HOW ARE ALL OF US “BARREN”?
(Saturday, June 24)
“There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.” (Lk 1:5-7)
The problem of infertility was until recently attributed only to women, hence “barrenness” is an issue explored in the Bible primarily through its women. But the biblical leitmotif of the “barren woman” (of which there are six in the Old Testament, and at least two in the New) points to a problem of “un-fruitfulness” shared by all of us, both men and women, and to the true God Who resolves that problem for us, when we let Him.
I said there are *at least* two “barren women” in the New Testament, because the Church herself, and all of us, as Church, are a “barren woman,” made fruitful only by the grace of God. In our tradition, we read the words of Isaiah 54:1 as addressed to all of us, as Church: “Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For ‘more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman,’ says the Lord.”
We experience “barrenness” in different ways; through our mental list of should-do’s, should-have’s, debilitating procrastination, despondency, etc. As we age, we might accumulate feelings of shame or failure, not unlike those of the biblical “barren women,” for our (imagined or real) “debts” to ourselves and others. Perhaps as we age we experience feelings of loneliness, uselessness, and self-pity or self-loathing and resentment, which may be crippling our spiritual “fruitfulness” and growth. Maybe being divorced, widowed, unhappily single or unhappily married contributes to all-of-the-above.
Can we still “bear fruit,” regardless of our age, gender, marital status, etc.? I believe so. We believe so, as Church. This is one of the messages of today’s celebration (on the New Calendar) of the Nativity of John the Baptist, who was born to the elderly Elizabeth and Zacharias. Another message of this feast is: Sometimes you just have to wait, while keeping “your side of the street” clean and fostering your faith through faithful actions, according to your large or small set of daily responsibilities. Let us let ourselves grow a bit this Saturday, in God’s light, because nothing grows in the dark. Let’s hand over to Him all our “debts” and “debtors” (including ourselves), and forgive, so we can move forward in His light and lightness.