I sure hope the Sanhedrin isn’t in session. Otherwise, my brother and I might have a little ‘splaining’ to do.
Some context: If you go to Mass today, you’re going to hear a gospel passage that contains an unfamiliar word: ‘raqa.’
It’s an Aramaic term that St. Matthew puts on the lips of Jesus himself – as in:
…whoever says to his brother, Raqa,
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin…
The evangelist doesn’t bother to translate the word. So on the way out of 6:30 Mass, I asked our celebrant about its etymology. As it happened, one of my younger brothers was right there at my side when Fr. Tim shared his brief (and marginally vague) take on the term. Fair enough: It was awfully early in the morning to be peppering the priest with oddball inquiries.
Then – quite naturally – neither my brother nor I could resist the temptation to do exactly the opposite of what Jesus had warned against in the gospel passage. ‘Raqa, you!’ one of us said, playfully. ‘No, raqa you!’ the other replied. At which point, Fr. Tim kiddingly suggested that we both go to confession before presenting ourselves at Mass again. (I think he was kidding, anyway.)
A bit later, I had the chance to read up on raqa. While its meaning is obscure, the translation seems to run along the lines of ‘imbecile’ or ‘blockhead.’ Not a terribly charitable thing to be saying – even in jest (and lamentably, perhaps not far off from some of the things my brother and I may have said in anger to each other at various long-ago points in our lives).
Today, though, raqa came to me as a gift: an Aramaic word, which is to say, the actual auditory event that came forth from the mouth of Jesus. It’s untranslated – and therefore, unlike 99.9% of the other words we encounter in Scripture. Jesus used his very own breath…tongue…lips…palate…vocal chords…to say ‘raqa’ out loud. All of which links ‘raqa’ to this mysterious gift we call ‘incarnation.’ God coming to us, in human form. Dwelling among us. Speaking our language. Meeting us where we are – even if that ‘where’ might traipse ever-so-slightly into the realm of the uncharitable.
A remarkable, almost incomprehensible gift – incarnation.
And who better to help me recognize the depth of this mystery than a dear brother…one who’s been loving me, and showing me the face of Christ, for nearly 60 years?
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.