Psalm 148:1-2, 11-12, 12-14, 14
But that we may not offend them ...
I think because I have been experiencing a great deal of grief, after my mother's death three months ago, I have been paying attention to grief in the scriptures. I noticed with great consolation that Jesus grieved the death of John the Baptist in this past Sunday's gospel. I was delighted to see that his first temptation was to escape to a deserted place, but the very sight of the people pursuing him, drew him out of himself, as he felt compassion for them and healed them, and then taught his disciples how to feed them.
In today's gospel the disciples are filled with grief when Jesus tells them that he's going to be killed in Jerusalem, but that he will be raised up on the third day. I imagine that Jesus had real compassion for them in their grief. Having experienced it so intensely himself, he knew the effects. I'm sure he experienced that when we are opened up by any grief, all the un-attended-to grief of our life is opened up as well. I like to think that Jesus knew simple grief -- those ordinary disappointments and day-to-day losses that all of us experience -- and that he tasted the major grief of the death of his father and other loved ones, the disorientation of leaving home, the rejection of his mission. He must have known how grief affects us. It doesn't take away our faith. It just takes away our balance, or it is at least so dis-orienting that we are a little off-balance. It can lead to an overall sense of sadness that just casts a shadow over our perception and experience of everything. It can, at times, lead to an edgy defensiveness that protects our fragile spirit by shouting to others: "Don't mess with me!" And the grief that comes from some trauma or devastating loss can so paralyze us that our reaction to everything is dulled and our ability to respond to anything or anyone is severely affected.
So, I'm fascinated by this little story about the temple tax, coming right after the disciples are overwhelmed with grief at the news of Jesus' impending murder in Jerusalem. Jesus doesn't make a big deal out of the temple tax at all. He doesn't march in there with his disciples and say, "On behalf of the poor and all who are unjustly treated by these hypocrites, let's fix this once and for all!" No, he knows how fragile his disciples are. This is not the time to make a big deal out of it. As if to show his disciples that they can rely on God to take care of them, he has them 'find' the temple tax, miraculously.
Which brings us to the question of how we deal with our grief today. Can we take this as an invitation to be gentle and patient with our grief today? Can it help us to not let the "small stuff" un-center us? Can it help us be more peaceful about naming and exposing the sadness, disappointments, and losses of our life?
And that leads to the comforting and challenging words that open the "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" from the Second Vatican Council: "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men and women of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts." This reminds us of the bond of solidarity we enjoy as disciples of Jesus in community. And, it reminds us of our mission - not to become self-absorbed, but to let our sadness place us in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who suffer in any way around the world.
Comforting Lord, Jesus, be gentle with us today. Let us experience
your loving embrace today. Thank you for accepting your own suffering
and death, for us. Thank you for allowing God to redeem all loss,
all death, through your total surrender. Let our hearts go out to
comfort each other in our grieving. Make of us a people who embrace
the "joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties" of your people.
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