed and led by God.
Centuries later, in today’s Gospel, Jesus comes among these dispirited people. Their choice hasn’t worked. They are still a politically dominated nation. Their religious practice has lost its vigor, denigrating into lifeless rules and practices. A corrupt religious class manipulates them.
Jesus, ignoring their religiously manufactured limitations on the Spirit, cures a paralytic. The scribes are scandalized. But Jesus confronts their equivocation:
Jesus said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic,
‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”
–he said to the paralytic,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
He rose, picked up his mat at once,
and went away in the sight of everyone.
They were all astounded
and glorified God …
What would the world be like if we left ourselves so open to grace and mercy that God could work through us for the good of all Creation? Can we even imagine such freedom and trust? Can we even imagine the marriage of our faith and politics to the point that we all live for the common good?
Music: Come, Holy Spirit – Bright City