"The chief priests and elders came up to Jesus and said: 'On what authority are you doing these things? Who has given you this power?" (Matthew 21:23).
Balak, king of Moab, summoned his seer Balaam to curse the Israelites, but under the impulse of divine inspiration, Balaam not only blessed the Israelites but predicted that their "star" would one day prevail. Balak's vision was clouded by self-interest, but Balaam saw what God sees and told the Israelites the truth about themselves. Did they hear it and embrace it? For a time, perhaps. The episode in today's gospel reading indicates that the Israelites did not always live by that truth. In fact, the leaders of the people had themselves become so blinded by self-interest that they could not recognize in Jesus' words--let alone receive--the truth about themselves, that from within themselves Jesus had been raised up as their "star" and "staff."
The word of God comes to us in unexpected ways, sometimes in ways that our own prejudices and biases preclude.
A memory comes to me--it has become for me paradigmatic. I am a slight 11-year-old -- "small for my age," my siblings reminded me. My older brother "asked" me to take his paper route after school, so he could play football. I eagerly agreed, not primarily because I feared reprisals, but because I wanted to ride his bicycle, the only one in the family. When the end-of-school bell rang, I dashed to the bike, registering with a bit of dismay a chilly autumn wind blowing rain in my face. Undaunted, I made my way to the north end creamery where the papers were dropped. When I saw them, my heart fell. It was Thursday, and the papers were twice their normal size -- filled with advertising for weekend shoppers. The bike was also oversized. I had enough trouble just pedaling the thing, let alone managing it with a load that outweighed me. If I didn't take the whole batch of papers at once, the remainder might not be there when I returned. I was in trouble. Manfully, I stuffed the bag with my full measure of papers, balanced precariously on the handlebars, and miraculously mounted the bike from a retaining wall -- there would be no more retaining walls on my route. . . . At my first traffic stop, I fell with the bike and couldn't remount. Wind, rain, cold, oversized papers and bike -- I was defeated. I stashed the papers behind the town lumber yard, under an overhang where they would not get wet, and made for home. Two blocks away I spotted the car of a neighbor lady who was on my route. She saw me -- and my slack bag -- and waited for me. When I approached her car, she rolled down the window and asked where the papers were. Choking back tears, I confessed what I had done. She invited me into the car, we picked up the papers and, with help from her two younger kids, finished the route in under 15 minutes.
This experience confused me. I did not like this woman and her children. Her oldest daughter was in my class and had a crush on me, which did not flatter me. They were poor, and so were we. But they were dirty and unkempt, whereas we were clean and neat -- and therefore, in my view, superior. I was confused -- a person I despised was good to me. My prejudice had closed me to the word of God, but in time grace let me hear both this word spoken to me through this despised woman, "How goodly are your tents, O Jerusalem," and Jesus' word to Simon of Bethany who was indignant at a woman who had poured costly ointment over Jesus' head: "I assure you, wherever the good news is proclaimed throughout the world, what she did will be spoken of as her memorial." (Matthew 26:13).
Click on the link below to send an e-mail response
to the writer of this reflection.
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook