Sociologist Peter Berger writes, "It seems plausible that folly and fools, like religion and magic, meet some deeply rooted needs in human society."
What is it about folly that stirs our inner worlds? Ancient monarchs all had their court jesters. Even their clothing betrayed the folly; they were attired in clown-like vibrant colors, and their hats were floppy with three points, each of which had a jingle bell at the end. Yes, their role was to entertain the king, but also to speak to the king’s heart. The jester was the king’s friend and he alone was permitted access to the king’s inner chamber, for he played prophet to the king’s soul.
King David once listened to Nathan, his court prophet or clown. He once entertained the king with an anecdote about a village and two men – one very rich and one very poor (2 Samuel 12). The poor man had a little ewe lamb whom he loved; he even shared his food with the lamb. And one day, Nathan explained, the rich man had a friend visit him, so rather than take from his own enormous herd, he slaughtered the poor man’s sole little ewe lamb as a banquet for his guest. King David flew into a rage thundering, "That man should die!" Then the jester Nathan tells King David, "That man is you." For it was David who had Urriah the Hittite killed in battle as he had taken his wife, Bathsheba, for himself.
In today’s reading we hear of Moses holding before the people… grumpy and irritable, tired and miserable… a bronze serpent, a symbol of their sinfulness (remember the icon we use for physicians?) While the serpent has always been a symbol of Satan, it’s venom is also a symbol of the healing power for our woundedness. As if he were holding a mirror before the Israelites, Moses holds the bronze serpent. Don’t deny or project, don’t blame others or rationalize or psychologize away your sinfulness. Acknowledge it. Admit it. Only then will you be healed.
Years ago a television show entitled "All in the Family" captivated the hearts and imaginations of many of us. The protagonist, Archie Bunker, would sit in his living room armchair and shout violent diatribes against his Polish son-in-law. We’d slap our knee in amusement and giggle our way through the narrative until about three quarters through the show when suddenly we realized that Archie is ME! I’ve again been hooked, indicted, by my own complicity.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. gives Passionist missions and retreats and lives in Chicago.