14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 9, 2017)
The first and third readings today easily shock us. At the very least we are greatly surprised. The Jews “knew” from their experience that kings came dressed in regal splendor with squadrons of chariots, countless warriors and retinue. Imagine how the Jews felt when they heard that their king would come riding on a jackass?
A common and almost universal error many good, religious people make is that we/they identify the holy with the extraordinary, the divine with the spectacular. Stories of weeping Madonna’s, bleeding crucifixes, and divine fireworks attract thousands -- and a media blitz. We think that being there will bring an experience of “the holy” - something may somehow rub off. Folks travel far for the mere possibility of that experience.
We heard Jesus correcting this false impression a moment ago. God’s truth, the divine message, does not have to enter our lives through the amazing and the startling, but most of the time, through the ordinary and the commonplace. As with the prophet, the Lord is not to be found in the whirlwind, but in the still, small breeze of a whisper. This is probably not the way we might think to promote the good news ourselves, but the record shows that it is clearly God’s way.
Therese Martin became a Carmelite nun in the last century. One day, she told her prioress that she wanted to be a saint. When the prioress scolded her for pride, she replied that she would be a quiet, secret saint. Her simplicity, her candor and her lack of pretense were the most notable things about her. Interestingly, Jesus’ words in today’s gospel about God revealing himself to mere children were very special to St. Therese. Her spirituality has become known as “the little way” of the little flower.
Where did she get that idea? The Carmelite charism is prayer. They do not have a model of spirituality like Franciscans, Jesuits, and Oblates. Where did she get her spirituality? Her spirituality, we are told, came from her aunt, a Visitandine nun, who taught her the way of St. Francis de Sales. Francis advised doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.
Some years ago, in the midst of global tension Samantha Smith, a fifth grader, wrote to the Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov, asking if he intended to wage war on the U.S. Samantha cut through to the heart of the matter. She asked simply and directly: “Are you going to make war?” Andropov invited Samantha to Russia. Her visit and death two years later in a plane crash received wide publicity. Samantha’s ordinariness accomplished what the “wise and learned” negotiators failed to do.
All of the above heard the words of Jesus’ prayer in today’s Gospel: “I thank you, father, lord of heaven and earth because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to mere children.”
Implied in Jesus’ prayer are two very important ideas. First - those he called “mere children” are more likely to be open to God’s word. Being ordinary or poor may not be anything particular in them to recommend them, but as it works out, these people are often the ones who are open to the word of God.
Don’t we learn from our experience that the learned and the clever sometimes have a hard time getting beyond their own learning and their own cleverness? Talk is cheap; slick talkers are ineffective in the long run; children see right through them.
Also implied in Jesus’ words is a second important idea. Isn’t it true that parents find lost children more often than the other way around? When anyone receives God’s word, it is not so much that they discover the truth for themselves, as that God has revealed the truth to him or her. In other words, we do not find him; he finds us.
When Jesus refers to his disciples and followers as “mere children” his words bring us to a fundamental truth. Our knowledge and love of God are gifts we receive rather than something we do or achieve for ourselves out of our own learning or cleverness. Why we think that we make ourselves good/ holy by ourselves and what we do or choose not to do is a mysterious aberration.
The Gospel phrase “learned and clever” seems reminiscent of that more modern phrase, “the rich and famous.” The lifestyles of the rich and famous are constantly being held up to us for envy, awe -- and perhaps imitation, at some level. Jesus tells us that “the rich” and the tabloids tell us that many of the “famous” do not have a jump on being on the right track. Even Hollywood darlings have their share of troubles.
The Little Flower, Francis de Sales, Francis of Assisi and so many other masters of the spiritual life led lives easily overlooked by the more sophisticated: true happiness can be found in what we are rather than what we have, what we do or what we long for.
In the simple, ordinary events of life, we find our Lord -- like children, with upturned faces, expectant eyes, open arms hands and hearts.