(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: http://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Mass-Blog-for-the-4th-Sunday-in-Ordinary-Time-2022.mp3)
Prophets and the best comedians have something in common: they’re fearless truth-tellers. They’re also their own most honest critics. While on life’s stage, for them, failure to win over an audience can result in literal or figurative death (“I died out there,” a comedian might say).
Jesus deals with one of those hostile audiences and faces literal death in this Sunday’s gospel reading (Lk 4:21-30). In fact, when his teaching about how God chooses his chosen people lands with a thud, Jesus responds:
“No prophet is accepted in his own native place.”
Sounds like the tagline comedian Rodney Dangerfield made famous: “No respect; no respect at all.”
Jesus’ audience that day tried to prove it.
They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.
This showcases the courage God’s truth-tellers require. In Sunday’s second reading (1 Cor 12:31—13:13), Paul uses the hyperbole of a comic to tell the Corinthians a truth that history will never let us forget:
If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
Here, Paul demonstrates a skill professional truth-tellers learn: balancing between the comfort in knowing God is with them and the humility of realizing that gift is not for them alone. The prophet Jeremiah gives voice to that lesson in Sunday’s first reading (Jer 1:4-5, 17-19):
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
Let’s conclude with the “Prayer for Good Humor,” in which St. Thomas More, one of Catholicism’s greatest and most courageous humorists, shares with us why he and his fellow truth-tellers deserve our undying respect:
“Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil, but rather finds the means to put things back in their place. Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments, nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called ‘I.’ Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor. Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke, to discover in life a bit of joy, and to be able to share it with others.”
Tom, you really hooked me in on this one with the headline! I love the St. T. More prayer…gonna have to use that one. Many in today’s culture would benefit from the 1st line of that prayer. Fear seams to be a tactic the evil one is currently using A LOT of and we all would do well to remember that with God as our Father, the sacraments and a soul that is cleaned up….we have nothing to fear.
Thanks, Mark, and you’re right–it’s so easy to fall into fear. But this hasn’t changed since Jesus’ time, and what he advised his disciples about telling the truth still applies (Matthew 10: 27-28): “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body.” Truth sets us free.
I am certain God has a sense of humor. We are the ones that take it all too seriously. The bible reminds us over and over (365 times in fact) to not be afraid. Trust in God. Trust in his son. Trust in the power of his spirit given to us at our baptism.
We must react like the child who, in the middle of a storm, continued playing while the sailors feared for their lives: he was the captain’s son. When after disembarking the child was asked how he was able to remain at ease, surrounded as he had been by a roaring sea and a terrified crew, he answered: Fear? Why? My father was at the helm. (From In Conversation With God, Fr. Fernandez).
Great example of why Jesus loved children so much, Thomas. Not only for their trust, but for their boundless hope. Another book that addresses this is “Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer,” by Brother David Steindl-Rast. In it he addresses the virtues that sustain us on life’s journey, filled as it is with many fears. He suggests we combine the virtues of the wanderer and the settler into the soul of a pilgrim.
“The compulsive settler within us dares to be committed, but fears being on the road,” he writes. “The aimless wanderer within us dares to be on the road, but fears being committed. Only the pilgrim within us overcomes that polarization. The pilgrim knows that each step on the road may prove to be the goal, yet the goal may prove to have been but one step on the road. This keeps the pilgrim open for surprise. Hope is openness for surprise.”
Hope is also the prime ingredient in courage. Courageous hope thrives on surprise. And surprise is the prime ingredient in humor, which is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.
The metaphor of the “pilgrim” is widely used in Faith and Light as we journey to being with our Lord by loving our brothers and sisters with disablilities.
A pilgrim packs faith, hope and love on their journey–to prepare them for any and all surprises along the way. Jimmy Stewart’s character in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is one of my favorite examples out of Hollywood. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9O8oLqY2sxo