Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Some "Best Lines" in the Gospel (by people other than Jesus)

The Word Made Flesh, Jesus clearly has the best lines in the whole Bible. There are way too many of them to try to pick which ones are the best. I had a verse playing in my head the other day, something someone said to Jesus. And as it sank into my subconscious and starting bubbling back up to the surface, I thought, "That's got to be one of the best lines in the Bible!"

I started looking for other lines like that, and decided to limit it to the Gospels because Paul and Peter and the other epistle writers had, of course, volumes of great lines crammed in their letters and, honestly, I haven't read all of the Old Testament. So I give you, in (mostly) no particular order, my take on:

The Best Lines in the Gospel by People Other Than Jesus

1) "Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)

This is the line that got me started. It is a perfect, one-line prayer for us imperfect, sinful saints in progress, and one I use a lot. (Right up there with the line of the Psalmist, "O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me.") So many times my faith falls short--and I am tempted to blame God for it, because isn't faith supernatural? Could I even have faith on my own if God had not given it to me? But I also know I am my own worst enemy, and I cannot expect to grow in my faith if I do not cooperate with Him; that my own sin often blocks His grace in my soul; and that even this is not an obstacle for Him if I allow Him to work in my soul and do not permit my pride to lead me into despair. This prayer helps me turn my weaknesses over to God so He can turn them into strengths.

2) "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." Matthew 15:27

This is the Canaanite woman who comes out to Jesus and begs her to heal her demon-tormented daughter, and she is initially refused on the ostensible grounds that she is not of God's chosen people. I recently read that Jesus must have been delighted by her clever turning of His language. I love this verse for several reasons. First, she is so confident and bold in her faith--like many of the beneficiaries of Jesus' miracles, she knew Jesus could help her. Then, what boldness to lead her, in the first place, to approach a renowned figure who is other to her. She obviously knew what Jews typically thought of her kind, calling them "dogs" as a matter of course. But to persist after he has apparently rejected her! What courage faith gives her! And look what she says. Not only does she turn a common epithet to her advantage in her petition; but when she compares her request to the idea of mere crumbs of what Jesus has to offer, she shows us how high is her estimation of the immense wealth of Christ's mercy.

3) "Lord, it is good that we are here." Matthew 17:4

Poor, clueless Peter. He means well, but he doesn't even get done with his idea to camp out and pay homage to the transfigured Christ with Moses and Elijah, before he's cut off in shock and awe by the voice of God. But here's the thing. He knows something special is happening, and he's prepared to act on it.

Meditating on this is having Eucharistic implications for me. Ironically, Jesus is hidden in the form of bread rather than shining in glory in the Blessed Sacrament. But it is no less Jesus on the altar than it was Jesus on Mount Tabor. As someone who longs to get to Adoration but finds it difficult in practice to do so, I appreciate Peter's sentiment. You have to "be here" to be blown away by the grace of God that is available through the Real Presence.

4) "Be it done unto me according to your word." Luke 1:38

Mary's fiat, which presages Jesus' own perfect submission and obedience when He says to His Father, "But not my will but yours be done." Jesus' obedience even to death opened the way of life to the world. Mary's obedience didn't lead to her death, but it came close a couple of times. Mary perfectly images her Son, which is why she is a model for all Christians. (By the way, I was an adult by the time I learned something of the premium the saints place on obedience as a way of conforming to Christ, but that's a topic for another post, I suppose.)

5) "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." (Luke 2:48)

This seems to be the other end of the spectrum for Mary--that's why I love it. This so speaks to my mother's-heart. Immaculate Mary, the perfect mother, has lost her son. Her "tween" son, if you know what I mean. I have imagined this so many ways, allowing for the sinlessness of the main players. I wonder: how exasperated did she get? How much attitude did Jesus have explaining to His mother? How much relief at finding him, and chagrin at dismaying her, were felt? And there's this: sinless as she was, perfectly as her will conformed, she did not know everything of the mind of God.

And how many people, good Christians who in theory understand the value of suffering and why bad things happen to good people, come to a trial in their lives--some great grief or great anxiety--and say to the Son of God, "Why are you doing this to me?" Well, Mary said it too.

6) "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." John 11:21-22

This is Martha speaking to Jesus about Lazarus. In the midst of her pain, she expresses her faith in Jesus. Jesus in turn meets her where she is and walks her through that faith, leading her to affirm her belief that He is the Messiah. Martha's sister Mary, says the exact same line--"If you had been here, my brother would not have died." Her statement prompts a very different response from Jesus, one that in itself is profoundly worth pondering. But I love how Martha turns to Jesus in grief and trust and receives his strengthening Word.

7) "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." Luke 5:8

Peter gets it wrong again, I guess. But I totally get it. We sinful creatures need Jesus, but sometimes, we see the vast gulf between our sinfulness and his holiness and we turn him away. Sometimes it is out of humility, in which we recognize with not a little fear how unworthy we are. But sometimes it is out of false humility--that sickly, twisted version of pride in which we remove ourselves from God's healing grace because we are too good to approach his goodness while we are so bad, or something like that. You can tell the difference by your response to what he says next. When He goes, do you wallow in self-pity and blame, or do you leave your self-image behind and follow Him?

Seeing how I just picked a few quick verses based on my own memories and reactions to them, there are bound to be plenty I missed. What would you choose as a "best line"?

Addendum: I have been working on this for about a week and a half, but I just saw this meme at Melanie's The Wine Dark Sea, which is in my blog reader, and Daria's Coffee and Canticles, which I just added. I am shamelessly jumping on their coattails, despite the fact that I clearly break the rules by having too many verses and excluding 69 of the books in the Bible. Also, since I was not tagged, I'm not tagging anyone, but if you play along or have a thought, I'd love to hear about it.

1 comment:

Melanie B said...

Ooooh I love your list. What a fun theme. And as for breaking the rules... I'm always breaking the rules of memes by adding extras to lists because I get too excited. And I think Daria limited her list by just choosing verses from last week's Liturgy of the Hours.


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