Psalms 1:1-2, 3, 4, 6
I gotta hand it to ya!
In my native dialect of Bayonne, this phrase is proffered to anyone who has performed a good deed, told a good joke, or done most anything significant.
In the Gospel today, Jesus says about the same thing, although he definitely did not grow up speaking New Jersey. He reminds us that we love our children and that we gotta hand them good things. So too, The Father, Parent of us all, will give us good: grace, blessings, and the Holy Spirit.
But we are not always handed good nor is everyone in the world good. Ironically, as the first reading points out, sometimes those who are evil seem to get what is good. Indeed, we ourselves do not always hand over good.
But the Gospel asks more of us as believers. God asks much more. We are asked NOT to return evil for evil, something much more difficult than handing over good to our children.
Isn’t our inclination to return evil for evil? There was looting in the shops of the World Trade Towers, some people set up scams to collect money for victims with no intention of turning it over to anyone in need, and there were some attacks on Mosques and insults thrown at our Muslim brothers and sisters.
Remarkably, some said that all this was God’s punishment for the sins of homosexuality and feminism and liberalism and whatever else someone deemed God to hate because they themselves might be opposed to it. I cannot believe that God had anything to do with the attack on the World Trade Towers or the Pentagon. Nor do I believe God chose who would live or who would die or wanted anyone to die in the first place. This is simply an example of humans foisting on God the handing over of evil for what they judge as evil. God does not hand over evil.
Yet by and large the world handed over good for this evil. Firemen, rescue workers, hospital workers, men and women alike, policemen and police women and ordinary women and men went to the aid of the victims, many at the peril of their own lives and many to turn over their lives as the buildings collapsed. People around the world prayed and sent help to the victims. Individuals stood protection over Mosques. My own brother Jesuits in New York walked to Ground Zero to simply accompany people. Blessedly, the United States did not blindly retaliate but earnestly began a dialogue with many nations to stop terrorism.
I saw the Mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani on television—a true example, in my estimation, of someone transformed by this tragedy and able to transform others by encouraging the handing over of good. As he walked on the stage of David Letterman’s television show the audience stood and cheered and cheered and cheered. Later in the show Giuliani reminded David that this was not the normal reaction to him by New Yorkers and that he would know that the City had truly returned to normal when he was booed again.
The City will never return to normal. I suspect it will be better than normal.
I also will never return to normal (not that many people are inclined to use that adjective in my presence or in reference to me). I will never read the Gospels or the rest of Sacred Scripture in the same way. I understand more fully what it means to weep over Jerusalem. For many mornings I wept over New York, as did many. The challenge to love one’s enemies is even greater, even more real and even more urgent. The suffering of the world, which is Christ’s suffering, is more apparent to me than it ever was. Terrorism and the death of innocents is not new to the world, but it is certainly new to the United States on this scale.
At this time we need good things….. and we need to ask for them. Mayor Giuliani asked people on that television show to come to New York, to eat at restaurants, to not be afraid, not to retaliate against fellow New Yorkers, and to return to normal. Our Savior asks even more, to forgive, to seek justice, and to love one another.
That’s a tall order. We need to ask for the Spirit for indeed we very well may want to hand over snakes and scorpions. But the Gospel asks us to hand over good…… to work for peace and justice…… and to ask for the grace to desire to hand over good if that might not be in our hearts at the moment…..
God’s gotta hand it to us!
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