19 December 2016

The Great Scandal


Today's readings:

  • Judges 13:2-7, 24-25A
  • Luke 1:5-25

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with Mass texts.

Radix Jesse, stans in signum populorum: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!
Alleluia verse

Again, the Alleluia verse today is a condensed version of the text used with the Magnificat in Vespers:
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.
The Christmas Carol, "Lo how a rose e'er blooming" can make this whole Radix Jesse  seem rather pastoral, floral, and Victorian.

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow'ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah 'twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind,
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind;
To show God's love aright,
She bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

O Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendour
The darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God,
From Sin and death now save us,
And share our every load.

It is theologically sound, but I think it paints the wrong picture. Several times this Advent I've heard some idea of Mary having an "unplanned pregnancy". I know what's up - people are preaching against abortion and they are to be lauded in this - but the idea that Mary had an unplanned pregnancy is so far from the truth, so alien, as to be 100% wrong.

The Gospel of the Ancestry of Jesus from Matthew 1:1-25 was read on Saturday in the Roman Rite and on Sunday in the Byzantine Rite. That tongue-twisting text contains three surprises: Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. It is held by some scholars that this text describes the actual lineage of Joseph who was thought to be Jesus' father. (The different tracing in Luke is thought to be of Mary.) So, of course, this is not a lineage by blood - for Joseph had no part in Mary's childbearing. Yet this lineage, cited by St Matthew's Community, contains a two - or maybe three - Gentile women, with one being a prostitute and another an adulteress.

This parallels well other of St Matthew's texts which might be read as surprising - if not downright scandalous - to his community. He's got a Centurion and his "boy", gentiles, sinners... At the end of the Gospel (28:17) he even commissions people who doubt him to preach his gospel! I think that's amazing, given what we think about how the Gospels were written: a collection of sacred stories remembered in a given Community and codified and written down for use in that community. When something is (assumedly) shocking to the community and yet included in the text, then, we think it more likely to be true. Your Messiah had as ancestors a prostitute, an adulteress and, at least, two (maybe three) gentiles.

"Gasp," say all the old ladies.
"Praise the Lord," say everyone. And all the old ladies nod and say, "Amen."
And everyone worships the Lord together.

Jesus was not exactly reputable. Kings will fall silent in his presence, this son of a prostitute, adultery, gentiles, and a Virgin. See? God can work it out. He really can. The Lineage of David may be a mess, but God can work it out. It's not an unplanned pregnancy, in fact, it's very planned. Very planned, indeed.

In his sermon on Sunday, Fr Hurley suggested that we may be guilty of not letting God's dream for us come to fruition. In the end, we may be so concerned with things looking right, with things being "just so" that we may miss the reality God has for us: as St Joseph was considering "putting Mary away quietly" to avoid a scandal when he found out she was pregnant. Yet Joseph heard God's call and answered. What's for us?

Jesus is, by all standards today, a bit of a hot mess: too liberal for the conservatives, with his willingness to eat with sinners and to party with tax collectors; and too conservative for the liberals (because, "go and sin no more is about all the condemnation anyone can take today). He's born in poverty, and really doesn't hang out with the right sort of people. He doesn't care what your opinions are - he wants you to do things, to give away all you have, to love people. If we want it to be "normal" we're going to miss out on the things God has for us. We can be like Joseph, but instead of hiding Mary "to protect 'her' from scandal" (ie, to protect Joseph from scandal) we're going to protect us from scandal by hiding the real Jesus.

Matthew keeps his reading community on the edge of their seats and kings will shut their mouths - because this entirely unsuitable being, fathered by smelly sheepherders and unsavory women - is God. So, there's hope for us - you and I - who mostly fall between Prostitutes and Kings on the social spectrum. There's hope.

"Gasp," say all the old ladies.
"Praise the Lord," say everyone. And all the old ladies nod and say, "Amen."
And everyone worships the Lord together.

How unbelievably awesome is that? How glorious is our God that lifts up even the bourgeoisie among sinners by going even lower than us to raise us all together.