Recently I was getting ready to paint a room in our house and had to move a bookcase. While moving it I glanced at the many classic books and short stories on the shelves. As I began to thumb-through one it triggered a vivid memory about the story and its characters. It was a story of political power, lust, deceit and retribution.
In that story, a high ranking government official lusts for the much younger wife of one of his aides. He seduces the woman and satisfies his desire. Now he must deal with the consequences. What would he do about the woman’s husband and the unexpected child she conceived? The plot thickens as the politician contrives a plan to hide the woman’s pregnancy and “eliminate” her husband in what “appears to be” an accident. Then he would be free to marry his new lover. His internal struggle with the cover-up and guilt weighs heavily on his conscience.
We learn a lot from reading and re-reading classic literature. A classic book is one that never finished saying what it has to say. It’s timeless. The stories are powerful and deal with humanity in its most vulnerable state. A true classic gets us thinking about how the story applies to us today, hundreds of years after it was written.
We find present day truths when reading of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy as they struggle with the issues of social status, morality and marriage in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. And who could forget the story of Hester Prynne. After conceiving a daughter through an adulterous affair she was forced to wear a Scarlet Letter “A” on her chest as she attempted to create a life of repentance with dignity. Jane Eyre gets us thinking about current day morality in our highly individualistic society. She stands firm against an unfair social structure that lacks compassion and a sense of morality. We can see those same forces at work today in our society.
This weekend’s gospel (the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary time), like every gospel that we read, is also timeless and relevant to how we live our life. Forget for a moment that the story was written over two thousand years ago for a different culture. Instead, look behind the story to the lessons it teaches us.
Jesus presents us with a model of what true friendship is all about. The story is one of two friends, brothers, in the throes of a disagreement. Most of us can relate to that on some level. One of them, as only a true friend would do, trusts himself enough to challenge the other, caring enough to risk their friendship in order to preserve it. True friends realize that achieving peace among them comes about NOT by avoiding conflict but by demonstrating the presence of justice and compassion in resolving their conflict.
In this weekend’s Gospel Jesus speaks of the “church.” This is very significant because there are only two passages in all of the Gospels in which the word church is mentioned. But if you noticed, Jesus doesn’t speak of the Church (with a Capital letter “C”) as an institution . Rather, he speaks of the church with alower case ‘c’: That church is you and me. If your brother refuses to listen to your pleadings, tell the church. Tell all of us, your sisters and brothers, so that we can help you resolve your differences.
As human beings who struggle to follow him, Jesus asks us to take care of our brothers and sisters; look out for each other; help each other. As his church, we are our brothers’ keepers. If we see someone doing wrong, we should point out the error of their ways and lead them back to the truth of the church. True friends affirm and support each other and, when necessary, challenge them with honesty, integrity and love. St. Paul said we owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another. We should love each other enough to not be silent when they go astray and need our help.
Where two or three are gathered in his name, Jesus declares, he is there — to help us bring compassion, reconciliation and healing to us, his church, when it is needed the most. Today’s Gospel message hasn’t finished saying what it has to say. In fact, all of the Gospel messages found in the Bible are like that. No wonder it’s the bestselling book of all time – a timeless classic that resounds with every generation.
Oh, and that story I mentioned earlier about the high ranking government official? You can read in Sacred Scripture. You’ll find it in the second book of Samuel, Chapter 11: The story of King David and Bathsheba and of all the consequences that follow them when they sin against their fellow man.
This weekend we celebrate the Labor Day holiday. It marks the end to summer vacations and a return to school, work and the more normal activities of life. Before the holiday weekend ends, try something different to get this busiest time of the year started out right. Turn off your televisions, put down your iPods; and unplug your notebooks. Spend some time reading a classic work of literature.
Pick up the Bible and read the Word of God. Let it speak to you directly about the vulnerability of humanity and our struggle to find God in this world.
The announcement of our salvation is beautifully told in this timeless classic: A classic with a message…that, even today, isn’t finished saying…what it has to say.
Enjoy this holiday weekend.