I tell you that because it will help us to understand today’s reading. I asked two questions before the Gospel began. The first was, was St. Peter’s comment to Jesus - “God forbid anything should ever happen to you” – was that altruistic? We have to understand what was in Peter’s mind. Unfortunately, when we read this gospel, the translators have chosen to say in the line just before it, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God,” as we heard last week. And using the word “Christ” now makes us think it’s part of Jesus’ proper name. The correct translation should have been, “You are the anointed one, the son of the living God,” because that’s who Jesus was to many people, the promised savior who would throw off the yoke of Rome, and rescue the people from their military might. In last week’s gospel, that’s what Peter had told Jesus He was, and Jesus called him a rock.
At one point in her life, my mom decided that she wanted to be a member of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians. And just as they do here in this area, the place where she was living, they met in the local Catholic church. So, on the meeting night, she went early, and she found one of the applications and filled it out and put it on the table with other people’s applications. Everybody was milling around before the meeting began and two of the officers of the Ladies AOH went over to the pile and started leafing through the names. And one said to the other, rather loudly, “Who’s Madori?” I’m sure what she meant was which one of the people standing around that we don’t recognize is this woman who’s applying? What my mother heard is, “How dare somebody, whose name ends in a vowel, apply for membership in our organization?” My mother was very proud of her Irish heritage on both sides of her family. And so she immediately took umbrage that someone would say that, walked out without ever staying for the meeting, and never had any use for the Ancient Order of Hibernians for the rest of her life.Binding and loosing is a thorny topic. What we heard this morning in the gospel, for a long, long while now has been what we call the “proof text.” During the Reformation, in the 16th century, Protestant reformers took phrases out of the scriptures to prove their points, points against Catholic doctrine. The main doctrines that they attacked were the perpetual virginity and the immaculate conception of Mary, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the apostolic succession, papal infallibility, the power of the keys, that is, the power of priests to absolve penitents in the sacrament of Penance. The last three of those all are connected with the reading we heard this morning. The apostolic succession, that is, that our church descends, in an unbroken line, from the apostles, through every generation of bishops who are ordained to take the place of the apostles. Papal infallibility, which actually wasn’t defined as a doctrine until the nineteenth century. And the sacrament of Penance.
When I was a kid growing up in the Bronx, there were certain neighborhoods you just didn’t go into, because there were gangs there. Not like the gangs today, that carry guns and sell drugs, they were just hormonal teenagers, spoiling for a fight. But still, it was better not to go there.
In senior year of high school, our class went on a retreat to a little Jesuit retreat house just outside of Tuxedo. And we were warned by the retreat master, if we were walking on the grounds, not to go into the woods beyond the markers of the retreat house property, because there were people in the wood who really didn’t like strangers, and didn’t have any quibble about taking a shot at them with a shotgun. Those people, I later learned, were called Jackson Whites.
Jackson Whites were an intermarriage between the original Ramapo Indians, part of the Leni Lenape Tribe, who lived in that area for centuries, and German Hessian soldiers, who had been employed by England during the Revolutionary War and deserted, and runaway slaves. I encountered the Jackson Whites a second time when I was a deacon in the parish in Suffern, NY. There was a very nice little community of middle class homes and neat streets located just between Rt. 17 and Rt. 59. You had to cross over a bridge that crossed the railroad depot, a place where there were about 13 or 14 tracks, where they parked freight trains overnight, to get to the little neighborhood. But it was well-known throughout Suffern that you were not wanted in that neighborhood. I used to shortcut my car through there because it saved over ten minutes trying to get to Rt. 17. But still, if you did, you got very pointed stares from any of the people walking on the streets. This little community, called Hillburn, which belonged, almost exclusively, to the descendants of Jackson Whites.
Some of the most loved stories of my childhood and my youth had to do with the sea – “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” “Kidnapped,” “Treasure Island,” “Moby Dick,” “The Old Man and the Sea.” Since ancient times, people have had a fascination with the sea. Our earliest recorded epics were the “Iliad,” the “Odyssey,” and the “Aeneid,” all of which have to do with long sea voyages. But the fascination with the sea is only one side of a coin. The other side is the terrible fear of the sea.
We think of our culture as a Western European rooted culture, but when we think of it that way, we tend to think of the map of Europe. The fact is that our culture has its roots not up there in Germany and France and the Netherlands, and places like that, but rather around the Mediterranean basin – Spain, Italy, Greece, that corner of the Middle East that borders on the Mediterranean, all across North Africa, beginning with Egypt – that’s where our culture began. And in that culture, the Mediterranean was the life of the people. It’s how they got their food. It’s how they conducted their commerce. It’s how they won their battles. Whoever controlled the sea, controlled everything. The Romans used to call it mare nostrum, our sea. As long as no one was to come over the mountains against them, they were dominant.
There’s an old Irish joke, and it’s based on reality, of course. In the old Irish villages it was customary for men not to go to Mass; that was something the women did. But they all went out to the church together. The men would stand across the street, leaning against the stone walls, smoking and talking, until their womenfolk came back out of church and they all went home together. Teenage boys would start to do that around the age of 10 or 11. They’d run off to Mass and then they’d come home, and their mothers would say, “Did you go to Mass?” And they’d say, “Yes.” And the mother would say, “What was the Gospel?” The traditional answer was, “The loaves and the fishes, Ma.”
And the reason why they got away with that lie all the time was because “the loaves and fishes” is one of the most common stories in our scriptures. In four Gospels, the story appears six times. And since it appears so often, you must realize that it was being used even before the scriptures were written, and all during the time they were written, being used to teach things about our faith. To put them in the context of the story. So as you move from one version to the next of the story, certain things change a little bit, and those changes tell us what that particular writer wanted his people to learn from the story. That’s why I asked you to listen carefully to a couple of things in the story.
Yesterday afternoon at 12:30 we had a funeral here. The person was brought into the church … for what reason? Because he is going for the final stage of his life and we are saying farewell, for him to get his recompense.
The good. The bad. The ugly. Whichever one he gets, that is what he merits. And it is a treasure we started building here on earth. It doesn’t come by chance, you have to sacrifice like this man, going to sell everything he has all just for that pearl, all for that treasure.
Over a year ago, before the sheltering made us all so tense, and before the eruption of protesting over the continued racial injustice in our country made everybody on edge, the administration of SUNY New Paltz was put upon by the student body to change the names of some of the buildings and streets on their campus. And one of the ones they wanted gone was Huguenot Street because, they said, the Huguenots owned slaves. That may or may not have been their intended purpose, but I suspect that at least why they wanted the name gone was because the kids couldn’t spell Huguenot anymore. However, you have to know this about the Huguenots to know how short-sighted that was.
The Huguenots were a group of French Protestants who grew in numbers during the 16th and 17th centuries. They were so severely persecuted by the French Catholic hierarchy and the clergy who assisted them, that there were many bloody massacres of Huguenot people in France. They scattered to other countries in Europe, but couldn’t find a safe haven and finally came to colonial America while this area of the country was still in the possession of the Dutch. They settled in New Paltz and, ironically - just down the road here on Rt. 209, just outside of Port Jervis - in a little hamlet that is still named Huguenot. They were a group of, what we call generically, separatists. So were the Pilgrims.
There’s an old chestnut from the teaching profession about a teacher who asked his or her class to write an essay about Abraham Lincoln. One kid handed in a paper that began “Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin that he helped his father build.”
Now, the kid’s heart was in the right place, but he was so enamored with the myth of Abraham Lincoln that he kind of mixed things up and made it seem that Abe was so eager to help his Dad, that he helped him build the log cabin before he was born.
Sometimes, what happens after an event, or after a story is told overshadows the original information or the original story. It prevents us from seeing the story as it began. That’s why I read the long version of today’s Gospel. Because Matthew took a parable of Jesus’ and used it as a teaching tool thirty years after Jesus spoke the words. And the difference is the difference between a parable and an allegory.
Most people know that those are the words on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Fewer people know that that’s the second stanza of a long poem called “The New Colossus.” And not too many people know who wrote it.
Her name was Emma Lazarus. Emma Lazarus was a Jewish woman who lived in the second half of the nineteenth century. But unlike many other Jewish people of her time, she was not an immigrant. Her family was here for about fifty years before the Revolutionary War. They were not poor; they left Europe to avoid persecution both from Catholics and from Protestants. They came here and they did well for themselves. Her family was wealthy, she was homeschooled, she spoke several languages fluently, and she had a massive career as a writer of essays, criticism, poetry, and novels. And she hobnobbed with some of the other famous writers of her time – Thoreau, Emerson, Henry James – they all knew each other. Among her friends was a woman named Rose Hawthorne Lathrop. If you hear the Hawthorne in there that tells you that there’s a connection there to another famous writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Those are common things we hear all the time, but they’re exaggerations. There’s a Greek word for them. It’s called hyperbole (two Greek words – hupér, meaning above and beyond, and bolus, the target or the goal), so it’s an overreaching.
How ‘bout this? I’ve told you a thousand times to stop exaggerating. That’s hyperbole about hyperbole.
There’s also another Greek word that we need to know for today’s Gospel, and that’s anachronism (from two Greek words - ana and khronos - beyond or before the time). From khronos you get English words like chronicle. I tell you that because Jesus, very frequently in His conversations and His teaching, used both hyperbole and anachronism. And there’s an anachronism in today’s Gospel that you really need to notice.