the northern hemisphere we are inexorably heading into longer nights and
shorter days. This shift for us who live somewhat farther from the
equator is significant, having many implications for the natural world that
surrounds us. The foliage’s brilliant change of color signals its impending
death for this year’s growth. The burst of color and growth in flower
gardens warns of the impending frost brought by the earth’s movement away
from the sun’s warm; small animals dash frantically about storing enough
food for the impending winter. The human forecasters, too, turn away
from hurricane forecasts to announce the approach of killing freezes and
impending snowstorms already falling in the mountains to our west.
Autumn: a season of harvest but a season that announces doom; a symbol of
the aging process and a time for entering the darkness of death.
The Catholic liturgy, historically grounded as it is in the natural environment
of the northern hemisphere, takes a sharp turn toward the dark at this time
of year as well. The readings begin to sound more alarming after the
celebration the Triumph of the Cross on September 14 and the Faith Community
challenges us to enter a stage of spiritual growth characterized by stripping,
loss, dying, and letting go. Just as Jesus faced the fact of his suffering
and death, so he challenges us to do so as well.
The Gospel passage from today’s liturgy marks the specific “turning point”
in Luke’s narrative where the mission in Galilee is complete and Jesus resolutely
turns his face to Jerusalem – for the last time. From this point until
the opening of the Passion Narrative in Chapter 22, we meditate on the words
and behavior of Jesus during a terrible crisis in his human story.
He is facing the implications of the rejection of his ministry of proclaiming
God’s reign of compassion by those most prepared by God to hear it!
Jesus’ own people are in the process of rejecting him. That the Samaritans
reject him is only symptomatic of the much greater rejection that the leaders
in Jerusalem will perpetrate in the months to come.
It is not surprising for Christians that we have to come to similar places
in our own lives and world but it always seems to catch us off guard.
When difficulties arise I want to cry out like Job, “I wish I had never been
born.” The pain of rejection from those we least anticipate, the failure
at projects we “ought to be good at,” the collapse of very good ideas because
we can’t arouse the appropriate support, or even more insidiously the failure
in our own lives to respond promptly to the impulse of God’s mercy, these
and many other contingencies of our human being drive us “down into the pit”
with the gathering gloom and falling leaves of the natural world around us.
Jesus, of course, neither curses those who reject him, nor abandons us who
want to be with him but fail. The God he proclaims to the bitter end
is the God who will bring victory from every defeat and life from the agony
of both our depression and our death. As Jews sing at Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles)
this week, and we Christians sing at the end of Lent: “Hosanna to the God