Reflection for January 18th, 2015 by Father Andy Boyer
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
I came across a short text just recently – Deuteronomy 33:25. “Your shoes shall be iron and brass; and as your days, so shall your strength be.” This was actually a prophesy given by Moses to the tribe of Asher just before his death.
Asher’s land was fruitful and mountainous. To the people who lived in hilly terrain, God promises “iron shoes” for the roads they must travel.
From this we may take a very simple application. Every year is the beginning of a new journey. How will we fare? What will the road be like? Will our way be rough or easy? Our text suggests that we may have some rough road to travel before the year is done.
If our path is to be strewn with flower petals, velvet slipper will do. If all we’re going to do in 2015 is to sit and watch television, we don’t need iron shoes, thick socks will do. But if we plan to walk rocky roads, we need good footwear. As coaches like to say: no pain, no gain, no struggle, no growth.
Then there is the last part of the verse – a promise of great provision: “As your days, so shall your strength be.” God will give strength for every kind of day we may face. Some days are filled with joy, light, and happiness; others will sadness, tears, frustration, pain and heartache. Whatever each day brings, there will be strength enough to meet it.
Ron Rolheiser, in commenting on our readings of today uses the phrase: “Every tear brings the Messiah close.” He says that people are always impatient, but God is never in a hurry.
Our scriptures are often a record of frustrated desire, of non-fulfillment, and of human impatience. We are always longing for a messiah to take away our pain and to avenge oppression, but mostly those prayers seem to fall on deaf ears.
And so we see in scripture the constant, painful cry: Come, Lord, come! Save us! How much longer must we wait? Why not now? Where are you staying? We are forever impatient, but God refused to be hurried. Why is God seemingly so slow to act? Why is God so excruciatingly slow to act in the face of human impatience?
There’s a line in Jewish apocalyptic literature, which metaphorically helps answer this question: Every tear brings the Messiah closer! It would seem that there is an intrinsic connection between frustration and the possibility of a Messiah being born. It seems that messiahs can only be born after a long period of human yearning.
Human birth already helps answer that question, gestation cannot be hurried and there is an organic connection between the pain a mother experiences in childbirth and the delivery of a new life. And that’s also true of Jesus’ birth. Tears, pain, and a long season of prayer are needed to create the conditions for the kind of pregnancy that brings forth a messiah into our world. Because the real love and life can only be born when a long-suffering patience has created the correct space, the virginal womb, within which the sublime can be born. Perhaps a couple of metaphors can help us understand this.
John of the Cross, in trying to explain how a person comes to be enflamed in altruistic love, uses the image of a log bursting into flame in a fireplace. When a green log is placed in a fire, it doesn’t start to burn immediately. It first needs to be dried out. Only when it reaches kindling temperature can it ignite and burst into flames. Speaking metaphorically, before a log can burst into flame, it needs to pass through a certain advent, a certain dying out, a period of frustration and yearning. So, too the dynamics of how real love is born in our lives. We can ignite into love only when we selfish, green, damp logs have sizzled sufficiently, and the fire that makes us sizzle is unfulfilled desire.
Pierre Teihard de Chardin offers a second metaphor here when he speaks of something he calls “the raising of our psychic temperature.” In a chemistry laboratory it’s possible to place two elements in the same test tube and not get fusion. The elements remain separate, refusing to unite. It is only after they are heated to a higher temperature that they unite. We’re no different; it’s only when unrequited longing has raised our psychic temperature sufficiently that we can move towards reconciliation and union. Simply put, sometimes we have to be brought to a high fever through frustration and pain before we are willing to let go of our selfishness and let ourselves be drawn into community.
Messiahs can only be born inside a particular kind of womb, namely one within which there’s enough patience and willingness to wait so as to let things happen.
Hence, ideally, every tear should bring the messiah closer. Every frustration should ideally make us more ready to love. Every tear should ideally make us more ready to let go of some of our separateness. Every unfulfilled longing should ideally lead us into a deeper and more sincere prayer.
Brothers and sisters, it’s time to put on our iron shoes! And off we go, adventuring into this year. May God help us to press on to know the Lord better in 2015.