“ARE YOU EMO?” (Mt 17:9a, 10-13): 15 December 2007 (Saturday)
“Emo” (short for “emotional” or “emotive” and pronounced /ˈi-moʊ/) refers to a style of rock/punk music and fashion, as well as a personality stereotype characterized by being emotional, introverted, and angsty. I recently saw this tongue-in-cheek YouTube video called “What is emo?” The interviewer asks young people on the streets of London to define the term. The first response he gets? “People who slit their wrists!” Not surprising since self-injury is supposed to characterize someone who’s emo.
In today’s reading, the Lord compares John the Baptist to the prophet Elijah, who is known for his dramatic encounter with what I think are true blue Old Testament emo’s. Elijah the prophet condemns the Israelites’ worship of Baal and challenges the pagan priests to a test of powers. He summons all the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel, where two altars are built, one for Baal and the other one for Yahweh. The sacrifice of oxen and fire wood are laid on each of the altars. Elijah then announces the rules of the contest: Without physically making fire, both camps are supposed to pray for fire to light the sacrifice. The priests of Baal pray all day–to no avail. Then the priests begin to act emo: They slash their wrists and mix their blood with the sacrifice, hoping that their prayers would be answered. Again, no success.
To make a long story short, before taking his turn, Elijah orders that his altar be drenched with twelve barrels of water for effect. When he utters his prayer, fire falls from the sky and, to the dismay of his opponents, Elijah’s altar ignites in a magnificent display of Yahweh’s power, proving once and for all that Yahweh is the One True God and that no amount of wrist-slashing will start any fire. Obviously, in this case, emotional blackmail didn’t work.
As I think about the behavior of Baal’s priests, the question that comes to mind is: “What about us? When it comes to dealing with God, are we closet emo’s?”
I don’t know about you, but think I’m guilty. When I was a kid, when I wanted something, I would make all sorts of promises to God. The more badly I wanted something, the bigger–and less realistic–my promises became. Even today, I’m still quite capable of the same tactics. I still catch myself resorting to emotional blackmail when I want something from God although I now try to be less blatant about it. In other words, short of cutting my wrists, I still find myself trying to manipulate God, albeit in more subtle ways.
Today the Lord reminds us that it just doesn’t work that way. No matter how grandiose the promises we make, no matter how grave the injury we inflict on ourselves, He remains truly God, transcendent, incapable of being manipulated to do as we wish. So if we know what’s best for us, we should forget the tactics of Baal’s priests, those Old Testament emo’s, and learn from the faith of Elijah–the prophet who staunchly believed that as long as what he did was right, God would not fail him.
The Lord actually mentioned Elijah in the context of the murder of John the Baptist and his own impending suffering. As we know, both he and the baptist didn’t hesitate to embrace pain and even death when the situation called for it. So now I can’t help but wonder and ask him: “What about you, Lord? Are you emo, too?” I’m tempted to think that God and his saints have a streak of emo in them too.
When you consider the way they accept suffering, it certainly looks that way–but there is one important difference: While true blue emo’s hurt themselves in order to get something for themselves, God and his saints allow themselves to be hurt–and even killed–in order to give to others. That’s a whole world of difference.