Ordinary Time for Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times
Rev Dr Nancy Parent Bancroft
According to the liturgical calendar, which guides when we celebrate what we celebrate, and is followed by many Christian Churches throughout the world, today is the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time refers to all of those parts of the year that fall outside of the two great seasons of Christmastide and Eastertide, or of their respective preparatory seasons of Advent and Lent. The Feast of the Baptism of the Jesus, which ordinarily occurs on the Sunday after Epiphany (January 6), begins Ordinary Time.
Ordinary Time is called “ordinary” not because it is common but simply because the weeks of Ordinary Time are numbered. The Latin word ordinalis, refers to numbers in a series, from which we get the English words order and ordinal. The numbered weeks of Ordinary Time, present stories of the historical Jesus, in a four-year cycle, each year from the perspective of one of the gospel writers, in an ordered sequence so that each year we have the opportunity to reflect and learn from them and apply them to our ever-changing life situation. Thus, for us, Ordinary Time is the part of the year in which Christ walks among us and, if we are attentive, transforms our lives. There’s nothing “ordinary” about that!
We have just one and a half weeks of ordinary time left before we begin the season of Lent. During that time, Lent, we will hear the familiar stories of Jesus, these same ones repeated each year, that led up to his death and resurrection, and because we are so accustomed to hearing them year after year, it’s easy for us to miss their new messages to us.
During his public life Jesus taught through words and actions. His two most constant themes were that all are included in the reign of God and each individual is of immeasurable worth. Of course, this was music to the ears of the disenfranchised, all who were marginalized – the poor, tax collectors, shepherds, women, children, Samaritans – everyone who didn’t count for much or who were shunned. And naturally, Jesus drew in crowds made up of these people who had felt excluded, derided, ignored, and now were welcomed. But this teaching of Jesus, and the growing number of his followers was considered dangerous by the religious and civil leaders who held the power and intended to keep it. In a week and a half, when we enter the season of Lent, we will hear, as we do each year those very familiar stories of Jesus challenging the powers by what he says and what he does, until finally, he is put to death.
Years ago, when I taught developmental psychology at what was then Kennebeck Valley Technical College, we spent time looking at how amazingly quickly the human brain develops from before birth to two years of age and how that is exemplified by what two-year-olds begin to understand – things that were foreign to them before their neurological development up to that time. Here’s an example:
If you point to something that you want an eighteen-month-old to look at, say a toy across the room or something outside, let’s say a dog; no matter how smart that baby is, he or she will not look at what you are pointing at. That child will look at your finger. By two years old, in a healthy child who who’s development progresses as it should, the brain has developed such that now he or she can, when you point to something, follow the invisible line from your fingertip to where you are pointing.
When it comes to scripture, we too can be like pre-toddlers. We can passively listen to the familiar stories about Jesus that we have heard so often, that we miss what he is pointing at. It’s so easy for us to sit back and listen complacently to nice stories about him and them. He is challenging his apostles about this. He is teaching the crowds about that. We see the stories about him and them and not the message to us now. But the stories have been canonized because they point to what Jesus wants us to look at.
Jesus lived and died trying to teach us about what God is like and how we are expected to be like God – welcoming, respecting, valuing all of creation, compassionate, forgiving, generous, non-retaliatory, seeking justice for all.
In Chapter six of Luke’s Gospel, from which this morning’s reading is taken, there are several accounts of Jesus teaching his disciples or the crowds. This segment might be entitled, Days in the Life of. . .
At the start of the chapter we read, “One day, as Jesus was walking through some grainfields…” Then in the same chapter, verse six, we read, On another Sabbath day, and again in verse twelve we read, One day soon afterward. . . And in each of these stories, Jesus teaches through what he says and what he does. They are all stories that we have heard before, but today their message is to us, and if, as Jesus challenges, we are willing to listen, it will be a new message for us in our present situation, with our present mind set. We need to follow that invisible line from what Jesus pointed to 2000 years ago to where we are right now.
Twenty years ago, when I meditated on, “love your enemies!” I had no notion of the intensity of the political divide that we would be experiencing at this point in time, and how I would feel towards “the other party”. Ten years ago, when I heard, “Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you”, I had no concept that this might be because I was wearing a mask. And when I considered the words, “Pray for those who hurt you” five years ago, I did’nt think about people who refuse to get vaccinated. The messages canonized in 200 AD continue to provide us with new invitations for how we are called to live – for who we are called to be. Let’s make sure that we aren’t stuck in the mindset of an infant only enjoying hearing stories about Jesus and others, but that we use our developed mental state to consider what the stories are pointing to for us in our time. Maybe this week we would do well to re-read today’s Gospel and consider what message is meant for each of us.
I chose for our second reading this morning a poem For the Interim Time, by John O’Donohue. O’Donohue describes it as a Blessing for all those going through a time of change at the moment. And though that is us all of the time. since all, including us, is ever-changing, we really are experiencing being between times in a very dramatic way these days. The poet paints an accurate picture of our present life, “Where everything seems withheld.” O’Donohue, I think, aptly describes where many of us feel we are, “The path you took to get here has washed out; The way forward is still concealed from you.”
And then, wise as he is, O’Donohue offers sage advice,
“As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.
What is being transfigured here is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become for your arrival in the new dawn.”
Yes, wise guidance! Have we sunk any of our roots in false ground? Have we had too much confidence in what we now recognize to be fleeting? Maybe with the problems of supply and demand, the rise in the cost of living and the level of contagion of the various strains of the virus. we’ve grown in appreciation of just how interconnected we are with each other and with all things.
O’Donohue ends by offering us encouragement. He says, “. . .it is difficult and slow to become new. The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become.” How do we endure faithfully? We try to be open to each present moment, ready to learn, willing to let go.
This time, like any other ordinary time holds its own grace, invitations to grow, to deepen our relationship with the divine, to recognize our oneness with all of creation and to discover the invitation in that realization.
To what are you called?