15 December 2006

Petulance, Pretension, and Playing to the Mob

2nd Week Advent (F): Isaiah 48.17-19 and Matthew 11.16-19
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Serra Club Mass, Church of the Incarnation

We demand that the Pope change the rules on the use of artificial birth control. He does and then we shout for changes in gender exclusion in marriage. The Pope allows gay marriages and we shout for women priests. The Pope allows women priests and we start protesting for gender equity in the College of Cardinals. The Pope gives us 50/50 male to female in the College and we shout for his resignation b/c he is so unresponsive to the voice of the people! Or maybe b/c he’s turned soft…

This is the reward of those who play to the crowd, hoping, in vain, that the crowd can be persuaded or lead or bought off to give its allegiance to the truth. Not likely. Jesus makes this very point this morning: “Your generation is like a bunch of kids playing in the street. You whine when we don’t dance to your favorite music and you whine when we don’t cry when you play your funeral dirges. You call John the Baptist demon possessed b/c he doesn’t eat or drink. And I come among you eating and drinking and you call me a glutton and drunkard.” Jesus is frustrated b/c he’s having to confront again and again the invincible ignorance of the crowds who clamor for glamour, that is, crowds who are following him and gathering about him who want to be see the miraculous done for their amusement. Some will believe, some will remain unbelieving, and most will tag along to see the show, perhaps hoping that something of Jesus’ healing power will pour over and travel to visit their ailments. They were there and we are here.

To what shall we compare this generation? Hyperactive rabbits? A computer with hundreds of lines running in and out? A cyborg with technology stuck in every hole? Needy children on too much sugar? We seem to climb about, swinging away, growing and eating, but left deeply hungry and thirsty in the absence of the Divine. I mean to say that God is always here with us, of course, but that his presence to us is spiritually fruitful only when we invoke His name, go get His gifts to us, and use them honorably in service to others. This generation—yours, mine, or the ones to come—best honor Christ by following his Way; forget the manipulation and craft; we can best use his grace by putting it in front of us to clear our path to Him, to open the Way, to allow His wisdom to be vindicated in us by wisdom’s good works.

The children in the market are petulant, proud, and probably a bit bored. They play their music for reaction, for reflection, or maybe just plain ole for fun. And so too the crowds. They gathered around Jesus for all sorts of reasons. Some pure. Some private. And some for simple delectation. Why do we gather around Jesus in 2006? What draws us to him? Surely he radiates power and we are always ready to vibrate at that hum. Is it his life-philosophy: personal sacrifice for public good? How about his teachings on peace or marriage or eternal life? Do we gather to be seen? To be in control, in charge? To be attention-seeking servants? How ready are you to serve w/o recognition?

Perhaps we do well to keep the words of Isaiah firmly in mind: “I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go.” Ministry is God’s work. You and I are the subcontractors; we’re the hired help. Apparently, we work for a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Not company we can boast about. But this is the company that will see our souls before the Throne of the Most High.

If divine wisdom is vindicated by her works, then rank foolishness is celebrated by our pretensions: “if you would hearken to my commandments, your prosperity would be like a river…”


  1. Father: What do they put in the water in Oklahoma? You have been on FIRE this week. Excellent stuff.

  2. Thanks for this. I've used it: see http://mliccione.blogspot.com/2006/12/true-rejoicing-vs-clamor-for-glamor.html.


  3. Cathy,

    It was Fr. Shane Tharp's excellent cooking!

    Fr. Philip