Much of the Office of Readings for the past days has focused on Moses and the Book of Leviticus. In that book much of the rules of behavior are described, it is a book of laws. Those commands describe an ethics, and that ethical standard was different from the people that surround them. It is what distinguished and defined them. In an essence it describes who they were, it answered the fundamental question of “Who am I.” Interesting they received those commands from one named I AM. Who am I? I am a Christian.
If a doll maker were to restore one of his dolls no one would think it strange. If he were to repair the porcelain face or repaint it’s face, nothing would seem out of the ordinary. The same of a carpenter, if he were to repair something he crafted. Nothing strange in fixing a crack or resetting a joint. Nothing extraordinary in refinishing the finish. Christ mixed spittle and dirt, and smeared it on a blind mans eye so that he might see. The LORD repaired what the LORD had made. To repair is to restore and Jesus restored sight to the blind, the blind man of His creation. The hint is in the spit and the dirt that formed the mud: it is from mud or clay that we were originally formed. But we become damaged, worn with use? Damaged through neglect? Mistreated and not cared for? It doesn’t really matter. The creator cares for creation, the LORD restores. It’s not really complicated, but it irritates a lot of folks.
Good Friday isn’t a day I will say much about, it is the beginning of a great contemplative silence. It leaves one speechless, exhausted, and on ones knees. A very powerful day indeed. Today at the stations of the cross a collection was taken up for the holy lands. Its a tradition. This year those same lands have dominated the press. The announcement of this collection took on a bit more relevance. The violence of contemporary today can be viewed in the light of the day today commemorates. Certainly there is the Christian persecution that is the object of so many prayers and petitions. Today it seems thoughts drifted into another direction, to all of the residents of that troubled land. I thought of Christians persecuted for their faith, and the Jews who experience the same. I also thought of the Muslims who did not subscribe to their fundamentalist brethren’s agenda. Those that quietly live out their faith in harmony with other faith traditions. I view their mockery, and scourging even though an evil word never passed through their lips or entered their hearts. I think of their suffering and anguish and tears for a hatred they never possessed. They have suffered the bombs, they fled as refugees , and they were ridiculed for the opinions of others that look and dress like them. A prayer for people while contemplating a cross and crucifixion. A prayer for the people of the lands where that sacred cross once stood.
Spy Wednesday, the day Judas Iscariot sells the Lord for a few pieces of silver. The day is also often related to the anointment of Jesus by Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and her brother Lazarus. Two acts that move in opposite direction. Contrast, polar opposites. The woman spends a costly amount anointing Jesus with Spikenard, Judas profits a few coins by selling something priceless. Mary humble and thankful for God’s love and mercy, ignorant Judas blind to all that he had and greedy for more. The honest emotion of a penitent woman contrasts against a deceitful act of trickery. The anointing act of Mary easily leads into Holy Thursday , famous for the washing of the feet during the Lords supper. Judas defiles that meal and instead anoints the bloody acts of Good Friday. Judas and the woman Mary, key actors in the Passion of the Lord. The Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lords Supper. The gift of the Mass and its Priests. The culmination of the bread o life. From “I am the bread of life”, to “this my body.” It is Christ’s teaching explained, His Word, but this is only half the Mass. The other half unfolds a day later on a cross. His sacrifice for our salvation. Good Friday and the Mass. Table and Altar. Meal and Sacrifice. Not either but both. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The paschal lamb, meal and sacrifice.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
The woman Mary with the aromatic nard, Jesus says you anoint me for my burial. She is their or that event, but she also is present for the resurrection too. Devoted and devout, she hung onto His words. She anoints Him with costly perfume, and look at how she does so! Anointed as King, anointed as Savior. In her King she witnesses her salvation and is ever so humbled by His mercy. Judas, what does he see? How does he anoint a King. He pays the price for a slave, his King is crowned with thorns. Ridiculed, mocked, and hung on a tree. And for Judas? His is the same fate, he too hangs in a tree never to see the salvation that the woman had experienced. Reap what you sow? What a contrast, for one life ends on Good Friday. For the other death is conquered on the very same day.
Lent is the season of Fast and abstinence. Fasting is not unique to Catholicism, and neither is abstaining from certain foods. There is the cultural abstaining from the meat of pigs, its uncleanliness is written in the laws of Moses. Many cultures avoid dining on the meats of certain animals, though not always for religious reasons. They often are considered a cultural taboo. With these thoughts I think o the LENTEN traditions, and particularly the abstaining from meat on Fridays. What I wonder defines meat, is it not simply the flesh of animals? Only the flesh of certain animals are forbidden to be consumed. Cattle or grazing animals, and birds.Beef, lamb, goat, chicken, pheasant, turkey are all banned according to the traditional abstinence of the Fridays of Lent. Fish surprisingly is allowed , but isn’t its flesh a meat? Science would dictate that if it is not a plant, then it is an animal and animal flesh is meat. Church officials argued different, there is an exception for fish. (As an extrapolation alligator is permitted to, but that is a separate augment.) Why the tolerance for fish? The old joke is that Saint Peter was a fisherman, but for sure that is not the reason. What would a fisherman have to do with abstaining from meat?
There are some biblical stories involving fish.There is that story where Jesus tells that fisherman to go into the deeper waters and recast his nets. In that story Peter reaps an abundant harvest.There also is the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The feeding of the crowds so similar to the Eucharist. Then there is the resurrection breakfast, Christ cooking fish on the shoreline. Christianity has a great association with the fish, it was the earliest symbol of the newly formed religion. The crucifix in early church history was still viewed with horror. I think of the mosaic floor of an ancient first century church recently uncovered. There in tile was the symbol of the fish. Maybe there is some truth to “Why do Christians eat fish on Friday” Maybe it is because Peter was a fisherman, and Jesus sought him out to be a fisher of men. The fish is a reminder that we are the ones pulled from the sea by Christ. We became Christians because Christ choose Peter the fisherman. The fish focuses members of Christ’s one Catholic and Apostolic Church on their identity as members of the Church. Feeding on Fridays fish is a reminder of Christian identity as much as abstaining from meat is a form of penance. It reminds us of whom we are. Fish Eaters, or the derogatory Mackerel snappers, or those that remain loyal to the successor of Peter, who coincidentally wears a fisherman ring as a symbol of office. With such a great association between Catholics and the fish how could one possibly abstain from that symbol of the Catholic religion during the season of Lent.