FUMBLING FOR MEANING
I’m no exegete; and my Greek is long behind me, so I cannot make any useful comment on the original text – which probably means that the rest of this Post will serve only to advertise my ignorance, and excite the derision of scholars ! - but my attention was caught today by an injunction in the Second Reading in the Office of Readings – a passage from the First Epistle of Pope S. Clement to the Corinthians (1 Clem 59,4, to be exact).
It appears in the midst of a list of requests to God, all the rest of which make more-or-less good sense : ‘qui in tribulatione sunt, libera, humilium miserere, lapsos eleva, inopibus occurre, infirmos sana, errantes populi tui converte’.
Or (in the words of the Divine Office) ‘Deliver the afflicted, pity the lowly, raise the fallen . . . heal the sick, and bring home thy wandering people’.
All those are fine; it was ‘inopibus occurre’ which baffled me, as I took it to mean ‘occur to (possibly ‘meet’) those in need’; which really didn’t seem to make much sense.
The Divine Office gave me ‘Reveal thyself to the needy’; and subsequent enquiry (Deo Gratias for the internet !) in various translations of the Epistle found ‘Show thyself unto the needy’ (Lightfoot), ‘Appear to those who are in need’ (Hoole), and ‘Upon those in need, arise’ (Keith) – none of which left me very much the wiser.
All the rest of the requests made, as I say, good sense; but the suggestion that God might improve the lot of ‘those in need’ by appearing to them seemed to me to be rather less on a practical footing than (say) the suggestion that He ‘heal the sick’.
However, as I pondered it, I think I began to see a little more light.
The rest of the list only seems to be straightforward; possibly because of the reference to the sick, which appears obvious (coupled, perhaps, with the fact that this list is followed by another which begins ‘Feed thou the hungry . . .’).
In fact I think the rather curious phrase which caught my eye was the clue to the fact that these requests are the things which we ought to be asking God to do for us spiritually : not, in other words, to concern Himself (or rather, we ought not to concern ourselves) with temporal matters, but rather with spiritual ones.
Looked at in that light, the whole list not only makes sense as a list of individual petitions, but as a consideration of almost all the spiritual ills to which we are subject : affliction, lowliness, fallenness, neediness, sickness, and errancy.
Fallenness – the condition of being human, and afflicted by Original Sin – is the abiding lot of all of us; and whilst (with the assistance of the Grace of God) it is open to us to strive against that state, as it is inherent in us, it is also not something which we naturally perceive as a problem – hence the desire that God appear to us, to show us His glory, and thus inspire us to make use of the grace which He offers, and seek Him actively.
Indeed, as I thought, it occurred to me that ‘appearing to us’ is perhaps the greatest gift He can give us, as by doing so He not only offers us His grace, He also motivates us to accept and make use of it, and provides us with a target – His ineffable love – to aim for.
Perhaps that’s why the Lesson is today, the first day of Ordinary Time after the Epiphany Season when we have considered the three epiphanic events of Jesus’ life !