Sunday Week 24 Year A

Wrath and anger are hateful things yet we hug them tight. Why the hell do we do that? Any ideas? Cause it baffles me! We hug tight the things that hurt us, we rehearse our hurt in words, honing them to an edge, even when we know they’ll echo around inside us cutting us as deeply as the ones we intend to hurt. I can just about understand why we feel we need to hurt each other. But why our own selves? It beats me! … Unless we don’t believe the power of our own words. Just own them like so many hand guns and are amazed when they main or kill.
But like I said, I have an apology to make. I need to eat my own words. Interesting how many expressions for apology involve digestion—eating humble pie, swallowing your pride, eating crow, eating your words—as if our language knew what we strain to forget—that words aren’t ethereal, vanishing things but hang around heavy and binding and bitter until we take them back, until we let them loose, until we make them flesh once more.
I preached two weeks ago about denial—about Peter’s fear of loss, and about my own inability to digest my friend Paul’s leaving of the Jesuits. Denial! I don’t exactly deny what I said then … but I need to tell you what happened next because … it shook me. If you remember I had managed then to find Jesus long enough to rail at him over my loss—”Jesus! Where the hell are you. Why do you give me limbs and then saw them off?” But the truth is I hadn’t stayed long enough to recognise him, to notice him, his feeling, his mood. And for the next few days all I knew was that I couldn’t find him. He wasn’t in any of the usual interior places that I look. He wasn’t wakening me up with love songs the way he’s been doing for months. So something was amiss. But it wasn’t the places that were wrong but the guy who I was seeking. I was looking for the one I’d been shouting at, the one I expected to have an answer for me, to comfort me or encourage me or at least put me right.
The Jesus I eventually found—and that simply by asking him where he was—well, he was a surprise to me. He was close to tears. He was unable to speak. He wanted to be held. He needed my shelter.
I held him and he cried. I held him tighter and he sobbed. I held him, wrapped in my body, and gave him shelter and a place of safety. And when he could at last speak he said just this. “Why do you think I could give you limbs and then saw them off?”
What can you say to that? “Why do I think you’re cool and in command? Why do I think you have it all together? Why do I believe you’re above hurt and fear and confusion? Why do I think you always get what you want, even if I don’t?”
Why do I hug tight the things that hurt me? Beats me! But I do! How many times does Jesus have to show me who he is before I’ll believe him? How far does he have to go? One of Ursula Le Guin’s characters asks that question and gets the answer “only too far is far enough.” Only too far is far enough.
That’s the big puzzle of the parable for me. Not the way we can accept our own liberation so easily and still imprison others—that’s the stuff of daily headlines—but where God is in the story? Only one character acts out of anger. Only one character acts out of gut-wrenching pity. The same character, the King, the Master. Is this God? Capable of writing off a lifetime’s debt in a stroke of compassion. Capable of giving the word to torture the same guy unrelentingly. Is this who Jesus is pointing to? I don’t know. My mind wants to work overtime to smooth out the rough edges and keep God above both those dangers—keep God wise and cool and above both anger and compassion. But the parable won’t let me do that. It makes me return again to Jesus and ask him—not so much to know about the parable as to know him. To let his reality pierce my protective prejudices. To let him cry if he needs to. To let him be as hurt and afraid and confused as he happens to be. To learn again that he doesn’t always get what he wants either.
So I have to eat my words. To him: for not knowing him. To: you for not speaking him. Above all: for not writing him well. That’s what he wants from me: to write him well. He knows the power of words. He lived and died by words. His word cured the sick and drove out devils. His word stirred up opposition and stilled the storm. He stuck to his word though it stuck him to a cross. But he didn’t want to die—he wanted to live. Given the choice he would have chosen life. To keep his word and live. But we wouldn’t let him—we made him choose between them, between his life and his word. And he chose to keep his word. But before he held himself to his words he came to supper with those he loved and he took his words and made them flesh. He went too far. Spoke himself bread, uttered himself wine. Thickened his words into life. Set them in bowl and cup and ate them. He ate his words with tears and swallowed his pride. And offered us each, at the table, forgiveness—and a way in word and flesh to forgive each other and give each other life. No longer strangers. No longer lost and alone.
And asked of us, too, a far harder task—to forgive him for not being the God we fear.

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