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Finding God in Dark Alleys
SEPTEMBER'S READINGS ARE challenging and provocative. They call us out of our comfort zones, demanding that we examine our lives carefully in light of what it means to be a follower of Christ. In the story of the Syrophoenician woman, we glimpse Jesus speaking harshly to someone seeking his help. However, we also see what happens when that woman refuses to remain silent: Jesus answers her request. Her daughter is cured; life is restored. Who are the people who seek our help? As we read the news, whose lives and deaths reach out to us? And how do we answer them? If we dare to call ourselves Christians, then turning away from them is not an option.
The gospels show us that witnessing to God’s love in our world demands entering into the margins, the places where human tradition masking as religion tells us that God is not to be found. As feminist theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid notes, we must venture down the “dark alleys” to find God in lives and bodies too often deemed “indecent.” For those of us who like to patrol the boundaries of decency and indecency, we need to ask ourselves if such borders stem from God or from human traditions such as sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, and ableism. For those of us whose bodies and lives are called “indecent,” the challenge becomes to exorcise the demons of self-doubt and internalized oppression that we carry within ourselves. It is only then that we can answer Jesus’ question: “But who do you say I am?”
The Sheepy Smell of God
WE FIND OURSELVES AMID “ordinary time.” Most of the liturgical calendar, like our lives, is comprised of ordinary time. Yet our readings this month remind us that the extraordinary can be found in the ordinary, just as God can be found in us. Each of the gospels this month shows us Jesus growing more into his ministry as well as his identity as the Christ. Like us, he is not always comfortable with who he is. We see him: questioning who touched and was healed by his cloak (Mark 5:21-43); rejected by his hometown (Mark 6:1-6); said to be a prophet raised from the dead (Mark 6:14-29); acting like a good shepherd (Mark 6:30-34); retreating after feeding the 5,000 because he does not want to be forced into being king (John 6:1-21).
Even amid miracles and messianic titles, there is an ordinariness about Jesus in these stories. We glimpse a familiar narrative of the suffering and joy found in following God’s call. For some, this interpretation may be too much of a “Christology from below,” too little emphasis on Jesus as divine. Yet the gift of ordinary time reminds us that what we deem too quotidian, too human, might reveal God to us after all.