Several weeks ago, I saw a department store’s advertisement that was titled “How to spark joy.” The ad read, “Try these five things to bring you some joy. 1. Indulge in a hair care ritual; 2. Put on your activewear and get moving; 3. Restore your skin; 4. Take a bubble bath; 5. Welcome spring with a new pair of slip-ons.
The ad came, of course, in the midst of the pandemic when many people needed a hair care ritual – just a haircut would have been welcomed; many craved activity as they spent weeks at home; a little pampering of self would have been very appealing. The department store was clever with its marketing, as it tried not only to speak to these needs but to help people do something to bring them joy in the face of a lot of bleakness.
Now, what if an advertisement read: Try these things to bring you some joy.
One, when told you may ask something of God and God will give it to you, take a page out of King Solomon’s playbook and ask for an understanding heart. Yes, an understanding heart – or in the Hebrew, a listening heart, if you prefer. Don’t ask for a long life for yourself, or for riches or for your enemies to fall. Ask only for a listening heart. Now, this isn’t really just for you; you probably won’t feel pampered. In fact, an understanding heart will require you to step outside of yourself and listen, really listen – accompany others and act with compassion and wisdom. This, God promises, will give you joy.
Two, if you find a treasure in a field, hide it again and then act with reckless abandon by selling everything you own to buy the field. Too risky, you say? Doesn’t make sense?
Well, how about if you find a pearl of great price, sell all you have and buy the pearl. How do I know this is a good investment?, you ask. You’ll need to throw caution to the wind and trust that you will know deep joy.
You might find joy in proclaiming and building up the reign of God, which will require you to invite everyone to share in God’s reign – without judgment about their personal character. “Our job,” as Thomas Merton wrote, “is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.” “That,” he adds, “is not our business.” We should find joy simply in sharing the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ and in building up the reign of God by loving others – as in everyone – not a select few, not just the ones we like or could benefit us, not just the ones whom we think are like us – but loving everyone. The people who make us uncomfortable, those whom we don’t personally know, those who are very different from ourselves, those who need our listening hearts and who likely will not give us some advantage. But here we will find deep and ever-lasting joy.
Finally, rather than buying a new pair of slip-ons, seek joy by rummaging through your storeroom and bringing out the old and the new. And let us not only rummage in our own storerooms but in the storeroom of the Church; we will find there treasures to share but also the new that challenges us to broaden our ways of being Church in the world by leaning in with listening hearts, accompanying all persons, naming and eradicating injustices, caring for the earth, and boldly proclaiming the truth. This will show that we have listened to Jesus’ teachings about the reign of God.
The parables we find in today’s gospel passage conclude a series of seven parables in this chapter of Matthew. Funny thing about parables; they disrupt our ways of thinking, our ways of trying to resolve things and keep life tidy. As Herbert Anderson and Ed Foley wrote, parables “show the seams and edges of the myths we fashion. Parables show the fault lines beneath the comfortable surfaces of the worlds we build for ourselves. [They] are agents of change and sometimes disruption.” (Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals)
In many ways, the pandemic we are living through is a parable. We are experiencing disruption in untoward ways. We don’t yet even realize the fault lines beneath the comfortable surfaces we have constructed for ourselves. But if we are willing to enter the parabolic process, we will eventually create new parables that will bring not only deeper understanding about this time but will bring us joy.
Of course, none of this is for sale; you can’t go online, put these ways to joy in your cart and do one-click ordering. It’s free gift. Now, would you like to place your order?
Anne Koester is with Georgetown University, Washington, DC, where she has been an adjunct instructor with the Theology Department since 2003. She also oversees the RCIA process and is co-facilitator of the “Women Who Stayed” initiative at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in DC. A former trial lawyer, Anne studied theology, with a concentration in liturgy, at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. She has worked at the Notre Dame Center for Pastoral Liturgy and the Georgetown Center for Liturgy. From 2004-2007, Anne served on the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Women in the Church and Society. She is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy and its Christian Initiation Seminar group.
Anne is the author of Sunday Mass: Our Role and Why It Matters (Liturgical Press, 2007), co-author of Liturgy and Ministry in Times of Need (Liturgy Training Publications, publication expected 2020) and Liturgy and Discipleship: Preparing Worship that Inspires and Transforms (Liturgy Training Publications, publication expected 2020), editor of Liturgy and Justice: To Worship God in Spirit and in Truth (Liturgical Press, 2002), and co-editor of Vision: The Scholarly Contributions of Mark Searle to Liturgical Renewal (Liturgical Press, 2004) and Called to Participate: Theological, Ritual and Social Perspectives by Mark Searle (Liturgical Press, 2006). She is also published in Worship, Liturgical Ministry, Spiritual Life, Homily Service, among others.
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