Thursday, April 19, 2012

Reflection for April 22, 2012

Why all the fuss?

In the 1970 film Little Big Man we follow the adventures of a fellow named Jack Crabb (played by Dustin Hoffman) during the Indian Wars of the 1870’s. Crabb, early on, is captured and taken into a Cheyenne tribe led by Old Lodge Skins (played by Chief Dan George), whom he thereafter refers to as “grandfather”. Circumstances then return him to his own people but later on he is reunited with Old Lodge Skins – and when he reenters Old Lodge Skins’s tepee, the Chief, who is blind in his old age, welcomes Jack (or Little Big Man) back, saying, “Greetings, my son. Do you want to eat?” No rising, no outstretched arms, embraces, tears, no fuss (as in our parable of the Prodigal Son) but simply, “Greetings, my son. Do you want to eat?”

Later on, after much harassment by the U. S. Cavalry, Old Lodge Skins in a quiet moment decides it is “a good day to die” and invites Little Big Man to climb with him from their encampment up a mountain to a place he has chosen to lie down and die. After a ritual dance and chant and words of thanksgiving to the Spirit who lives at the center of the universe, the old Chief lies prone on his back, face to the sky. He closes his eyes and waits - with Little Big Man (Dustin Hoffman) watching. After a while it begins to rain hard and Old Lodge Skins gets up shakily, saying something like, “Sometimes the magic doesn’t work.” Then aided by Little Big Man he begins to return to his encampment saying, “Let’s go back to the tepee and eat.”

Old Lodge Skins believes the universe has a center (as does our biblical and church tradition). His problem with modern white men is: “ . . . they are strange. They do not seem to know where the center of the Earth is.” Knowing that himself, he seems always calm, graceful, not easily excited like modern “civilized” people. And so when he is reunited with Little Big Man he simply says, “Do you want to eat?” And when, after his buildup to his self-appointed meeting with death, nothing happens – there is no fuss, no frustration, no bewilderment, no emotion; simply, “Let’s go back to the tepee and eat.”

Now I know that in today’s Gospel when Jesus, after showing his wounds to his frightened disciples, asks, “Have you anything here to eat?” he is validating the fact that he is no ghost, that he is real enough to eat and digest food. But if we overlay what we know of Old Lodge Skins’s style on today’s reading, may we not also suggest that Jesus was trying to snap his disciples out of their unproductive astonishment, “their incredulous joy” (meaning: what they were seeing was too good to be true)? When amid all their wide-eyed, hands thrown back, mouths agape reaction to his risen presence, he simply calls them back to our everyday world with “Have you anything here to eat?” – may he not be saying, “Why all this fuss? So I have risen from the dead? Why should that surprise you? It’s been foretold in Scripture for centuries, it has been the aspiration of human hearts since the beginning of time. So now it’s happened! So let’s get on with it; tell everybody about it – that death has been conquered and need no long freeze us in our tracks and frighten us into crucifying each other. And by the way, do you have anything here to eat? That looks like a piece of fish over there.”

The effect? The disciples are startled into recovering their sense of hospitality. They no longer stand there idle but begin to grill that piece of fish as prelude to their going of into the wide, wide world encouraging people to stop making such a fuss over this transient thing called death.