A spirituality of writing it all down
A Reflection for Saturday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Writers may struggle with the competing thoughts in today’s readings: The angel Raphael tells Tobit and Tobiah, after revealing the angel’s role in their fantastic adventures, to “write down all these things that have happened to you.” It’s sound advice. Someone writing down what happened long ago is how we get to read any extant part of the Bible.
We are indebted to the physical survival of journals and diaries, like the one kept by Anne Frank while she and her family hid from the Nazis, for giving us a firsthand account of important moments in history. When we read about the suffering others have gone through, we are made wiser even as we are infused with compassion. We also understand the necessity to prevent such atrocities from recurring in our day. The angel Raphael directs Tobit and Tobiah to record their experiences for the praise and glory of God, so that posterity will benefit from knowing that their arduous journey ended in joy. Writing it down, then, is an urgency. It is a holy task, sparked by grace, a way to preserve the past and transmit information and enlighten present-day readers.
Writers are either doing the Lord’s work or heading for “a very severe condemnation,” per today’s readings. We’d best write carefully!
Just when we writers are feeling pretty good about our calling, Jesus takes us down a peg. “Beware of the scribes,” he says, going on to describe in detail their pride and hypocrisy and cruelty. At the time of Jesus, the scribes were scholars who studied the law and drafted legal documents for the community. They probably had a lot of issues with Jesus’ seeming disregard for tradition. The scribes were respected local dignitaries, but even the least of us bloggers and freelancers can still puff ourselves up over the weight of our work. We’ve been known to “go around in long robes.”
Which is it? Writers are either doing the Lord’s work or heading for “a very severe condemnation,” per today’s readings. We’d best write carefully! Circling back, the thing that Raphael and Jesus do agree on is the sacred obligation to almsgiving. “It is better to give alms than to store up gold,” says Raphael, and Jesus, as he often does, takes the admonition further. Not only should we not hoard our riches, we should not stop at giving only from our “surplus wealth.” The long robes and the seats of honor that Jesus opposes are for us perhaps our ostentatious displays of affluence or our posturing in the front pew in church. The work of Jesus is to be of humble, uncomfortable service. We are to sit in the back if that makes room for others. We are to contribute all we have to give: like the poor widow, the act of our giving matters more than the amount. And when we have done all that we are able, then we can, in all humility, write it down.