December 26, Christmas 1 (Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 2:41-52)
Why am I so skeptical about sitting and learning at the feet of others?
A Sudanese American parishioner of mine had recently received word that her father had died suddenly in Juba. Expecting shock and sadness, I sat with Achol and tried to get a sense of the current family landscape. Instead, she took the lead in the conversation and gently led me back in time, introducing me to a “holy and beloved” man, an irrigation technician and farmer, a father clothed in love. Her series of stories and descriptions might as well have been scripted on this week’s Colossians reading, virtue by virtue, though Achol spoke only from the script of her remembrance.
“He was a very good father,” she said. “He always sat with us for meals and talked with us. Unlike many of the men who would always be out with their friends playing dominoes, he was home.” I heard simple devotion and was glad for her. But then, this: “When we got in trouble, he would never curse or yell or let his mouth get away from him. He would talk to us calmly about what we had done wrong, instructing us.” A meek, gentle, kind man, I thought. How lucky she was. No wonder her own spirit and temperament are so gracious.
But the layers of beautiful Christlike clothing kept coming into view. “He refused to take a second wife, even though that was very normal. Even my mom used to tease him and beg him, ‘Get a second wife to help me and to help you!’” Achol laughed. He wouldn’t do it; he wanted to build a family another way. He would sacrifice the status gained from a bigger family. “And it’s probably hard for you to understand, but back home there are things men simply don’t do. They think it is their right not to do it. But he helped my mom a lot, almost every day. He would go to the market for her, to buy groceries. ‘What would you like?’ he would ask her each morning.” He did not take the entitlements afforded to him by his status and culture—a living picture of humility in relationship.