The American Way: Something about the Reaping…

The Readings for Tuesday 1 Advent (Year 2):

Quod abscondisti hæc a sapientibus et prudentibus, et revelasti ea parvulis. 
Thou hast hidden all this from the wise and the prudent, and revealed it to little children.
Monty Pythons, Meaning of Life, Part VII, Death. Death walks into a rural English cottage and claims the souls of two Brits and two Americans. Death calls all the Brits pompous. Then the American Man tries to Mansplain his way out of the scary place. And this happens:

Katzenberg:       Let me tell you something, Mr Death…
Grim Reaper:    You do not understand!
Katzenberg:       Just one moment. I would like to express on behalf of everyone here, what a really unique experience this is…
Jeremy:               Hear hear.
Angela:                Yes, we’re so delighted that you dropped in, Mr Death…
Katzenberg:       Can I finish please…
Debbie:                Mr Death… is there an after-life?
Katzenberg:       Dear, if you could just wait please a moment…
Angela:                Are you sure you wouldn’t like some sherry?
Katzenberg:       Angela, I’d like just to say at this time…
Grim Reaper:    Be quiet!
Katzenberg:       Can I just say this at this time, please…
Grim Reaper:    Silence!!! I have come for you.
[Pause as this sinks in. Sidelong glance. A stifled fart.]
Angela:                … You mean to…
Grim Reaper:    … Take you away. That is my purpose. I am Death.
Geoffrey:            Well that’s cast rather a gloom over the evening hasn’t it?
Katzenberg:       I don’t see it that way, Geoff. Let me tell you what I think we’re dealing with here, a potentially positive learning experience…
Grim Reaper:    Shut up! Shut up you American. You always talk, you Americans, you talk and you talk and say ‘Let me tell you something’ and ‘I just wanna say this’, Well you’re dead now, so shut up.

Frank Sinatra’s My Way always made me terribly uncomfortable, even as a child. I mean, yes, it’s  Frank’s world and the rest of us only live in it, and yes, the mere mention of his name did once rescue Seamus and I from an otherwise normal B&B Breakfast in Scotland, but even as I child, I felt there was something horribly horribly wrong with screaming (at Death), yeah, I did it wrong, but it was my wrong, damn it.

Those, brothers and sisters, are the words of Satan. And today’s reading calls us on it.

Where the Latin has “sapientibus et prudentibus” the Greek has σοφῶν καὶ συνετῶν sophon kai syneton. Knox, the KJV, and the Douay both have “wise and prudent” (which does render the Latin really well) but the Greek syneton has this extra layer, according to Strongs:

4908 synetós (an adjective, derived from 4920 /syníēmi, “to understand by synthesizing”) – properly, “personal” understanding that results from correlating facts (concepts), i.e. as understanding works in keeping with one’s own perspective.
“Personal comprehension” (4908 /synetós) however is only sound when it follows God’s word. 4908 /synetós (“understanding”) apart from faith (“God’s inbirthed persuasions”) simply expresses the limitations (biases) of the thinker – which is the usual (negative) connotation of this term in the NT. See: Mt 11:25; Lk 10:21; 1 Cor 1:19. See 4920 (syníēmi).
[The other occasion of 4908 (synetós) in the NT, Ac 13:7, is more neutral. But even here it doesn’t reflect the prudence (intelligence) that comes directly from the Holy Spirit.]

It’s personal knowledge. Stuff i worked out on my own. Don’t bother me. I know what I’m doing. I’m convinced I’m right. I’m gonna do this my way durn it all, back off. My truth. Or: welcome to the modern world. Those are the words of Satan and Jesus says we’re wrong.

We don’t, actually, get to make up whatever we want. God’s got a say in it. In fact, God laid down some rules, some guidelines. I usually think it’s wise to consult the owner’s manual first. Only very unimportant things like websites and TV shows come without instruction manuals. More important things: Marriages, Childrearing, Jobs, these all come with instruction manuals. It’s only the silly that ignore them.

Children know this, sorta, until we school it out of them: there are rules. Some things are fair. Somethings are bad. We use the same skills to teach them otherwise that a child molester uses in grooming victims: Yes, Mommy just told a lie about your age to get a free ticket on the plane. But don’t tell anyone it’s ok. Yes, we’re cheat on our taxes, but they were stealing from us first, and we can buy you more presents. Yes, there is a Santa Claus would Daddy lie to you? It’s ok, i didn’t mean to hurt them, but they deserved it. You have to learn to punch back. You can have anything you want. Sure, you can watch TV. Don’t bother me kid, until I need you… Before you know it the kids are real citizens of the world, schooled in lies, covert action, coy betrayal, and manipulation. They’ll do it their way as well.

When we stumble around going everyone to his own way, we are breaking communion, not only with God, but with each other. The Church defines us a persons in communion with God through our communion with each other. We’re not persons without that. We are merely, to borrow Cicero’s word, a bunch of homunculi: automatons. Highly efficient, as far as the state’s control is concerned, but failing to live up to the God given personhood we each are called to be.

As an homunculus, “My way” is always just like everyone else’s. We are, as far as “my way” goes, as unique as penguins. But we close our eyes to that fact because it burns us, my precious. If you watch the Godfather, even Frankie had to do it someone else’s way.

So, Jesus calls us to the minds of Little Children, instead of stunted individuals. Lay aside the selfish ideas of “I know I’m right anyway” and open up to the reality of revelation. Take up the humbling and yet highly obligated throne of human responsibility. Lay down your paper crowns before the King of Kings and learn that to serve is to reign.


Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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