Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

Our expectations often determine the way we act.  Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, and the woman with a flow of blood had great expectations. But many others didn’t expect great things, so they ridiculed Jesus, and laughed at him.   What we expect to see or hear can influence our reactions. 

A story is told how President Roosevelt had to endure long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that few people paid attention to what he actually said when he greeted them. One day, during a long reception, he tried an experiment. As each person passed down the line to shake his hand he said in a soft voice, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” People responded to what they expected to hear, something edifying.  One said, “Marvelous, keep up the good work.” Another replied, “We’re proud of you. God bless you, sir.” Yet another answered, “It’s just what the country needed, thank you, Mr. President.” The praise kept pouring in. It wasn’t until near the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia that someone really listened. When President Roosevelt said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning,” the Bolivian ambassador stepped backwards, looked a little shocked, and then leaned forward and whispered, “Mr. President, I’m sure she had it coming.”

Jesus was not expected to do anything important. He was only a common laborer, not a famous rabbi like Gamaliel. Nor one of the great teachers like the gentle Pharisee Hillel or his colleague, the severe Shammai, who presided over the Sanhedrin together. Jesus didn’t grow up in one of the great cities like Jerusalem, Tiberias or Caesarea. He was only a kid from a side street in Nazareth, one of Galilee’s poorest towns. So, when Jesus said the child is not dead but sleeping, they laughed at him.

Not only that, even the people he grew up with, mocked Jesus by calling him the son of Mary, Barmiriam.  It was a name they gave not to honor but to belittle him. It was the Jewish custom to identify someone as the son of his father, not of his mother. Simon Barjona means son of Jonah. Bartimaeus, Barnabas, Barsabas, Bartholomew were all named after their fathers. Even when the father was deceased, the son was still called by his name, not by his mother’s. Unless, perhaps, people knew that Jesus was not the son of Joseph. People who grow up together in small hamlets and little villages have long memories. Did they, like Joseph, notice that Mary was pregnant when she returned from her three months visit with Elizabeth? Did they sense Joseph’s distress? Were their tongues wagging then as they were wagging now? “He’s Barmiriam.” Jesus was the son of Mary. His neighbors were sure of that. And only that. What good could come from such a child?

The people who laughed at Jesus in the house of Jairus will later be the people who shouted for his crucifixion.  The life of Jesus is about love crucified. In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky describes an encounter between a woman of little faith and the holy monk, Father Zosima. She suffers from doubts about the existence of God. Father Zosima tells her that the more she succeeds in loving others, the more convinced she will be of the existence of God and the immortality of her soul. She dreams of giving up all she has and becoming a Sister of Mercy, but says, “I wouldn’t be able to handle ingratitude from those I serve.” Father Zosima replies, “Love found in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, with everyone watching. Such love will even sacrifice one’s life provided it does not take too long and everyone is looking on and praising you. No,” he says, “real love perseveres in the harsh and dreadful.” When we receive nothing in return but ingratitude and are treated shamefully then our stories will be like that of Jesus and we will experience a love that gives without return.

The way we persevere with Jesus through all that is harsh and dreadful will be our happiness at the Last Judgment. And then we will see what mighty things God does for those who love him.