The Propers for the Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project
Missa In voluntate tua Domine
THE HOLY PROPHET, JOB the Longsuffering, appears very unexpectedly in this Mass. I turned the page and my eyes nearly popped out. But I think he provides the fullest context for these texts but, as always, we will begin with the Collect. We ask God to keep safe his household (the Church) so that she can do good works to glorify him. As Jesus says, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and praise your Father which is in heaven.” This is a prayer asking God to let the Church be the Church. What are these things we’re being defended from? In the minor propers for today there are essentially three different tones of voice: one celebrating God as our refuge & liberator (Gradual and Alleluia), another begging for safe from or justice against those who attack us (Secret, Communion, and Postcommunion), and the third is signified by the difficult presence of Job and pounded home by the Introit and the Offertory.
The name of the Mass, In voluntate tua, Domine, universa sunt posita. It comes from the Book of Esther. “All things are in Thy will, O Lord; and there is none that can resist Thy will: for Thou hast made all things, heaven and earth, and all things that are under the cope of heaven: Thou art Lord of all.” (These are lines not in the Protestant version of Esther at all.) The Introit says, literally, everything is in God’s hands. Nothing moves without God’s will. Take with that the Offertory, “There was a man in the land of Hus, whose name was Job, simple, and upright, and fearing God: whom Satan besought that he might tempt: and power was given him from the Lord over his possessions and his flesh; and he destroyed all his substance and his children; and wounded his flesh also with a grievous ulcer.”
All things are in Thy will, O Lord. Does God will us evil?
We want to look out on the world and point at people – political enemies, criminals, management, the bourgeoisie, the 1%, the other races, the dreaded heterosexual, white, cisgendered male, the them of the world. We are certain that they are doing this to us. The Communists, the Capitalists, the Statists, the Q Qultists, the Antifa, the Fascists. We’re constantly constructing world views where we (almost always “we”, sometimes “I” though) are on the inside. We like being on the inside, feeling persecuted. They, them, those folks over there are the bad guys.
Yet in the Epistle St Paul reminds us,
Quoniam non est nobis colluctatio adversus carnem et sanguinem, sed adversus principes, et potestates, adversus mundi rectores tenebrarum harum, contra spiritualia nequitiae, in caelestibus. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.Ephesians 6:12
Our Battle is never against other people created in God’s image. Even if someone is kicking in your door and getting ready to slay you for the faith they are not your enemy. Why are they not your enemy? God loves them too and as much as he wants you in heaven for eternity he wants them to be there with you.
One of my favorite stories from the Talmud has God weeping in heaven as the Israelites are singing his praises on the far bank of the Red Sea. When the Angels join in the celebration God hushes them and remind them that The Egyptians are my children too.
We wrestle not with flesh and blood. But we forget that all the time: St Paul tells us to put one the whole armor of God, and gives us glorious imagery: loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace in all things taking the shield of faith,… the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. You can see a Knight standing in front of you with those words, can you not? At least in Paul’s language he was probably thinking more of a Gladiator in the arena, a roman slave dressed up for a life-or-death battle with an enemy. But who was the enemy? In the arena, it was probably another slave. But the real enemy was the one making them fight.
Why are we dressed up like this in metaphor, though? Not to fight other slaves, but rather to look out for the fiery darts of the evil one. Our enemy is the one who goes about like a lion looking for someone to devour. This is why Job shows up in this Mass. When Temptation happens, when Tribulation happens, when someone starts to push our buttons, when They burn Churches, when They yell at Pope Francis because they don’t like what he says, when They accuse you of being a Christian Hate-Monger at work, when They mock the church on Twitter, when They counsel us to buy guns and lock the Churches during mass to keep Them out; when these things happen we have two choices: to fight against whatever They, Them, or Those is standing in front of us, or to pray for them and try to win them over to Jesus through acts of love.
Are the Egyptians not my children too? Jesus has strong words for us in the Gospel today if we forget the Egyptians are his children.
Let me presume to retell this Parable like this. A young Catholic realizing that she had a mortal sin on her soul goes to confession before Mass. She makes a very good confession. Having received absolution, she goes to Mass and receives our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Then she goes to Coffee hour (you may remember Coffee hours from before the plague struck us). At Coffee hour she runs into a friend and they decide to go out to brunch. (You may remember Sunday brunch from before the plague struck as well.) They are joined at brunch by two others who were not at Mass. Since it’s just before election season a political conversation arises and our heroine finds herself to be alone in a political minority at the table. It’s never dawned on her that a Roman Catholic could either ever vote the other way. Instantly she launches into a harangue that makes her friend cry. The other two at the table wonder to themselves that this is how Catholics treat each other after Mass on Sunday.
I remember reading a line from an Anglican theologian, whose name I’ve completely forgot even though the line has stuck with me in paraphrase. It goes like this: “In the presence of Infinite Love it is rude to point out the difference between two of his servants.” Are the Egyptians not my children too?
Where the minor propers speak of God as our refuge and our surety and our protection they are not assuring us protection from the world. Rather they are asking for God to protect us from the evil one’s servants who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. To ruin souls you only need to get them to fight against each other. Anytime our temptations turn us to hating our brothers and sisters – and by that I mean any other human being – then we are at risk not for killing them or getting ourselves injured but rather at risk of losing our own souls.
Mass today seems to say all things are in God’s control. I’m okay with that. By adding St Job into the mix the Mass seems to say even the evil one’s actions happened to us at God’s will, or at least at his allowance. I don’t presume to explain why but St Paul also has that answer, although it may not always be obvious. Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. We may not know in this world how it is possible for this to be true, but the “Good” here means our salvation. All things are working for our salvation. And, really, not just “ours” but everyones. The choice we have to make daily is to cooperate or not.
Job’s presence at this Mass reminds us that sometimes things can get pretty bad indeed. But we should wait on God, trust in his mercy, and never forget that humans are never our enemies. They are only acting that way because they are deluded by the Prince of Lies. Our resolution should be not to pass laws to stop them, to higher guards to protect us, or to buy guns to slay them. Our resolution should be to win them to Christ.
For we wrestle not with flesh and blood: the Egyptians are God’s children too.
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