Saturday, January 30, 2010

01-31-2010: Fourth Sunday Ordinary Time

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19 / Psalm 71 / 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13 / Luke 4:21-30
Last Sunday we read of Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth: how he entered the synagogue, read from the scriptures, and asserted that he was the fulfillment of the Messianic promise made by God through the prophet Isaiah. Today’s gospel reports the reaction of those listening -- and it wasn’t pretty.
It’s interesting to note how Luke’s and Mark’s gospels differ ever so subtly in recording this event. Referring to Jesus, Luke writes “Is not this Joseph’s son?”; while Mark says ”Is not this the son of Mary?” In Hebrew and Aramaic a person is identified by the patronymic -- the suffix added to his given name meaning the son of his father (e.g. James, son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:2), or Joshua, the son of Nun (Deuteronomy 1:38). Jesus, then, should have been addressed: Jesus, son of Joseph.

Some scholars, fearing unpleasant speculation, tell us that Mark’s account presumes Joseph’s early death, thus the appellation son of Mary. Others wonder whether the passage doesn’t betray the probability that among those who knew Jesus’ family well (as the townsfolk of Nazareth certainly would have), it had long been understood that Joseph was not Jesus’ father. Indeed, in John’s gospel (John 8:31) it is quite clear that the appellation son of Mary, used of Jesus by his enemies, was an intended insult categorizing him as illegitimate, his father putative, his paternal ancestors unknown.

This is all to say that names bear an enormous weight. They signify the soul, where inner spiritual realities encounter the external world. In other words, names are sacraments. I believe, as ancient and arcane cultures did and do, that names do indeed carry a certain power, contributing (for better or worse) something significant toward a person’s character.

Earlier this week (January 28th) I celebrated my name day, the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, with whom I share very few qualities. My mother would often tell people that she named me for her father, a Thomas, and not for the great theologian-saint. What she meant was that she kept the name I had already been given and with which I had already been baptized by my birth mother who had named me before giving me up for adoption. When I met my birth mother she told me she named me after her brother, Thomas -- a Jesuit priest whom I never met, but in whose steps I had unknowingly followed. “We are linked by blood,” Joyce Carol Oates once wrote. “And blood is memory without language.”

In following orthodox teaching Catholics may infer that the only blood running through Jesus’ veins was the blood he inherited from his mother Mary. By insulting him, as the worshippers in the synagogue no doubt intended to do that day when they called him son of Mary, Jesus’ enemies inadvertently served the greater truth by acknowledging the lesser. By their intended insinuation, we may conclude it was an obvious fact that Joseph could not have been Jesus’ father. By using this truth as a weapon of denigration, they unwittingly opened up the way for the world to come to know the rabbi of Nazareth as Son of God. “There is no truth existing which I fear, or wish unknown to the whole world.” So wrote Thomas Jefferson, implying that truth - even when used as a weapon to denigrate - ultimately serves to liberate.

No comments:

Post a Comment