Summary: The parables of Jeremiah and Jesus are in a special form that we need to understand if we are to get all the benefits they can provide.
Monday of 17th Week in Course 2012
St. Peter Chrysologus
As we continue our reflections on the letter of Pope Benedict, Verbum Domini, we have a happy intersection of the celebration of St. Peter Chrysologus and these two parabolic readings. No, I’m not teaching a mathematics class. What we have here are two parables. In Jeremiah, we read the moral of the story: “as the waistcloth clings to the loins of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.”
Parables are moral stories. They start off with a narrative about something that most listeners would understand, and it has to be something a little unusual so it’s memorable. Jeremiah physically acted out his parable. In fact, we can think about a present-day mime. He puts on a pair of Jockey shorts and wears them for a few days. Then he goes to the river and–modestly we hope–takes them off and stuffs them under a rock. After a couple of weeks he comes back and nature has taken its course. It’s not even good as a rag to wash your car, or chariot.
But the meaning of any parable is always on a higher level. In Jeremiah’s story, God is trying to tell His people something about their relationship with Him. I can’t think of any clothing relationship more intimate than of underwear. That’s how close God was to His people, Israel. But because they refused to hear God’s word, stubbornly followed their own will and lusted after the pagan gods of the land, God let them rot and then threw them away. It was their own fault that they were exiled to Babylon and Egypt.
The parables of Jesus were often more subtle. In Jeremiah, we can perform what mathematicians call a one-on-one coincidence between the element of the parable, like the loincloth, and the element of the meaning, which would be the people of God. In Jesus, we frequently must read them like “here’s something that will teach you about the kingdom of God.” For instance, when you take yeast and work hard to knead it all through the dough, the entire loaf then rises in ways the ancients could not understand. So the kingdom of heaven grows, and it’s a mystery how it does even, we could say today, when we who are her members are often corrupt and incompetent.
The Holy Father knows about the subtlety of the Word as found in the Lectionary. He writes especially to those who proclaim the Word, men and women we are so grateful to for their ministry. His words are encouraging, but also challenging: “The Synod on the Eucharist had already called for greater care to be taken in the proclamation of the word of God. As is known, while the Gospel is proclaimed by a priest or deacon, in the Latin tradition the first and second readings are proclaimed by an appointed reader, whether a man or a woman. I would like to echo the Synod Fathers who once more stressed the need for the adequate training of those who exercise the munus of reader in liturgical celebrations, and particularly those who exercise the ministry of Reader, which in the Latin rite is, as such, a lay ministry. All those entrusted with this office, even those not instituted in the ministry of Reader, should be truly suitable and carefully trained. This training should be biblical and liturgical, as well as technical: ‘The purpose of their biblical formation is to give readers the ability to understand the readings in context and to perceive by the light of faith central point of the revealed message. The liturgical formation ought to equip readers to have some grasp of the meaning and structure of the liturgy of the word and the significance of its connection with the liturgy of the Eucharist. The technical preparation should make the readers skilled in the art of reading publicly, either with the power of their own voice or with the help of sound equipment.’”
St. Peter Chrysologus, who lived in the fifth century, must have been a man saturated with the Word of God. He was such a great preacher of the Word that the Empress, hearing his first sermon, determined to build whatever he needed in his ministry. Moreover, in the eighteenth century the Pope declared him a Doctor of the Church, just on the basis of his collection of sermons. Let’s pray that all our ministers of the word, lay and clerical alike, aspire to that level of excellence and spiritual development.