Actor Dennis Weaver's recent death reminded
me of something he said once in a radio interview. When asked about his
years as Marshal Matt Dillon's sidekick in the "Gunsmoke" TV
series, he pointed out, "All the old movie and TV western heroes have
sidekicks. It's the only way the audience can find out what the hero's
Such characters are as much as dramatic device
in westerns as soliloquies are in Shakespeare's plays. Without them, we'd
never know what's going on in someone's mind.
Rev. Raymond Brown, a Scripture scholar, was
convinced that the authors of the Bible used angels in a similar way-as
literary devices giving readers the meaning behind specific events.
Where is He?
For example, in the Gospel for the Easter Vigil
(Mark 16:1-8), Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James; and Salome come
upon an empty tomb. The absence of Jesus' body can be interpreted in
different ways: Someone could have taken it, or they might have gone to the
We need Mark's "young man" to give
the definitive Christian interpretation: "You are looking for Jesus of
Nazareth, the one who was crucified. He has been raised up; He is not
None of us goes around with sidekicks or breaks
into a soliloquy during significant times of our life; nor do angels
suddenly appear to provide us with the meaning behind our experiences. We
live a life overflowing with unknowns. It's our responsibility to surface
the meaning behind the people, events and situations that otherwise pass
through our lives in a meaningless procession.
St. Paul, in the eighth reading for the Easter
Vigil (Romans 6:3-11), supplies us with the meaning of our first formal step
in the faith: Baptism. He states that when people are immersed in the water
of Baptism, they're committing themselves to be immersed just as deeply
into this death-dealing world as the historical Jesus was.
When they're lifted up out of the water, they're
proclaiming that they're now experiencing the same life the Father gave
Most Scripture scholars believe the Exodus
account of the crossing of the sea (Exodus 14:15-15:1) has been greatly
exaggerated, both by several hundred years of oral tradition and by the
author's attempt to show the significance of the event. If it happened
exactly the way our passage describes, how could anyone ever gripe and
complain about Yahweh bringing them out of Egypt, as some of them do later
in the wilderness?
The author has undoubtedly integrated his or
her interpretation into the narrative, so that we, the readers can instantly
see something in the crossing that probably took the original participants
years to understand.
That's why it's good to listen carefully to
what Yahweh proclaims in the passage from Isaiah (Isaiah 54:5-14):
"Though the mountains leave this place and the hills be shaken, my love
will never leave you; nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says Yahweh, who
has mercy on you."
Perhaps the only way we can understand what God
thinks about us or surface the meaning of God's actions in our lives is to
return to something the prophet assumed all followers of God would assume:
God loves us and will never desert us, even during those moments when we
feel unloved and deserted.
Especially on the night of the Easter Vigil,
our readings remind us that we live a life of faith. Yet, when we want to
convey our experience of faith to others, we often have to fall back on as
many "devices" as our sacred authors did.