16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: The Greatest Story Ever Told

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In the Ancient World, gods were a dime-a-dozen. Some people had their favorites but for the most part, folks were not very picky about which gods they worshipped on a given day. Which is why, among the neighboring kingdoms and city-states, the Nation of Israel was — unusual.

The Israelites were pretty obsessive about their One God. They collected all the stories and all the writings they could find; they studied and pored over every little detail; they debated and argued endlessly about the sundry minutiae contained in those writings. Basically what I’m saying is, Judaism is the original Geek Culture.

In our first reading, from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, there has been a splintering of that culture. Like Star Trek fans when a new show is introduced; like Doctor Who fans whenever a new Doctor is introduced; like Star Wars fans whenever — well really whenever anything new happens — the people of Israel had been scattered, fragmented, wandered off. Lost sheep in need of a shepherd.

But God, the Executive Producer and Artistic Visionary of this franchise we call Reality, would truly love to have everyone united in the enjoyment of His Creative (one might even say Beatific) Vision. In a way, the challenge here is the same as we see in any popular franchise — how to keep fans happy without shutting out potential newcomers. Saint Paul addresses this in the second reading, from Ephesians: “In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity…” he speaks of the uniting of Jews and non-Jews — the circumcised and the uncircumcised.

Saint Paul was a key figure for promoting God’s brand outside the existing fan-base. In that respect, his idea of waiving circumcision as a prerequisite to conversion was a brilliant marketing strategy. And better yet, it was canon. The prophets had already spoken of the “circumcision of the heart,” that a spiritual transformation is more meaningful than the physical. Paul simply expands on that to make conversion less intimidating.

Geek Culture, really, is about a way of life. It’s the stories that support a particular worldview, and the characters who embody those ideals. In this case, we have the Author making Himself a character in the story — in our story. As the Good Shepherd He leads us, guides us, brings us into the narrative and helps us find our place in it all.