Sunday, May 31, 2009

6-8-2009: 10th Ordinary Time (A)

Hosea 6:3-6/Psalm 50/Romans 4:18-25/Matthew 9:9-13
Religion, like politics, often succumbs to spin. Recent controversies about how the Reverends Wright and Pfleger interpret current events in light of the scripture are cases in point. If you have a degree in theology these preachers are said to employ a hermeneutic of liberation; if you don’t -- it‘s spin.

That’s not to put down the importance and necessity of spin. Whatever is said from the pulpit is always filtered through the person saying it – even if he’s just reading from the Catechism. And whatever is heard from the pulpit is filtered through the person hearing it. The listener will interpret the message not only by the manner in which it is delivered (is it entertaining); but hopefully evaluate the message on its own merit (does it make sense). When the listener doesn’t like the spin, for whatever reason, he may eventually reject the message and/or the messenger. Spin, you see, can produce valuable consequences – it can make you think, draw a conclusion, and act.

Religion’s spin, attempting to deal with things divine as well as human, often seeks to whitewash the human in the perceived interests of the divine. Take Abraham whose plight to become the father of many nations is cited by St. Paul in today’s reading. What’s praised is Abraham’s refusal to weaken in faith, believing that the promise to become a father would be fulfilled, hoping against hope that God would come through. So what are we to make of the fact that Abraham sleeps with his wife’s maid to produce an heir? In order to make the point of the sacrifice faith demands, St. Paul conveniently overlooks Abraham’s obvious lack of faith (or at least his uncontrolled lust) in sleeping with Hagar who, indeed, bears him a son -- both of whom he will so cruelly disown! St. Paul’s spin may indeed be inspired, but it doesn’t mean you have to deny the facts and Abraham’s less than noble handling of the situation. Indeed St. Paul’s insistence that Abraham is our father in faith, may help us accept our own weaknesses, foibles and selfishness as being no worse than Abraham’s.

Today’s gospel account of Jesus’ call of Matthew the tax-collector to be an apostle (i.e. a bishop) is usually spun as a vocation advertisement, as if Matthew were leaving a career in the IRS for a more meaningful retirement. But tax collectors in Jesus’ Palestine were hated public sinners, ritually impure, on a par with prostitutes, the lowest of the low. It’s not really fair to equate them with, say, your contemporary IRS agent, nor even with your average call-girl. Far more accurate would be to equate the likes of a Palestinian tax collector, St. Matthew, with a modern day American red-neck racist or, worse yet, your despised priest-pedophile (the terrorist category was already taken by Simon the Zealot). Disgusting you say – but that’s the point. The vocation spin expects tomorrow’s priest to possess a certain pedigree: anyone possessing the credentials of yesterday’s apostle doesn’t have a chance.

Of course, this is altogether my spin on things; these are pastoral reflections after all – no reader need take it as gospel truth. But I hope these reflections – this Brosnan-spin on things, as it were – is, at least, a bit entertaining and does, at least, make some sense. And if that be so, then through our questioning and doubt, we might glimpse the truth of things -- spin and all.

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