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The Fairness of God’s Embrace: Reflections on Sunday’s Readings

by Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello

In my day job as a professor of American Studies I work to help my students question and explore “facts” about the United States that are often taken for granted. The standard narrative (the supposed “fact”) that I’ve just finished exploring with one class is the notion that “America is the Land of Opportunity”. We have thought about where this idea comes from, the cultural and political structures and systems that keep it alive, and its limits. Just last week we considered the ways in which unspoken advantages of gender (male), race (white), language spoken (English), and class (middle/upper) have opened up opportunities for some while making opportunities hard to access for others. After thinking about women, people of color, non-English speaking Americans and those without family support or a bit of luck, commonly held beliefs are harder for my students to sustain uncritically. What looks like an issue of “hard work” = success at first glance gets a lot more complicated. Class materials often upset my students’ sense of the United States as a pure meritocracy where fairness reigns.

Fairness. The sense that dedication and following the rules matters. Fairness. It is something that I honor and desire and encourage. I suspect this is in part a result of growing up in a family of six siblings and complex family negotiations. Fairness. It is something that my 8-year-old seems particularly sensitive to in playground debates and when discussing the relative size of desserts. Fairness…it is something that I can’t get away from when reading and reflecting on this week’s readings – especially the Gospel. When I engage with the text via my Ignatian training and imagine myself in the story I always find myself to be one of the unnamed persons on the street who is angered by the choice Jesus makes: Zacchaeus gets to host him? Really? Really…..? It doesn’t seem “fair”. “So what,” I find myself thinking against my best wishes. “So what that he said he will (future tense!) give away his possessions (hrmph!). He’s been taking advantage of others forever!” (Insert your favorite self-righteous stomp and head shake here).

And then I return to the first reading and I am swept into a gentle reminder and into a softness of metaphor and imagery where I am called to let go of my bean-counting sensibilities and remember that I too am a sinner and that I too am one of God’s creations and that I too am loved and embraced—because I too am of God and God is in me. The lyricism of the phrases (“how could a thing remain, unless you willed it/or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?”) calls me to see myself and then to see others in a new light. We are worthy, we are loved, we are OK. I can understand the gospel more fully in this light. I still can’t picture myself as Zacchaeus. I can’t see the story through his eyes, but I notice him in the tree and I am more aware of his desire to find a way (back?) to God. I know this path.

But I would be remiss if I did not own up to the fact that as a woman in the Catholic church I am stuck on the “fairness” issue: There are so many who are called. There are so many who are ready now. There are so many who have fought the good fight and lived the good life and are ready to take up posts as leaders in the church and these women, these people made in God’s image…are not invited in. I think that my fixation on fairness may need to stick around for a while.

Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello holds a PhD in American and New England studies from Boston University. She is currently an assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies and coordinator of American studies at Salem State College in Salem, Massachusetts, where she teaches many courses inspired by her time in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in the 1990s.


3 Responses

  1. Will we be able to see more of these reflections on the weekly readings? Great stuff here.

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Jake! We appreciate it.

    As it turns out, we have pushed pause, so to speak, on the blogging for a time. However, there are lots of past reflections on Sunday readings and the book’s chapter topics, if you’d like to explore more in the interim.

    Thanks for your interest!

  3. Thanks for sarhnig. Always good to find a real expert.

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