Psalms 3:2-3, 4-5, 6-8
It’s not difficult to see defiance at work in the first reading. Old man Eleazar resists demands upon him which he deems contrary to the principles of his religious life. He shows us a refusal to compromise the integrity of his faith and the way by which he serves and honors God. He is offered to us as an image of righteousness, a paradigm of loyalty, a beacon of hope that is steadfast, enduring trial and persecution, suffering death. To his community, Eleazar is “a model of courage,” “an unforgettable example of virtue.”
At face value, his abject determination against the insistence to eat pork seems . . . well . . . foolish and fanatical. But it’s meaningful for us in any number of ways, and I chose to expose the perspective of defiance. Eleazar seems to say: “I know who I am and I refuse to let you tell me otherwise.” Perhaps this foolish fanaticism is self-possession and personal integrity rooted deeply in and of relationship with the Creator God. (And after September 11th, religious fanaticism isn’t to be taken lightly. Eleazar’s fanaticism isn’t unfounded, irrational, destructive of others, but belief that is persecuted.)
Defiance is less explicit in the Gospel, but it’s there. With little man Zach up in his tree? No, though in other ways we have a lot to learn from Zacchaeus, particularly with his desire to be with Jesus. We see defiance coming from Jesus, and it is displayed by his desire to be with Zacchaeus. A despised person, a tax-collector for goodness’ sake, and yet Jesus enters into relationship with him, embracing him as friend and brother. Yet another strike against Jesus! The norm, and mode of conformity, the pattern: they say this: “stay away from the scoundrel . . . from all scoundrels for that matter!” I say this: “Jesus knows who he is and he won’t let others tell him otherwise.” Jesus isn’t about judgment and denunciation. Jesus, self-possessed and with purpose like our Old Testament friend, is rooted deeply in and of relationship with God. And that makes all the difference. The difference, here with this case, is defiance. “I choose to befriend the tax-collector!”
The readings have a way of asking us about our beliefs and the faith
that we embrace. Do we do live our faith lives genuinely, authentically?
When and where do we compromise ourselves and how do social norms and expectations
assert themselves? Are we able to be like Zacchaeus, like Jesus,
like Oscar Romero, like Dorothy Day, like Mother Teresa, proclaiming: I
know who I am and I refuse to let you tell me otherwise!
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