Let’s begin with a few choice words about wives being submissive to husbands. It is instructive to consider that this reading appears once during the three-year Sunday cycle of readings and once during the two-year weekday schedule. That means it’s possible in a given year to receive this advice about the marital hierarchy twice.
Exploring the Word
I once knew a very wise man. No matter what I said to him, he always heard what I was saying behind the words I chose with such care. He listened as if his ear were pressed to my heart, and my conversation was almost incidental to what he managed to hear from me.
Does everybody feel this way, or is it just me? I am strongly attracted to the scene involving Elijah under the broom tree. Maybe because I’ve been under the broom tree plenty of times myself. “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life. Please.” I feel partly like a stand-up comic delivering the classic joke, but I’m very sincere as I speak my lines.
How would any of us survive the complexity of the 21st century without signs? I’m a big fan of all kinds of signs and indicators: like the ones that inform me how far it is to the next rest stop or the numbers on the bathroom scales that tell me to lay off the pasta for a while, weather reports that extend into the middle of next week, and regular doctor’s checkups that make sure I’m not missing anything crucial to my health.
My parents had 10 mouths to feed on a regular basis. They did this on one salary, and that was no princely wage either. Every Wednesday, my mother bought a few bags of groceries and had to make 21 meals with it over the next week. That’s 210 servings, for the mathematically challenged. The food was repetitious and dessert was reserved for birthdays and holidays. But no one ever went hungry in our house.
If psalms had a rating system, Psalm 23 would probably top the charts. It’s the most requested prayer at funerals, and in the average gathering of Christians, it seems to beat out the other 149 choices as the sure favorite for personal meditation. Maybe it’s simply the best known of the collection, and familiarity creates popularity.
As practicing believers, it seems we spend our lives taking church lessons. Some of us had more formal lessons in parochial school or religious ed, but all of us are participating in a course in ecclesiology just by being in the pews. Not all that we learn is useful, and unhappily, not all that we absorb is true.
Sometimes we get the impression that Jesus is plain unstoppable. Angels wait on him in the desert. Wind and sea obey him. He walks on water when it suits him. Demons cut and run at his command. He can invite 5,000 friends over and not worry about having enough food.
One of the surest ways to lose your audience is to introduce the subject of death. Our culture insulates us from the idea in as many ways as possible, worshipping youth and hiding the sick and dying from us. Even old age routinely gets a makeover so that we don’t have to look at graying hair, wrinkles, and age spots.
“John the Baptist inaugurates the good news of God’s kingdom like a champagne bottle shattered against the hull of a new ship.” Catherine Murphy’s description of John, in John the Baptist: Prophet of Purity for a New Age, is my favorite. She might have added: The bottle doesn’t survive the inaugural ceremony, and neither does John.