Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Unheard Gospel

As Catholics, we sometimes try to excuse the relative biblical illiteracy of the typical pew warmer by arguing that the three year cycle of Sunday mass readings ensures that the faithful hear almost all of the Gospel and much of the rest of the Bible every three years. The problem, though, is that some parts of the Gospel are rarely, if ever, heard on Sundays.

Take the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, for example. It was recently featured in the Lectionary for weekday masses, but only a small percentage of Catholics are inclined to attend weekday mass, and only a fraction of those so inclined are able, due to conflicting work and mass schedules. Only one passage from Matthew 7 is included in the Lectionary for a Sunday mass, and it falls on the 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time during Cycle A. Most years, the 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time is not even celebrated. It gets displaced by Lent, Easter, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi Sunday. In twenty years, a Catholic who goes to mass every Sunday might hear seven verses from the seventh chapter of Matthew twice.

Is it any surprise then that many Catholics, when they actually take the time to read the Gospels, come across Matthew 7 and exclaim that they never knew Jesus said such hard things. What kind of hard things does he say? "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get." "Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you." "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."

These are some of the verses, for me at least, that reveal a very masculine messiah. Too often, we get caught up in the images of Jesus as the radiant shepherd cradling the lamb or beckoning to the children or forgiving the woman who washed his feet with her hair, and we forget that he also drove the money changers from the temple, confronted the Pharisees, and made demands on people's loyalty before God. Yes, he forgave sinners, but with the parting words, "Go and sin no more."

His words were so radical that Matthew wrote "And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes." Too many of these words that astonished the crowds are never heard by most Catholics.

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